by Jaishree Drepaul-Bruder
University of Michigan (U-M) donor and alumnus Marshall Weinberg has never kept a CV. If he did, you would note that Weinberg graduated from U-M with a B.A. in philosophy in 1950. Then, after studying at both Harvard and Columbia’s Graduate School of Business, he enjoyed 34 years as a successful investment broker at Herzfeld & Stern in New York. You would probably also notice the unbelievably impressive amount of volunteer work that he has been involved in throughout his lifetime.
Currently, the 89-year-old retiree is actively involved in about seven charities. “I’m especially concerned with reproductive rights, global warming and international rights,” he says. Weinberg is also very active with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC). He is the longest-serving member, having been on their executive committee for 48 years. His time with the non-profit relief organization afforded him some unique and emotionally gripping opportunities to travel and offer assistance to countless Jewish people in crisis all across the world during the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s.
Here, Weinberg’s current philanthropic contributions to U-M are also remarkably vast and impressive. So much so that he received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree four years ago. He’s set up several very notable charitable projects across the university, among them three endowments for the Institute for Social Research Population Studies Center. Weinberg’s generosity to the university saw him in the spotlight in 2008 when he was honored with the David B. Hermelin Award for Fundraising Volunteer Leadership. “There were about a thousand people there when I awarded,” he recalls. “It was no small deal, and I was really moved.”
Weinberg reveals another emotional moment connected to the university. It was several years ago when he first met the Institute of Social Research’s Albert Hermalin, who is now a Research Professor Emeritus. “It was a very brief meeting with Hermalin that convinced me to put money into U-M,” Weinberg says. He connects the dots first by describing himself as being “very meticulous” when it comes to deciding where he will donate his money. Weinberg does a lot of research beforehand and always consults with experts to help him make his decisions. He goes on to explain that a number of years ago he and the now-deceased Sheldon Segal (inventor of the Norplant contraceptive) were on the board of directors for the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) together. They had a conversation about Weinberg’s concern about overpopulation. Segal told Weinberg about Hermalin and stated that one of the most important research centers for population studies was at U-M.
Shortly thereafter, Weinberg (who is still on the CRR board of directors as an honorary trustee) attended one of Hermalin’s talks. Weinberg later asked to meet with him. “I was so impressed with him and his work. He told me he was putting up his own money to help establish prizes for students,” Weinberg says. “I thought, my God, if this man, a professor of modest means and who is so outstanding, is putting up his own money, then this must be really important.” It was this realization that eventually led him to create the Marshall Weinberg Endowment Fund, the Marshall Weinberg International Travel Fund, and the Marshall Weinberg Research Fellowship.
“I thought, my God, if this man, a professor of modest means and who is so outstanding, is putting up his own money, then this must be really important.”
When asked what motivates his altruism generally, Weinberg, the youngest of three children, proudly points to the way he was raised. “When I was 13, I saw my father sitting awake at his desk past midnight with the lights on,” he says. “When I asked him what was wrong, my father asked me why I was even asking such a question. He said he was up writing cheques because it was Passover holiday, and we had family who couldn’t afford food for their Seders.” Weinberg, (who shares that his father was, by far, not a wealthy man and that his mother was the daughter of the illustrious Zionist orator Zvi Hirsch Masliansky) recounts another telling example that transpired during the Depression-era: “I remember once overhearing my father telling my mother that the United Jewish Appeal wrote that Israel was in very desperate need, and that they asked if our family could increase their contribution. My father told her, sadly, that he didn’t know how we could manage to donate more money than we had already been giving. He said we were already stretched. Without hesitation my mother provided the solution. She said that we would just simply have to stop taking family vacations.”
According to Weinberg, his father grew to hate money and wrote a long letter about the matter. “Essentially, my father said that after we, his children, took care of our own personal needs, we should give the rest of our money away to charities,” Weinberg says. He adds that a famous friend, the world-renowned value investor Warren Buffett was extremely interested in the letter. In fact, Buffett asked for a copy of the letter so that he could show it to his own children. Weinberg and Buffett are both former students of Benjamin Graham, a man widely acclaimed as “the father of value investing.” In a video tribute that honors his former professor, Weinberg says that Graham did something that hooked him instantaneously. Graham quoted 17th century philosopher Baruch Spinoza. For Weinberg, a philosophy major, that set the tone for how he viewed value investing. “Graham said that if you want to make money on Wall Street you needed the proper psychological attitude. And no one expresses it better than Spinoza, the philosopher, who said that you must look at things through the aspect of eternity,” Weinberg recalls. Weinberg explains that to him this means “that one must hold steady over time when it comes to value investing. Don’t just think only of the ups and downs.”
