When it comes to supporting the University of New Haven, attorney Philip H. Bartels is outspoken about his love for the school. His family has been actively involved with UNH since 1977, funding a scholarship in the family’s name and providing money to renovate Bartels Hall, the campus center.
Bartels has been a member of the university’s board of governors since 1988, following in his father Henry’s footsteps. And this summer, he was elevated to chairman of the university’s board of governors, 26-member entity that helps shape the future of the university. “It’s an absolutely wonderful place, and it’s a privilege to be part of this dynamic university,” said Bartels, who is of counsel in Shipman & Goodwin’s Greenwich office.
For all the love Bartels has for UNH, he actually has never attended a class there. He’s a Cornell University and University of Chicago Law School grad. No else in his family attended UNH either.
But patriarch Henry Bartles was impressed by the university when he was a vice president for the International Silver Co. in Meriden in the 1970s. “Dad noticed a lot of key people in corporate management had graduated from the University of New Haven,” Bartels said. “He called the university and said he had no academic affiliation with the university but its graduates are important to the company and he wanted to support the school.”
And so began the family’s long-standing connection to the school that was founded in 1920 and has grown from a commuter college to a well-regarded private university with 6,400 students that currently ranks No. 100 in U.S. News & World Report among regional universities in the North.
“Its growth and changes have been unbelievable,” said Bartels, whose law practice includes matrimonial law and charitable organization work, such as corporate governance, contracts and litigation. It’s the perfect legal background for his role on the board, and he regularly works on UNH matters pro bono. “We continue to work hard for our standing [in U.S. News & World Report],” Bartels said. “Parents want to make sure there’s proper return on the investment they’re making.”
The board of governors’ focus has shifted over time, Bartels noted, although financial matters remain a primary role. There’s been more of a focus on strategic planning for the near term as well as 10 years into the future, working closely with university President Steven H. Kaplan.
“Those are two things I consider to be very important,” Bartels said. When it comes to strategic ideas, “we’re fostering an environment where the administration can continue to work with us, give us feedback on ideas and push back on us when necessary. A collaborative role with the administration is so important to the success of the university.”
Their work over the years has resulted in adding to the educational offerings through the colleges of business and engineering as well as the Henry C. Lee College of Criminal Justice and Forensic Sciences, named after the world-renowned forensic expert. “[Lee] has brought national prominence to our university,” Bartels said.
For the past several years, the board and administration has looked into the possibility of creating a law school. “It’s not going to happen tomorrow or next year, but the idea is still there,” Bartels said. “We want to make sure the faculty is supportive of this because it requires a significant investment.”
Serving on a university’s board of governors had been a relative anonymous position until recently. But with the sexual abuse scandal at Penn State University over the past year, there’s more public awareness of a board’s actions.
As a result of the scandal at Penn State, where the university’s governing board said it had never been told of longstanding allegations against former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, Bartels said the UNH board has taken steps to ensure that all types of information are exchanged between the board and the university president.
During the board meeting in late September, “we talked about how we need to be kept apprised of things going on, good or bad, at all time,” Bartels said. “[President Kaplan] is good about giving us the unvarnished facts. We talked specific to Penn State, we need to keep an open channel of communication.”
Typically, Bartels said, the issues are related to finances and the university’s $26 million endowment. This time of year, it’s important to know how many students showed up for the fall semester and are paying tuition to ensure that programs can be funded.
“We’re a tuition-driven university, and we can’t use our endowment income for programs,” said Bartels. “We’ve been fortunate to have surpluses during my time on the board.” •