This interview originally appeared in the spring 2008 issue of Legacy, a publication for donors and friends of the University of Minnesota published by the U of M Foundation. Used with permission.
Elliot Kaplan is glad he got his U of M law degree when he did: "Grade point averages of incoming students have risen so high, I wouldn't get in today!" he says of the U's position as a top Law School. Kaplan, '57 B.A., '61 J.D., has played a big part in achieving that greatness. He led a $55 million capital campaign and has served in numerous alumni advisory roles. The successful lawyer has come a long way since he worked his way though the U selling women's shoes. Recently, he's found a fit as the new U of M Foundation board chair.
Why have you chosen education as a cause to support?
My wife, Eloise, and I have five children and they each have a spouse. They have all pursued college educations, which is a very important family value. A good education is critical in today's society, and it goes beyond skills learned in math or English class. It is also about learning the importance of social values, ethics, and justice. You will only succeed if you believe in a value system and have a sound educational foundation.
How did you develop those values?
Growing up in St. Paul, my parents encouraged me to get an education. They could not afford to attend college, but knew how important it was for my brother and me to attend the U. When I entered the U, tuition was $75 a quarter. I had to work 30 hours a week to cover tuition, living expenses, and gas for the car. There were no scholarships. I learned that many qualified students were denied an education because of their financial situation and the lack of scholarships. This is why Eloise and I started our scholarship, which provides opportunities for qualified minority students at the Law School.
Why did you give your scholarship a preference for minority students?
The legal profession should represent the community in which we live. If you don't have a diverse work force, you will not have the benefit of diverse points of view that enable you to better serve your clients. Enabling minority students to receive a good legal education will, hopefully, bring more diverse voices into the profession.
You've also given a lot of your time to the Law School. Why?
I love the profession. The law safeguards the rights of every individual in this country. We need to make sure that the doors to justice remain open to everyone-rich and poor-regardless of race, religion, or gender. Serving the Law School allows me to strengthen the quality of the school by better educating its students, and allows me to repay my debt for the education I received.
What's your view of private giving at the U?
The private sector must become a major funding partner in transforming the University into a top-three public research university. It's simply a matter of saying, "Do we want the U to be the best?" If we want a great university that is an outstanding educational and research institution, and one that creates future leaders for Minnesota businesses and society, then we must support the U.