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Pritzker family makes unprecedented gift to Northwestern Law

More than 700 people packed Northwestern University School of Law’s Thorne Auditorium on the Chicago campus yesterday (Oct. 22) to hear much-anticipated news.

They learned at a special event that School of Law alumnus J.B. Pritzker and his wife, M.K. Pritzker, made a $100 million gift that will significantly advance the mission and vision of Pritzker’s alma mater, one of the nation’s leading law schools.

The 156-year-old school will be named the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law.

News of the gift and the law school’s new name received sustained applause repeatedly during the speakers’ remarks.

The Pritzkers’ gift is the largest single gift ever to any law school.

Northwestern President Morton Schapiro, Law School Dean Daniel B. Rodriguez and William Osborn, Chair of the Board of Trustees, made the announcement during an event at the Law School.

The Pritzkers’ game-changing gift will allow the best students, no matter what their socio-economic background, to get a legal education at one of the top law schools in the country. In addition, it simultaneously focuses on the advancement of the study of law, business and technology, and on public interest initiatives in the areas of civil and human rights.

The funding will help support and advance the Law School’s strategy of developing new kinds of highly marketable lawyers -- creative, constructive problem-solvers armed with entrepreneurial and multidisciplinary skills, resolutely committed to social justice and the rule of law.  

The gift supports several social justice centers at Northwestern Law School, including the Center on Wrongful Convictions, the Children and Family Justice Center, the Center on International Human Rights, the Environmental Law Center and other key programs to improve civil society and implement justice.

The gift will also permanently endow and rename the Law School’s Entrepreneurship Law Center; it will become the Donald Pritzker Entrepreneurial Law Center, honoring J.B. Pritzker’s father, who was co-founder and chief executive of Hyatt Hotels Corporation. The gift also will support endeavors to develop students’ entrepreneurial skills and to advance law-business-technology initiatives, including the Master of Science in Law program for professionals employed in the scientific, engineering and medical fields.

“Our increasingly complex and dynamic world demands lawyers who are trained to tackle difficult legal and policy problems and to work imaginatively at the interface of law, business and technology,” Rodriguez said. “This extraordinary gift will help provide the financial foundation for this law school to produce a new breed of highly skilled, adaptive lawyers -- creative, constructive problem-solvers armed with multidisciplinary skills and resolutely committed to social justice and the rule of law.”   

In his remarks, J.B. Pritzker said a legal education is meant to serve a bigger purpose than simply to teach a trade.

“Great law schools like Northwestern are here to expand the minds of their students, to allow them to achieve their personal goals, to enable them to contribute, to give back in ways that they could not without the education they receive here, and to help them make the greatest country in the world just a little more accessible, a little fairer,” he said.

The Pritzker gift will benefit future generations of Northwestern law students and faculty, President Schapiro said. “J.B. and M.K. are such good friends of the University, and their extraordinary commitment will allow a bold future for an already great law school,” he said.

The Pritzkers are longtime Northwestern supporters. They have made gifts to the University for 16 consecutive years and are members of NU Loyal, Northwestern’s giving society that recognizes consecutive years of giving. 

The gift honors the significant contributions of the Pritzker family to the fields of law, business and public service. Nicholas J. Pritzker arrived in Chicago in 1881 and grew up an immigrant in poverty. He was admitted to the Illinois College of Law in 1900 and put himself through school, eventually building a highly successful law practice.

J.B.’s father, Donald Pritzker, was co-founder and the chief executive who built the Hyatt Hotels Corporation into a global hospitality brand.

Three generations after Nicholas Pritzker raised himself out of poverty, the Pritzker family has become one of the nation’s most successful business families and attributes its success to the study of law and to entrepreneurship. Following Nicholas’ lead, Pritzker family members, including the benefactors of this gift, J.B. and M.K. Pritzker, remain committed to improving the communities in which they live. The naming of the Law School honors the history and the successive generations of the Pritzker family and its dedication to the principles of American law and the practice of ethics and values in entrepreneurial American business.

J.B. Pritzker received his J.D. from Northwestern Law in 1993. Equal to his philanthropic support has been his strong dedication and longstanding service to both the Law School and the University. He is a life member of the Northwestern Law Board, and he joined the University’s Board of Trustees in 2004.

J.B. Pritzker is co-founder and managing partner of Pritzker Group. He is a leader in the Chicago entrepreneurship community and has been the key driver in growing and strengthening the entrepreneurship, innovation and technology sectors. His venture capital firm is one of the largest and most successful in the nation.

M.K. Pritzker is a director of the Pritzker Family Foundation and serves as a trustee of the Northwestern Memorial Foundation. She is also founder of the Evergreen Invitational Foundation, which supports innovative programs and research studies at Northwestern Memorial Hospital that further explore and address important women’s health issues.

The event also featured a panel discussion with four members of the law school community highlighting different aspects of the school’s commitment to excellence and innovation.

  • Esther Barron, director, Donald Pritzker Entrepreneurial Law Center, said the transformative gift will allow the law school to continue to train a new kind of lawyer. “Our goal is to help students think in an entrepreneurial manner. Helping our students develop an entrepreneurial mindset will prepare them to be more effective in their future endeavors  --  whether those endeavors involve becoming an entrepreneur, representing entrepreneurs or something else entirely.”
  • Thomas Geraghty, director, Bluhm Legal Clinic, said the clinic program is a big draw because it “provides excellent hands-on training giving students the experience of working on cases and projects that have positive impacts upon the clients we represent and on the communities we serve and on our justice system.”
  • Patricia Boone, Northwestern Law student, explained how the Pritzker gift will expand the opportunities for law students, particularly those in financial need. “This gift means nontraditional law students, despite their background, will have the financial support and opportunity to pursue their dream unapologetically. It also means that all law students, regardless of their financial status, will have the same opportunities to participate in all law school programming.”
  • Martin Redish, Louis and Harriet Ancel Professor of Law and Public Policy, said history is being made. “Years from now, we’ll be able to look back at this moment as the event that led Northwestern law school in its ascent from its status as an already great law school into the highest echelons of legal academia.”

