Chu bequest to name Swetman atrium, academic commons

Chu atriumEducation was a top priority for Hsien-jen “James” Chu, a professor emeritus of sociology, and his wife, Sylvia Chu, formerly of Penfield Library, and the college 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 Swetman Hall portion of the Campus Center complex 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.

“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 will benefit.”

The atrium and academic commons in Swetman Hall are the heart of the academic portion of the Campus Center complex, said Tom Simmonds, the college’s director of facilities design and construction. The two-story atrium will overlook the central part of the building. 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 this final phase of the Campus Center complex is expected to open in fall 2007.

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. They 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 dedicated to SUNY Oswego. “Jim was very responsible with his students, his colleagues, with the institution,” said Norman Weiner, director of the college’s Honors Program, who taught in the sociology department with Chu for more than 20 years. “I found him to be both a gentleman and a gentle man,” he said.

Sylvia Chu’s colleagues likewise praised her dedication to the college. Librarian emeritus Nancy Osborne 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.

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 in 1994.

Sylvia Chu was born in Beijing, 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.

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PHOTO CAPTION: Chu atrium—SUNY Oswego’s Swetman Hall will reopen next fall as the academic hub of the campus, and the atrium and academic commons areas will be named for a former Oswego academic couple, James and Sylvia Chu. The atrium now taking shape is shown in a 2004 architectural rendering.

(Posted: Nov 15, 2006)