I firmly believe that the progress of mankind results not only from genius, determination, vision and hope, but is driven by the collaboration of individuals, groups and institutions sharing and working together for a common cause.
~E. Desmond Lee
St. Louis philanthropist E. Desmond "Des" Lee believed that “education is the key to our progress and hope for the future.” In late 1996, he and then-Chancellor Blanche M. Touhill of the University of Missouri-St. Louis (UMSL) announced the Des Lee Collaborative Vision: Connecting St. Louis through Educational and Community Partnerships. This historic announcement was the beginning of an incredible linking of key institutions in the St. Louis community with the higher education resources and expertise at UMSL, through a unique system of endowed professorships that would partner the university with the community’s cultural institutions. Through the years, the Des Lee Collaborative Vision expanded to include professorships at St. Louis University, Washington University and Webster University.
Lee’s vision of reaching out to the community through educational partnerships was made possible in part by the Missouri Professorship Program. The program was established by the Missouri State Legislature in 1993 and lasted through 1999 for the purpose of combining private and public resources to create endowed professorships within the University of Missouri System. Each professorship required three funding sources: a private gift at a minimum of $550,000, a match from the State of Missouri, and a funded academic position from the participating campus.
A longtime contributor to the region’s top cultural institutions, Lee was able to connect the Missouri Botanical Garden, the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra with Opera Theater of Saint Louis, Saint Louis Zoo, Missouri Historical Society and the Saint Louis Art Museum as the university’s first partners. Each of these organizations, working with nationally prominent endowed professors hired by UMSL, would make up the Des Lee Collaborative Vision. Lee also asked his good friend, Bill Orthwein, to endow a professorship to partner with the Saint Louis Science Center.
Lee invested in professorships in tutorial studies, technology, public policy, and education for children with disabilities, to name just a few. Along with Orthwein, he enticed others to join the effort: the Jefferson Smurfit Corporation endowed a professorship in Irish Studies; Sanford McDonnell of the former McDonnell Douglas Corporation endowed a professorship in character education; and Adam and Judith Aronson, distinguished arts patrons in St. Louis, invested in a professorship in modern and contemporary art history. These and several other endowed professorships became part of the Collaborative Vision, which has grown significantly since 1996.
The Des Lee Collaborative Vision now includes thirty-five endowed professorships ranging from art, citizenship, music, science and tutorial education, to community collaboration, nursing, public policy, zoology, and international and museum studies (see professorship list). The collaborative endeavors between the professors and partner entities offer educational and cultural opportunities to people in the St. Louis community and particularly to populations that have been traditionally underserved. Currently over 100 partner organizations are involved in the Des Lee Collaborative Vision.
The idea of the Des Lee Collaborative Vision began as a way for students, staff and faculty to go beyond the traditional classroom activities to make a difference in the community. The results include shared resources and best practices, new and exciting research, professional development opportunities, and enriching experiences that open worlds of possibilities to thousands of citizens in our region