He was president of the freshman class and threw himself into Freshman Glee. “I enjoyed being fully involved,” he says, “but that was characteristic of Willamette—that, and the congeniality of the people.” Bartlett also joined the debate team, where he strengthened the public speaking skills that were to serve him through a career as president of Colgate University and the American University in Cairo; chancellor of the State University of New York, the Oregon State System of Higher Education and the University of Alabama System; president of the Association of American Universities; and special advisor to the American ambassador to the United Nations, reporting directly to Henry Cabot Lodge and then Adlai Stevenson.
The gift Willamette gave him has been returned, in the form of a $150,000 endowment from Tom and his wife, Molly, whom he met when they were graduate students at Stanford. “Willamette’s fate will increasingly depend on external support, the willingness of graduates and parents to contribute,” says Tom, a former Rhodes Scholar. “Every graduate needs to understand that his or her responsibility is to put another brick on the wall.”
The Tom and Molly Bartlett Presidential Fund will be used at the discretion of Willamette University presidents to assist any program, student, faculty member or staff member whose activities further the University’s mission.
“One thing I’ve learned from a career spent in higher education is that the person most likely to know where money is most needed is the president,” says Bartlett. “Higher education has this curious practice of allocating all its funds up front, at the beginning of each fiscal year. That makes it hard to take advantage of opportunities that come along through the year. Sometimes just a little bit helps.”
“Willamette has undertaken many new initiatives over the past several years that represent significant investments in academic excellence,” says President Lee Pelton. “These include the residential commons program; the move to a reduced teaching load for CLA faculty, giving them more time for scholarship; the proposed Centers for Excellence; and the new Portland-based professional MBA program. This generous gift from Tom and Molly Bartlett will help these visions—and others—unfold.”
Bartlett believes Willamette is gaining momentum. “It’s becoming more intellectually diverse, and that’s a sign of an institution that is steadily strengthening,” he says. “I sometimes think the secret ingredient of great universities is time.” Molly feels at home on Willamette’s beautiful campus and admires the students. “They seem open and interested in things. They’re not cynical.”
Tom and Molly haven’t slowed down in retirement. They travel to visit children and grandchildren, attend events at Willamette and tend to their country farm, which is southeast of Stayton. “That is to say, it’s nowhere,” Tom laughs. He travels to the Middle East four or five times each year to help the development of American universities in the area, and has dedicated time to helping with the development of universities in Japan, Yugoslavia and Great Britain. He has also served on numerous boards, including the Council on Foreign Relations, the International Association of Universities, the U.S. Japan Foundation and NASA’s Commercial Space Advisory Committee.