Student Center renamed to honor trustee and benefactor Howard Gittis
In an emotional session on Oct. 10, Temple’s Board of Trustees approved the renaming of Temple’s renovated Student Center in honor of “one of Temple’s most outstanding leaders in our long history” — current board member, former board chair and benefactor Howard Gittis. Effective immediately, the facility’s new name is the Howard Gittis Student Center.
Gittis, a 26-year trustee, served as board chair for six years, stepping down in July after
helping to guide the University during a period of unprecedented growth. He also chaired the board of the Temple University Health System from 1995 to 2000.
“During [Gittis’] time of service, we have seen our campus, our programs, our students and our service to the community, city and state advance by leaps and bounds,” said Temple’s current board chair Daniel H. Polett, Gittis’ successor.
Polett said that the board’s decision to honor Gittis’ contributions by renaming the Student Center was inspired by Gittis’ dedication to “providing educational opportunities for the young men and women who come to Temple each year.”
After receiving a standing ovation, a stunned Gittis thanked board members and the Temple community.
“Of all the things I have endeavored to do in my life,” he said, “my service to this university, next to my family, is the most significant to me.”
Gittis embarked on a successful corporate career in 1985 after 25 years with the Philadelphia law firm of Wolf, Block, Schor and Solis-Cohen. He is currently a director as well as vice chairman and chief administrative officer of MacAndrews & Forbes Holdings, Inc., a diversified holding company with interests in consumer products, financial services, entertainment, biotechnology and gaming. Gittis’ other corporate directorships include Jones Apparel Group, Inc.; M&F Worldwide Corporation; Panavision, Inc.; and Revlon, Inc.
Although he is not a Temple alumnus (he holds economics and law degrees from the University of Pennsylvania), Gittis has often attributed his intense commitment to Temple to his family’s modest roots and Temple’s traditional mission of serving outstanding, motivated students of all backgrounds and means.
“I am a child of immigrants, the first in my family to go to college,” he told the Temple Times in 2004. “A good education enabled me to make a fine living … and I believe that you have to give back.”
Gittis’ “giving back” has taken many forms, from advancing Temple as a board chair to philanthropy.
During Gittis’ six years as chair of Temple’s Board of Trustees, the University’s growth captured nationwide attention. Temple’s student enrollment increased 17 percent. Undergraduate applications increased by 40 percent, and the average SAT score of incoming freshmen increased by 62 points. More than 150 tenured and tenure-track faculty were hired from the world’s leading institutions. Temple’s endowment grew by more than 45 percent. External research awards increased 28 percent and research expenditures rose 40 percent. And the University embarked on a $500 million construction and renovation campaign that will eventually create new, state-of-the-art homes for three of Temple’s schools: Fox, Medicine and Tyler.
The University’s growth also sparked more than $180 million in private investment in off-campus student housing, retail, restaurants and entertainment in the neighborhoods surrounding Main Campus. The number of students living on or near Main Campus has more than doubled since 2000, reaching nearly 10,000.
“When I became board chair, I was a firm believer that Temple needed to become a more residential school,” Gittis said. “You can walk around campus now and see the lights and feel the vibrancy. Six years ago, few people believed that we could accomplish that.”
Gittis’ generous donations to Temple include a $5 million pledge to create the Ronald O. Perelman Professorship in Entrepreneurial Finance in the Fox School of Business and Management in 2004; three large matching grants — called Gittis Challenges — to Temple’s Annual Fund in 2004-05 and 2005-06; and significant unrestricted contributions over the years to support Temple’s general operations.
“There are few people who have had a greater positive impact on our students’ quality of education and quality of life than Howard Gittis,” said Temple President Ann Weaver Hart. “Our Student Center is the high-energy center of campus life for our students, so it is only fitting that it should be named for the person who did so much to create that energy.”
- Hillel J. Hoffmann