Pledge Aimed at Making School of Medicine Tuition-Free

September 26, 2008

On the 55th anniversary of his graduation from the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, Robert Brent, M.D., Ph.D., and his wife, Lillian, have pledged $2 million to match donations to a scholarship fund to make the medical school tuition-free.

“It is our dream to make the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry a school free of tuition, or, at least, to markedly reduce the tuition costs,” said Brent, a Rochester native and an internationally known physician and researcher.

Brent and his wife donated $1 million for medical school scholarships in 2006. The $2 million pledge was announced at the School of Medicine and Dentistry reunion this weekend.

“Once again, the Brents have demonstrated extraordinary generosity and leadership,” said David S. Guzick, M.D., Ph.D., Dean of the School of Medicine and Dentistry. “We must find a solution to the problem of growing student debt. One way to do this is to endow tuition. The Brents have developed a highly innovative approach to the endowment of tuition and have challenged other alumni to join them in ensuring the future of our medical school and our students.”

The burden of debt is a major issue for medical students. Ninety percent of the medical students in the School of Medicine and Dentistry’s Class of 2008, for example, borrowed money to attend the School. Their average debt at graduation was $140,475.

The Brent gift calls for a novel reinvestment strategy. The income generated by the principal in the main fund will be allocated to a starting scholarship fund for each medical school class in their first year. The gift would become part of the endowment of the University and be invested. Each class then also would donate to the fund, thereby increasing its value. The money in the main fund would be retained to support successive class funds. The Brents will match the gifts up to a total of $2 million.

“The Brents certainly have given us the hope for a tuition-free school,” Guzick said.

Brent earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Rochester in 1948, his medical degree from the School of Medicine and Dentistry in 1953 and his doctorate in embryology and radiation biology in 1955. Lillian Brent, also a Rochester native, graduated from the University of Rochester in 1950.

Brent, who received a scholarship when he attended medical school, is the Distinguished Louis and Bess Stein Professor of Pediatrics, Radiology, and Pathology and head of the Clinical and Environmental Teratology Laboratory at duPont Hospital for Children. He also is emeritus chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia. He was chairman of the department for almost 30 years. He is a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences.

Brent is an internationally-recognized and frequently-consulted expert in the effects of radiation, drugs and chemicals on the developing embryo and child. During his career, he has published more than 400 research articles.

Earlier this week, Brent received the 2008 Alfred I. duPont Award for Excellence in Children's Health Care from Nemours, one of the nation's largest children's health systems.

“In 2001, we established this annual award to honor an individual who has made outstanding contributions to health care for children,” said John S. Lord, Chairman of the Nemours Board of Directors. “Dr. Brent's research into the causes and possible prevention of birth defects related to radiation and other environmental exposures has distinguished him among his peers and provided comfort to expectant mothers everywhere.”

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