Education was a top priority for Professor Emeritus
of Sociology Hsien-jen “James” Chu and his
wife, Librarian Sylvia Chu, and SUNY Oswego was central
to their lives together. So when the end of his life
was near, James Chu decided to leave a legacy to the
college he loved.
Chu, who passed away Oct. 22, bequeathed $300,000 to
the Oswego College Foundation to name the atrium and
academic commons in the new Campus Center in memory
of himself and his wife. Sylvia Chu died in 1990.
“Both of them took their roles at the college
very seriously. It embodied everything they did. That
was their identity,” said their daughter, Joanne
Chu, a professor at Spelman College. “To his dying
day, my dad was very proud of the fact that he was a
professor at SUNY Oswego.”
Her brother agreed. “Our family was just so SUNY-centric,”
said Gerald Chu, a researcher at Dana Farber Cancer
Institute affiliated with Harvard University.
“We are extremely grateful to James Chu and his
entire family for their generosity to the college,”
said President Deborah F. Stanley. “In life, James
and Sylvia gave much to the college by their dedication
to their disciplines and to our students. Now they are
leaving a legacy from which generations of Oswego students
The atrium and academic commons are the “heart”
of the academic portion of the Campus Center, located
in Swetman Hall, said Tom Simmonds
’84, director of facilities design and
construction. The two-story atrium will overlook the
central part of the building and the academic commons
will include casual spaces where students and professors
can connect outside of classes for informal discussions.
Swetman Hall is now under renovation and the final phase
of the Campus Center project is expected to open in
The connection with academic space would please both
of their parents, said the Chu children.
“I think it’s a particularly appropriate
gift, not just for my father, but for the four of us,”
said Gerald Chu. “We literally grew up on campus.”
Brother and sister attended the Campus School in Swetman
Hall, where the atrium will be located.
They both took college courses in their senior year
of high school and remember doing research for high
school term papers at Penfield Library.
Colleagues described James and Sylvia Chu as very dedicated
to SUNY Oswego.
“Jim was very responsible with his students, his
colleagues, with the institution,” said Norman
Weiner, director of the Honors Program and chair of
the sociology department, with Chu for over 20 years.
Weiner called him a “dedicated teacher”
and said, “I found him to be both a gentleman
and a gentle man.”
Professor Emerita Barbara Gerber, whose office was in
Mahar Hall with Chu, called him “very student-oriented.”
Both Weiner and Gerber remember that he taught a course
in the modern family and held “very traditional”
Sylvia Chu’s colleagues likewise praised her dedication
to the college. Librarian Nancy
Osborne ’70 remembered that Sylvia Chu
was known for helping international students and foreign
scholars when they came to use library resources.
She was active in the SUNY Librarians Association and
presented at women’s studies conferences.
The Chus loved camping and canoeing, and took trips
to the Adirondacks along with Gerber and Osborne.
Mary Bennett, who worked with Sylvia Chu in the technical
services department of Penfield Library, remembered
her as “very solid, a true blue kind of person,”
who encouraged her in professional development.
James Chu was born in Nanjing, China. He earned his
doctorate in sociology from the University of Florida
in 1966, began teaching at Oswego in 1969 and retired
from Oswego in 1994.
Sylvia Chu was born in Beijing, China, and her family
fled to Taiwan in 1943 before the communists took over.
In 1963 she came to America and married James, whom
she had known since college. She began as an assistant
librarian at Penfield Library in 1979 and worked there
until her death.
— Michele A. Reed
To December 2006 E-Newsletter