In September 2014, the Law School announced Motion to Lead: The Campaign for Northwestern Law, the largest fundraising campaign in the school’s history, to support financial aid, curricular innovation and social justice initiatives.

Motion to Lead is part of Northwestern University’s We Will. The Campaign for Northwestern, which the University announced in March of 2014. Total giving for the “We Will” Campaign now stands at $2.24 billion. The Pritzker gift is the fourth donation of $100 million or more that Northwestern has announced this year. Last week, Patrick and Shirley Ryan’s campaign gift was announced. The other benefactors of at least $100 million to the “We Will” campaign are Roberta Buffett Elliott and Louis Simpson and Kimberly Querrey.

Remarks by J.B. Pritzker

M.K. and I want to thank President Schapiro and Dean Rodriguez for helping to turn our vision into a reality. And to Esther Barron, Tom Geraghty, and Marty Redish, thank you for your academic leadership in each of your important fields. You and your faculty colleagues are among the most celebrated legal minds in the world — and you daily sacrifice time and treasure to train the smartest students in the world to become the best problem solvers in your fields.  I’m so proud to support your work, and I would ask everyone here to stand and recognize your extraordinary achievements.

M.K. and I also want to give special recognition to three family members: Jack Pritzker, Jay Pritzker and Dan Pritzker, who, like me, are proud Northwestern Law graduates.  They too have been supporters of Northwestern, and this gift is in part dedicated to them.

In 1881, nine-year-old Nicholas Pritzker first heard the phrase “get the little Jew” as he ran from a crowd of men carrying wooden clubs and iron bars.  I know this because at the age of seventy he wrote his life’s story, a book that was never published and was instead meant to tell his descendants from whence they came and by history and roots who we are as a family.  He wrote “For the next sixty hours we remained concealed in the attic of our building, living on whatever food mother had managed to bring up from the house in the short time before we went into hiding. All night we heard, and all day we saw, the howling mob destroying property belonging to the Jews.”

The pogroms across the Russian Empire had befallen my family in 1881 just as it had so many millions of Jews. So the Pritzker family and little Nicholas sought refuge in the only nation where religious intolerance seemed an anathema to the rule of law, a place they could find safety and build a new life: the United States.

Of the legacies that Nicholas passed down to our family, the value of a legal education is among the most enduring.

Not long ago, the newspapers featured our good friend Adam Hoeflich for re-creating the trial of the 1919 Chicago “Black Sox.”  Our ten year-old son, Donny, heard MK and I talking about it, and Donny began to ask questions.  When we were finished explaining what it meant to try a legal case, what the governing law was, what the two sides were fighting about, and who would decide the winner, Donny looked at us and said, “That’s sooo cool.”

Then, as only a parent can do when he sees a good teaching moment, I revealed to Donny something he had never heard before.  I said, “Well, Donny, you know the law has meant quite a lot to our family. Your great-great-grandfather Nicholas arrived in this country when he was ten years old – the same age you are now.  Nicholas was penniless, and yet he went to school and worked hard and became a successful attorney, arguing cases and fighting for people’s rights.  His son, your great grandfather A.N. was an attorney. Your grandfather Donald, after whom you are named, was an attorney. And I'm an attorney. In fact, every generation of our family has been educated about defending people's rights, defending the rule of law, leveling the playing field, helping people who are in need, creating opportunities for people to succeed fairly, and correcting injustices under the law.” 

When I was finished, Donny paused and said -- “That’s a lot of pressure Dad!”

But my point to Donny is the same as the one I want to make here:

A legal education is meant to serve a bigger purpose than simply to teach a trade. Great law schools like Northwestern are here to expand the minds of their students, to allow them to achieve their personal goals, to enable them to contribute, to give back in ways that they could not without the education they receive here, and to help them make the greatest country in the world just a little more accessible, a little fairer.

So if anyone wonders why we gave this gift, it can be found in another part of Nicholas’s autobiography, where he wrote about his own motivations toward public service and charity in building an orphanage and a home for the elderly:

“Ever since my arrival in America, and particularly since I had begun to feel the ground under my feet, I had had a deep feeling of sympathy for the new immigrants on America’s shores.  I wanted to assist them if I could.  Remembering my own early days, and the hardships I endured as a boy, I felt that if I could do, ever so little to make the lot of other newcomers more pleasant during the early years of their stay here; if I could but see that young children were properly cared for, I would be satisfying one of the most earnest wishes of my own heart.”

In short, Nicholas paid it forward.  And that’s what MK and I are trying to do with this gift.  A large portion of this gift is intended to allow the best future lawyers and legal scholars, not just the ones who can afford it, to have the opportunity to get the top legal education in America. That’s something I know Nicholas would have wanted.

Throughout his life Nicholas Pritzker committed himself and his family to public service and community purpose. He could not know that his struggle and success, would eventually, two generations later, lay a foundation for my father, Donald Pritzker to become the co-founder, entrepreneur, and chief executive that built the Hyatt Hotels Corporation into a global hospitality brand. The study of law, the practice of entrepreneurship, and a commitment to advancing civil and human rights – these are the common threads of our family history, of which we are extremely proud.

M.K. and I feel blessed to be able to honor our ancestors by making this gift to Northwestern Law School.