“Education Is the Great Equalizer”
Former Chairman of the $14 billion Aramark Corporation, Joseph Neubauer, has a personal story that is as fascinating as his business achievements. He and his wife, Jeanette, a marketing and communications entrepreneur and executive, are corporate and civic leaders whose name precedes them at universities across the US and Israel. At TAU, the Neubauers established a doctoral fellowship fund for Israel’s Arab minority in STEM—science, technology, engineering and mathematics—and a similar faculty recruitment program, both aiming to effect broader change in society.
Mr. Neubauer, you came alone to the United States from British-controlled Palestine at the age of 14. How did this affect your life’s path and your giving?
My parents sent me to live with my aunt and uncle in the US at the age of 14, barely speaking a word of English, with all my belongings contained in one suitcase. I came here not only to gain a better education, but also to forge a fresh start for the entire family. My first years were not easy. Learning English was a challenge; I was the first and only foreign student in my whole high school. But I was blessed with a number of teachers who invested in me and enabled me to succeed and ultimately achieve a bachelor’s degree from Tufts University and a full scholarship to the University of Chicago for my MBA. I believe it is my responsibility and privilege to invest in people in the same way.
What lessons from the corporate world do you apply to your philanthropy?
In our philanthropy, we are intent on investing in people and ideas that can achieve a transformational impact that lasts, much as we did when we worked in the corporate world.
There are many things we seek to change: inequities in education, violent crime, food insecurity within our communities, opportunities for minorities. Within each of the areas we strive to change, we ask ourselves: where will our investment have the greatest impact? It is when you find those points—and the right leaders—that you can begin to change the system. Good leadership is essential and requires courage, creativity and the ability both to set a strategic vision and inspire a shared sense of purpose among your team.
Why the focus on higher education?
We believe deeply in the capacity for higher education to help young people develop into committed, influential and active global citizens. Through our philanthropy, we strive to make education a right, not a privilege, for many more deserving young persons.
Why does your support for Arab doctoral students at TAU focus on STEM fields?
The genesis of our investment in Arab doctoral students and faculty stems from a trip to Israel 10 years ago. We were struck by how diverse undergraduate campuses were becoming, and yet students did not see themselves equally represented among the faculty, particularly in the sciences. And so began our investment in doctoral fellowships as a way to enhance the pipeline.
In just a single year since we began the fellowship program at Tel Aviv University, we were delighted to see the number of matriculating PhD students in the STEM fields increase by 225%. We are hopeful this kind of momentum can be sustained, feeding the pipeline of Israeli-Arab STEM scientists and contributing to Israel’s positioning as a global leader in technology.
Why did you establish the Israeli-Arab Academic Career Pathways Initiative for faculty members?
Increasing diversity on academic campuses not only establishes more Arab role models to teach and mentor students who may aspire to high levels in academia and industry, but it also creates more employment opportunities for minorities at the faculty level.
Our first Neubauer Lecturer, Dr. Wasim Huleihel, is a talented young scientist focusing on one of the most exciting fields in science today—machine learning and statistics. His credentials make him a paradigm of the type of academic leader we want to bring to TAU.
How will your TAU projects create broader change in Israeli society?
The work we support at TAU and other universities transcends the walls of academia. We are firm believers that the most direct way to change the world for the better is to invest in human capital. Our investment in faculty and PhD students will affect other students who are the future of Israel. They are capable of effecting substantive, long-term improvements within their fields, their communities and society at large.
What’s next on your philanthropic horizon?
COVID-19 has shined a light on the multiple inequities that our societies face. Issues such as crime, food insecurity and lack of access to education and technology are growing more dire each day. These fields need systemic change and thus we are focusing our efforts on them now.
By Idit Nirel