ANN ARBOR—Investor Richard Rogel had never traveled to China until he met Kenneth Lieberthal, one of the world's most-respected Sinologists and professor emeritus at the University of Michigan.
The two men hit it off during their first encounter at U-M 20 years ago. At that time, a university delegation was preparing to visit China, and Lieberthal encouraged alumnus Rogel to go along. For Rogel, it would be the trip of a lifetime.
"We were walking through the airport after arriving in Beijing, and I loved the country," Rogel said. "You got the biggest smiles and met the friendliest people. The more I learned about the country, the more I fell in love with it."
Rogel's ongoing fascination with China and his desire to honor Lieberthal's contributions to scholarship and public policy inspired him and his wife, Susan, to donate $10 million last year to support students, faculty and programs at U-M's Center for Chinese Studies. With the gift, the Rogels' lifetime giving to U-M totals $83 million, placing them among the university's top donors.
In recognition of Rogel's exceptional generosity, the U-M Board of Regents on Thursday renamed the center as the Kenneth G. Lieberthal and Richard H. Rogel Center for Chinese Studies. A celebration of the renaming will be held Oct. 16 in Ann Arbor.
"I think it is an incredibly important part of the university," said Rogel, who studies Mandarin with a tutor and makes multiple trips to China each year. "China is a very complex country. Our relationship with China is very complex. I want the Lieberthal-Rogel China Center to be the place to go to for anything related to the country's politics, culture, history, economics and other fields of study."
Research, teaching and U.S. policy
Founded in 1961, the center is part of U-M's College of Literature, Science, and the Arts. It has long been one of the nation's most prominent centers devoted to a deeper understanding of China. The center offers a master's degree in Chinese Studies and joint degrees with several U-M professional schools, organizes lecture series, awards student travel grants and provides funding for faculty and student research, among many other things.
"Richard Rogel's major gift both reflects the center's accomplishments since its founding and helps assure that the renamed center will continue to make extraordinary contributions to understanding China far into the future," Lieberthal said.
He joined the political science faculty in 1983, served as the center's director in 1986-89, and at the time of his retirement in 2009 was Arthur F. Thurnau Professor, Professor of Political Science, and William Davidson Professor of Business Administration. For 1998-2000 Lieberthal served as special assistant to President Clinton for national security affairs and senior director for Asia on the National Security Council. He is now a senior fellow in the Foreign Policy Program at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.
He said he was deeply honored by the renaming of the center, given the extraordinary role the U-M faculty has played over the past half century in research, teaching, outreach and U.S. policy. Lieberthal and his wife, Jane, have endowed a fund to provide graduate and undergraduate fellowship support to students affiliated with the center.
Many of Lieberthal's students are working in the U.S. State Department and embassies all over the world, said Mary Gallagher, the center's director. "We have trained some of the top Sinologists in the country who are now at the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard, Stanford, Wisconsin, Cornell and other top institutions."
A vital focal point for the university
Rogel's $10 million gift, announced in fall 2013 as part of a $50 million gift to the Victors for Michigan campaign, will support faculty, students and programs at the center. It will help start a postdoctoral program for young scholars who study China. The money also will fund a new program for distinguished mid-career professionals, such as diplomats and businesspeople, who want to take a hiatus from their jobs to do research or engage in a writing project.
China centers at many other universities tend to focus on the humanities and social sciences. But U-M has successfully branched out to include the professional schools, such as law, business, public health, architecture, urban planning and social work, said Gallagher, who also is an associate professor of political science. The diversity makes the center a vital focal point for faculty across the university.
"It's a place where your knowledge is most appreciated and most tested," she said. "You're among people who know China just as well as you do."
Susan Gelman, interim dean of LSA and the Heinz Werner Distinguished University Professor of Psychology, said Rogel's gift will provide valuable resources for the center.
"Richard Rogel's remarkable gift will enable the center to enhance our understanding of China and continue to train major scholars for generations into the future," she said. "By combining the strength of LSA's social sciences and humanities with the important work that several of the professional schools are conducting in China, U-M is positioned to make new global advances."
A Victor for Michigan
A native of New Jersey, Rogel graduated as the valedictorian of his 1970 class at what is now the U-M Stephen M. Ross School of Business. He went on to found an innovative company that provided a new option on an existing insurance plan, and to succeed as an investor. In 2004 he was awarded the David B. Hermelin Award for Fundraising Volunteer Leadership, the university's highest recognition for volunteers. In 2009 he was awarded an honorary degree.
Rogel serves as vice chair of the $4 billion Victors for Michigan Campaign. He is a member of the Health System Advisory Group and serves on the National Advisory Board of the Frankel Cardiovascular Center and the Comprehensive Cancer Center's Pancreatic Cancer Board of Directors. He also serves on the President's Advisory Group, the University Musical Society Senate, the Social Work Development Committee Campaign Taskforce and the Advisory Board of the Samuel Zell and Robert H. Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies.
The Rogels live in Avon, Colo., where Richard Rogel serves as president of the investing firm Tomay Inc. He is the former chairman and CEO of the Preferred Provider Organization of Michigan, one of the first PPO health firms in the country.