Celebrating 75 years of belonging

In honor of its 75th anniversary, Roosevelt University hosted a week of webinars, meetups and panels where the Lakers community reflected on our past and future.

Roosevelt University’s founding story is common lore on campus. In 1945, students, faculty and staff led a mass walkout from Central YMCA College over discriminatory policies. The founders named Roosevelt University in honor of Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had passed away that spring. Eleanor Roosevelt served on the advisory board of the University and visited campus many times to meet with students.


During the Presidents Panel, two former presidents joined President Ali Malekzadeh to look back on the last 32 years under their leadership. Rev. Jesse Jackson introduced the event, offering his congratulations on the University milestone. 

Anna Eleanor Roosevelt also recreated her grandmother’s dedication speech, given exactly 75 years before at the Stevens Hotel. Eleanor Roosevelt had dedicated the University to the “enlightenment of the human spirit” and described Roosevelt as a place where students and faculty worked together to put democracy into action.

In 1988, when Theodore Gross became president, Roosevelt had a $3 million endowment and shrinking enrollments. Gross shared stories about his work to fundraise and attract leaders to the Board of Trustees. By the end of his presidency in 2002, Roosevelt’s endowment had grown to $50 million and enrollment hit 7,000 students.

Charles Middleton, who served as president from 2002 to 2015, reflected on the programs that helped lay the foundation for Roosevelt’s current era. Middleton and his leadership team recruited the professors who are today’s senior faculty members and created the University’s first online programs.

“The number of students that I worked with, and still communicate with today, really brings joy to my life,” Middleton said.

Current president Ali Malekzadeh has served in the University’s top role since 2015. He discussed the origins of the American Dream Reconsidered Conference as a way to “showcase the intellectual work of our faculty” and the integration of Robert Morris University Illinois.

All three presidents said that they came to Roosevelt because of the University’s singular social justice mission.

“Coming to a university named after Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt was particularly compelling,” said Gross. “The courage of the [founding] faculty and Sparling was so inspiring.”


As part of its anniversary celebrations, Roosevelt also recognized its 2020 ;alumni awardwinners. Deans from each Roosevelt college congratulated the honorees and shared messages from their friends and colleagues.

Mary Sauer, winner of the Chicago College of Performing Arts Dean’s Alumni Award, reminisced about attending another anniversary celebration — Roosevelt's 10th, in 1955. Eleanor Roosevelt had been the guest of honor, and Sauer played the electronic organ for the 3,000 people attending dinner.

However, she said, “Celebrating virtually makes this honor even more personal and meaningful to me.”

The week of events also included the webinar “Moving Beyond Diversity and Intercultural Management,” led by Dr. Christopher Robinson-Easley, a clinical professor of organizational leadership.

Dr. Leila Ellis-Nelson, assistant professor of professional practice, led a workshop on mindfulness for activists with the Mansfield Institute for Social Justice and Transformation.

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