But Spinoza’s quote also holds an additional meaning for Weinberg. Not only does he apply it to investing money, but also towards investing in something more important – people. It is also about how his work and how his contributions towards other people’s lives will continue infinitely. “Someone once said that when you help a professor or someone who will go on to teach people, your reach continues and who knows where it will end,” Weinberg says. “Their students will pass on the information to their own students in the future and so on. It’s eternal and profound.”
“Someone once said that when you help a professor or someone who will go on to teach people, your reach continues and who knows where it will end,” Weinberg says. “Their students will pass on the information to their own students in the future and so on. It’s eternal and profound.”
It was brought to Weinberg’s consciousness just how profound he has been when, several years ago, the Institute of Social Research (ISR) created a book called The Weinberg Effect (Weinberg Effect is usually defined as the total number of students taught by former award-winners, but can refer to research efforts as well). When the book came out, Weinberg had helped 60 students with awards; the latest estimates puts the number of people that these beneficiaries, in turn, went on to affect at approximately 1,000. The recipients of endowments created by Weinberg were asked to write about how many students they teach and how many researchers they have passed on their knowledge to. The result is a document that is a concise, and oftentimes touching, chronicling of how Weinberg’s generosity has made some remarkable differences in students’ studies and careers. “I couldn’t believe how many people were contacted and took the time to respond,” says Weinberg. “These people are all over the world, in various positions, making big impacts in society.”
Jessica Gillooly, a Ph.D. candidate in sociology and public policy and a 2017 winner of the Marshall Weinberg Research Fellowship, was happy to be included in The Weinberg Effect. Gillooly is still in the early stages of writing her dissertation. But it’s intended to “reconceptualize the problems facing law enforcement by focusing attention to the first point of contact between citizens and the criminal justice system – calls to 911 operators,” she says.
Gillooly explains that prior scholarship thoroughly documents the exercise of discretion by police officers, but has yet to examine discretion among 911 operators. In an article she wrote for The Washington Post, she stresses that it’s time for conversations about policing to include the role of dispatchers. Gillooly’s dissertation research is based on field notes taken while working as a trained 911 call-taker for 26 months in Southeast Michigan, audio recordings of approximately 225 calls to the police, call-for-service administration records, and arrest records. “Using quantitative and qualitative methods, I find that call-driven policing dominates police work at my field site,” she says. She adds, “like other reactive systems of law, effective gatekeepers are required to redirect inappropriate requests and allocate limited resources.”
The Weinberg Award afforded Gillooly a sense of hope that her dissertation idea would become a reality. “I remember chatting with a professor a few years ago when I first started envisioning a research project about 911. She was very supportive, but warned me of the challenges associated with choosing a field site where very little data had been previously collected or analyzed,” Gillooly reveals. “When I won the Award, I was feeling overwhelmed by the number of data collection tasks facing me. The Endowment provided me with the necessary assistance I needed to get my project off the ground,” she says.
Gillooly has used the funding to support a number of research tasks related to her dissertation, including: hiring a transcriptionist to convert 225 audio recordings of calls to the police into text documents for analysis, meeting with a statistician from the Consulting for Statistics, Computing and Analytics Research Center to prepare administrative data sets she gathered for analysis (including arrest data and call for service data), purchasing a statistical software program to facilitate analyses, and consulting over the summer to help her stick to her dissertation writing schedule.
Overall, Weinberg’s assistance gave Gillooly a bit of needed breathing room. “During my times in the Ph.D. program, I’ve had moments of doubt about whether pursuing this degree was the right path,” Gillooly admits. She stresses, however, that her passion to address social injustices and understand issues of race, class, and inequality in a nuanced way continues to surpass her own financial motivations. “I am extremely grateful not only for Marshall Weinberg’s support of my own research, Gillooly says, “but for his support of so many graduate students at University of Michigan’s Population Studies Center who are tackling important research questions.”
Undoubtedly, Gillooly’s positive attitude is one that Weinberg can respect. “Jessica – and the other students I’ve assisted – can’t even begin to imagine just how proud I am of them. They are doing very important work,” he says. “There are just too many people who simply don’t give a damn about anything, and when I see them with their diamonds and furs it disgusts me. They don’t give to anything really meaningful,” he adds. He is firm in his belief that money should never be a motivating factor when it comes to choosing a career path. “My Award recipients may not be earning the highest salaries at this time, but they should take great pride in the good that they are doing,” he says. “They are the people who know what is truly important in our society.”