Willamette University Receives Historic $11 Million Gift

Willamette University announced Saturday an $11 million gift from Tokyo International University of America (TIUA) to initiate a major transformation of the University's undergraduate residential program. The gift will be used to convert Kaneko Hall, located on the TIUA campus adjacent to Willamette University, to Kaneko Commons.

The creation of the Kaneko Commons is the first step in the University's plan to completely redesign the teaching-learning experience for Willamette undergraduates through the creation of a University-wide residential commons program.

"This gift is not only historic in size," said Willamette University President M. Lee Pelton, "but it is historic in its intent which is to change forever how this University integrates the living and learning experience of our students. This gift, the largest in the 161-year history of the University, strengthens our relationship with Tokyo International University and TIUA and reflects our shared vision to transform young scholars into global citizens."

Pelton added, "This gift will encourage others to support the long-term vision we have for Willamette. It's a key component to the Campus Master Plan and a significant contribution to our comprehensive campaign."

The University plans to create a total of five residential commons over the next eight to 10 years. Each commons will include a live-in faculty mentor, faculty associates and student preceptors who will oversee academic programs, advising, community service and student activities.

Kaneko Commons will become the first of these distinctive facilities and will house the entire first-year class, folding together some of the best attributes of Willamette's first-year academic programs with residential programs.

Gunnar Gundersen, executive vice president, has been with TIUA since 1989 and explained the University's commitment to Willamette. "Simply put, this is a long-term partnership. The intent of TIUA and TIU is an indefinite relationship with Willamette University. The deep commitment, mutual trust and confidence these institutions find in each other are unique in international education relationships."

He also believes the creation of Kaneko Commons will enhance the reputation of TIU at home. "This strengthened partnership with Willamette will reflect positively on TIU in Japan and will enhance its reputation as an international university. We know many Japanese high school students wish to attend TIUA. High school students all over Japan know about Willamette."

For Robert Hawkinson, Willamette dean of campus life, the creation of the Kaneko Commons is the first step in the University's plan to completely redesign the teaching- learning experience. He has been on the campus for 20 years and is a strong advocate of the residential commons concept.

"The experience of a Willamette University liberal arts education should hold up throughout the life of the individual," he said. "Our students are members of a community of learners. When you combine caring and accomplished faculty with curious, intellectually gifted students and provide a residential system that allows those elements to flow together seamlessly, you have created an environment that is nothing less than extraordinary."

Under the old system of residence halls and Greek houses, students connected with their studies in class, and if they were disciplined, during quiet hours in the library. The residential commons concept puts students in a learning environment 24 hours a day, seven days a week. A live-in faculty mentor coordinates diverse academic programs and advising; live-in preceptors, Willamette juniors and seniors, coordinate community service opportunities and assist students with planning and coordinating a broad array of co-curricular activities.

As one student put it, "In the residential commons, the intellectual faucet stays open. If you want to continue the discussion you started in class at 3 o'clock, there will always be people around who'll be up for arguing and rehashing the fine points well into the night. And that's how we learn--about the topic, about each other."

Residential commons are beginning to emerge around the country, but the Willamette system, according to Hawkinson, is distinctive. "We are combining an all-freshmen residential program and a system of sophomore through senior residential commons with a vibrant Greek system. No other campus in the country combines these three elements and each one serves us in a different way."

He added, "The first-year commons will provide a richer experience of intellectual engagement. The commons for sophomore through senior students will provide for community, increased self-governance, an opportunity to work collaboratively on a variety of projects and engage in deliberate community service. The Greek system will connect us to the University's past and focuses on leadership and philanthropic development. Some 28 percent of Willamette University students select a Greek society."

Jim Bauer, Willamette vice president for administrative services, said much remains to be done but he hopes to break ground on the Kaneko Commons project next summer and open the doors in the fall of 2005. The on-campus planning process begins in June and once that is complete, the University will select an architect and begin the design process.

The $11 million gift will be applied to construction costs and operational support. The plan calls for a significant upgrade of Kaneko Hall which, with the new addition, becomes Kaneko Commons. The present facility includes 200 beds and 80,000 square feet. Once completed, the Commons will include 450 beds and 160,000 square feet, additional classroom and meeting space, enlarged public areas and recreational amenities.

The pedestrian sky bridge that vaults 12th Street in Salem, OR, and connects TIUA to the Willamette campus, is a suitable metaphor for the relationship between the institutions that began in 1965.

When Dr. Taizo Kaneko founded TIU 38 years ago, he wrote to more than 200 colleges and universities in the United States hoping to find a sister university interested in international education. When Willamette University responded, the bond was forged.

Years later, when Willamette President Jerry Hudson visited Japan in 1987 to attend the funeral of Dr. Kaneko, he offered a proposal to his son, Dr. Yasuo Kaneko, now chancellor of TIU. The proposal was to develop a site next to Willamette University and build a residence hall for TIU students interested in long-term study abroad programs. Kaneko Hall opened in the fall of 1989 with 60 TIU students. Since then, the average class size has been about 120 students who study at Willamette from February to December each year.

TIUA students arrive as sophomores and are housed in 13 residence halls all over campus. They are fully integrated into the residence life programs and student activities on the campus. Of the 108 Japanese students now on campus, 90 were paired with Willamette students who requested international or TIUA roommates. Total immersion and full integration are trusted components of a successful international education program. As sophomores, TIUA students will participate in the residential commons program.

The $11 million gift closed out the fundraising year for Willamette University which, despite the downturn in the economy, raised a record $21 million in 2002-03.