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Clarence J. Robinson was a prominent Northern Virginia businessman who was highly involved in the early development of George Mason University. As the namesake of both Robinson Hall and the Robinson Professors program, his legacy remains an integral part of the university’s culture and reputation. Robinson served as the Chairman of George Mason College’s Advisory Board from 1964-1970, when the young institution was still a branch of the University of Virginia, and contributed in many ways towards the school’s growth. Among his most important contributions was the donation of half his estate, valued at $5 million, to Mason upon his death in 1983. Before his death, Robinson is said to have explicitly conveyed to George W. Johnson (president of the university and a close friend of Robinson’s) that he wanted his donation not to be used on the university’s buildings, but on its people. Robinson’s donation ultimately allowed for the establishment of the Robinson Professors program in 1984 by President Johnson, which to this day serves to attract distinguished faculty to the school and to elevate its standards of education and scholarship.
While the Robinson Professors program has shown itself to be a lasting and important institution for the university, it did not arise without opposition. From the program’s inception, President Johnson decided to use Robinson’s donation funds exclusively to bring in new, big-name faculty members to the university; however, some disgruntled university members felt that the funds should instead be used to support existing faculty.1 Robinson intended for his donation to go towards the people that would build the university up, after all, and it is possible that either avenue could have satisfied his wishes.
The goal of this research project is to evaluate the effectiveness of the Robinson Professors program, both in terms of advancing the university’s mission and fulfilling the wishes of its benefactor. A variety of sources are considered in order to gain a better understanding of Clarence J. Robinson’s vision for Mason, and to identify the benefits and drawbacks of this innovative program as it was set up by President Johnson.