Donor's personal letters reveal longstanding ties to University
In 1966, Rosaline Cohn marked her future gift to Brandeis as “something.” Fifty years later, that “something” emerged as a $50 million bequest, the largest single donation in the University’s history.
Rosaline Cohn and her husband, Jacob Cohn, first began their relationship with Brandeis in 1951 with a gift of $100 three years after the University’s founding, according to a June 27 BrandeisNOW article. That same year, Rosaline Cohn also became a member of the Brandeis National Committee.
The BNC dedicates itself to supporting Brandeis’ “libraries, raising funds for neuroscience research and student scholarships — putting philanthropy first,” according to its online mission statement.
By the University’s tenth anniversary, a relationship between then-President Abram Sachar and the Cohns had been established. In a Jan. 6, 1958 letter to Jacob Cohn — the contents of which were shown to the Justice by the Institutional Advancement Archives — Sachar wrote, “The University continues to thrive and in this, our decennial year, we hear references from other universities to the ‘Brandeis academic miracle.’ The spectacular growth and the high standards could not have been possible without the friendship of people like yourself.”
On Jan. 12, 1959, Sachar wrote another letter to Jacob Cohn in which he expressed his acknowledgement of having received Cohn’s money to be “applied to the Jacob Cohn Scholarship.” Sachar also reaffirmed the importance of the Cohn’s gift, confirming that their “generosity will have an enduring impact on the lives of gifted and needy young people.”
In an interview with the Justice, Vice President of Development Myles Weisenberg ’78 explained that during the first ten years after the institution’s founding, there was a generation “coming out of the Holocaust, coming out of World War II and all that the Jewish community had suffered — there was a sense of urgency that this institution had to succeed.”
Weisenberg noted that by the tenth anniversary, there “was a pride that Brandeis achieved such high academic excellence in such a short time,” especially competing against thirty other institutions in the Boston area.
The Cohns were among these proud friends of Brandeis. Despite having no direct connection to the University, Rosaline Cohn corresponded throughout the years with several Brandeis leaders, including Sachar, former University President Marver Bernstein and President Emeritus Jehuda Reinharz.
Cohn also attended several Brandeis events — including commencements — and often brought her daughter, Marcia Cohn, with her.
The BrandeisNOW article reported that a few years after Jacob Cohn’s death in 1968, Rosaline Cohn wrote a letter to Bernstein in which she expressed her desire for the designation of the proposed fund.
In the Feb. 9, 1976 letter, she described “the Jacob and Rosaline Cohn Scholarship and Fellowship Endowment Fund, … [designed to] financially aid talented and motivated undergraduate and graduate students in the social sciences particularly relating to contemporary society.”
Cohn included the stipulation that “normally students supported by the Cohn Fund will be studying those disciplines which hold promise for ameliorating the problems and conditions of today and tomorrow.”
Weisenberg mentioned that since the 1970s, when the fund was first created, Brandeis has annually awarded a student the Cohn Scholarship. Weisenberg also commented that every year Cohn received a letter from that student, taking great pride in that individual’s accomplishments.
From the fund’s beginning, Cohn’s desire to become a greater part of the Brandeis community was clear. In a Nov. 16, 1984 letter, she enclosed a check for $10,000, writing, “Although it is more than a year since our last meeting at the reception for President Handler in Chicago, I have not forgotten our talk about my interest in increasing the Jacob and Rosaline Cohn Scholarship Fund.”
Cohn’s desire to play a growing role in supporting the University is a common theme in her letters. “It is my fortunate privilege to be of some help in the area of education which I strongly feel is of such great importance to younger people,” Cohn wrote in the 1984 letter.
According to BrandeisNOW, upon the death of Rosaline Cohn in 2010, the entirety of her estate was left to her daughter Marcia. When Marcia Cohn’s estate was revealed in 2015, the beneficiaries had not changed, and Brandeis University received a bequest of $50 million.
In an email to the Justice, Director of Media Relations Julie Jette explained that “the funds are intended to offer scholarship aid in perpetuity.
The funds will be invested in order to generate a return to spend on scholarships, while the principal amount itself will be protected so it will generate that return to provide scholarship aid for many decades to come.”
Stewart Uretsky, vice president for finance and administration, explained the logistics of distribution for the Justice.
It will take three years for the gift to be fully realized and impact the financial aid budget. The University expects the gift to provide about $2.5 million per year — 5 percent of the value — to scholarships and financial aid, and the full $2.5 million will first be made available for the 2020 to 2021 academic year.
This money will ultimately support “the general scholarship and aid funds that Brandeis provides” for both undergraduate and graduate students, Jette said.
Precise distribution will be discussed by the Board of Trustees, the Enrollment Management committee, admissions faculty, the Financial committee and the senior administration, said Jette.
Of her donation, Cohn wrote in a Feb. 9, 1976 letter: “I am happy to have this opportunity of helping students and thus being in a small way part of Brandeis University.”