family photo
Old family photo.

Dr. Ora Hirsch Pescovitz wants the gift to focus on diversity, equity and inclusion as it relates to OU’s faculty.

Oakland University President Dr. Ora Hirsch Pescovitz still remembers going to the March on Washington with her parents in 1963 and sitting on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have A Dream” speech. 

Pescovitz also remembers when her father responded to Dr. King’s call for clergy of all faiths to join him in Selma, Ala., for a pivotal voting rights demonstration; and being frightened by the idea he would possibly get hurt and not come home.

Ora Hirsch Pescovitz, President, President Pescovitz
OU President Ora Hirsch Pescovitz Courtesy of OU

Her father, national Reform Judaism leader Rabbi Richard G. Hirsch, worked alongside Dr. King and President Lyndon B. Johnson advising on the civil rights legislation of the mid-1960s.

Decades later, Pescovitz is taking action herself to work toward racial and social justice while honoring her parents at the same time. 

In their honor, Pescovitz has made a $250,000 endowment gift — the Rabbi Richard G. and Bella Hirsch Faculty Endowment for Racial and Social Justice. 

Rabbi Richard and Bella Hirsch
Rabbi Richard and Bella Hirsch Courtesy of OU

Based on the racial and social injustice of the past year and to further commit to OU’s goal of celebrating diversity, equity and inclusion, Pescovitz felt now was the time to take action. 

She wants the gift to focus on diversity, equity and inclusion as it relates to OU’s faculty. 

“I think it’s very important we stimulate efforts related to our faculty because when students see faculty that look like them, I think they perform better and eventually they become better people,” Pescovitz said. “I really believe when you see diversity in our community, it benefits all of us.” 

The gift aims to aid the recruitment and retention of diverse faculty members as well as provide the structure for underrepresented minority faculty members to be successful educators and research investigators. 

“Studies show when students are taught by diverse faculty, they have a higher graduation rate and institutions perform better,” Pescovitz said. “That’s really what stimulated me.” 

The idea for the gift began as a $25,000 donation during the annual All University Fund Drive. Following that, Pescovitz was inspired to increase her commitment to $250,000 with hopes of it reaching a million dollars or more down the line with support from other businesses and friends of the university.

Honoring Parents

Pescovitz has also created an endowment specifically honoring her late mother, Bella Rozencweig Hirsch, with a focus on biomedical ethics within the Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine. 

Speaking candidly, Pescovitz said she was hesitant to put her faculty endowment gift to a name due to the commonly held Jewish belief that anonymous giving is the highest form of charity, but she believes this scenario called for two reasons to do otherwise.

Rabbi Hirsch with President Lyndon B. Johnson
Rabbi Hirsch with President Lyndon B. Johnson Courtesy of OU

One reason was to honor her parents, two people she believes exemplify the values OU wants to emulate in the community. The other reason in going public is a hope of inspiring others to give philanthropically. 

“Even though Maimonides said it’s good to give anonymously, one reason to not give anonymously is I think it sets an example for other people,” Pescovitz said. “Fifteen minutes after I gave my gift, someone else at the university immediately gave another gift just because they were inspired.”

The gift was announced in a recent OU board meeting via Zoom with Rabbi Hirsch in attendance. Hirsch, now in his mid-90s and living in Florida, didn’t know about the endowment beforehand and was surprised with the news. 

“He thought that I was getting an award,” Pescovitz said. “He didn’t know it was actually in his honor.”

Along with the Jewish concept of tikkun olam or “repairing the world,” Pescovitz said the concept of Kol Yisrael arevim zeh bazeh can be applied to this type of philanthropic giving as well.

“What it means is we’re all responsible for one another,” Pescovitz said. “Because we’re all responsible for each other, we really have an obligation to care for each other. I feel that way, and philanthropy is part of that.”