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Promise and Progress - Distinguished Professors Should Have a Chair

A Cancer Revolution

Distinguished Professors Should Have a Chair

Date: December 1, 2004


Every Kimmel Cancer Center senior professor should have a chair. That’s the goal of Center Director Martin Abeloff. No, our esteemed clinicians, researchers, and educators are not without a place to sit. “Chair” is the term given to endowed professorships, funds that generate income and free our professors to dedicate their time to the laboratory and the bedside instead of their desk writing grant proposals.

Chairs have a rich history around the world and at Johns Hopkins. The first endowed professorships in basic science and medicine were established in 1546 by Henry VIII. Later, private individuals began donating the funds for chairs, with one of the first being the Lucasian Chair in Mathematics, given to Sir Isaac Newton in 1669.

The honor of being appointed to an endowed chair has not changed throughout the years. It is one of the highest honors awarded in academic medicine and is reserved for the top physicians, scientists, and surgeons. Chairs sustain the quality of patient care and research by guaranteeing professors the availability of funds to focus intently on their clinical and laboratory research and to teach the next generation of scientists and clinicians. The prestige and visibility an endowed chair gives to a professor help to attract the best and brightest young students and investigators, securing the future of the institution. As a result, endowed chairs are the cornerstone of Johns Hopkins and most other outstanding medical institutions around the world.

How it Works

An endowed chair is established with a donation of $2 million or more, which is invested. The income generated by the investment becomes a permanent source of funding, year after year, for the vital programs of the Cancer Center. The funds can be donated by a corporation, foundation, individual, or group of individuals. The latter was the case in 1993 when 29 breast cancer survivors and concerned women worked together to raise, in less than two years, $2.1 million for the Johns Hopkins Breast Cancer Chair and Fellowship.

“We all share the responsibility of removing the threat that cancer has on our family and friends,” says Harriet C. Legum, who chaired the campaign for the breast cancer chair and fellowship. “Whether we do it individually or as a group of concerned citizens, every one of us can make a difference. Let this be our legacy to future generations,” she says.

“Endowments have built and sustained the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions,” says Abeloff. “They provide a secure financial foundation for our Center, and it’s my goal that every senior professor in our Cancer Center have an endowed chair. We need to keep our professors in the clinic or laboratory where they can use their talent to change the course of cancer, not chained to their desks writing proposals to try and secure funding,” he says. He is well on his way to meeting his mark. To date, 20 of the Cancer Center’s professors hold endowed chairs. In 2003 alone, five new chairs were dedicated, including the Dana and Albert “Cubby” Broccoli Professor of Oncology with Elizabeth Jaffee, M.D., as chair recipient; Herman and Walter Samuelson Professorship in Cancer Research given in March to Curt I. Civin, M.D.; the Barbara B. Rubenstein Professorship in Oncology presented in April to Saraswati Sukumar, M.D.; the Alex Grass Professorship in Oncology dedicated in September to David S. Ettinger, M.D.; and most recently, the Kyle Haydock Professorship in Oncology with Donald Small, M.D., named as the first recipient.

These newest professorships ensure the continuation of a number of leading clinical and research programs at the Kimmel Cancer Center, including cancer vaccines, blood stem cell, breast cancer, lung and thoracic oncology, and childhood cancer research.

“I am happy to help carry the sword that will one day slay the cancer dragon,” says best-selling author Tom Clancy who donated the endowment for the Haydock Chair. “My involvement started by accident. I met a little boy named Kyle, and it got very personal very fast. Six-and-a-half years old when I got know him, eight years and 20 days when he died, Kyle was my little buddy—not a distant abstraction at all, a real kid, my son’s age, bright and funny and perceptive—and fatally ill from the first moment I learned his name. And, then I met the medical warriors who are on the front lines fighting cancer. This battle is being fought for all of us, and I am honored to be a part of it,” says Clancy.

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