For over a hundred years, Columbia's holdings in New York City real estate have provided lucrative returns. An authoritative history of Columbia notes:

The silent key to Columbia's increasing academic power was its growing financial strength. Barnard [President, 1857-1889] said in 1866 he needed $15 million to make Columbia an internationally great university; and he battled for funds. Owing to the appreciation of its land holdings, the College cleared its debts in 1872 and went on to improve faculty salaries and offer scholarships to dispel its reputation as a rich man's college. [Cort]

When Columbia moved to Morningside Heights campus it retained its former campus sites in lower [World. Trade Center Area] and mid-Manhattan [Rockefeller Center Area]. With the post World War II real estate boom these strategically located properties became a much sought after prize by real estate speculators and developers. These realtors were attracted to the Columbia board of trustees and now constitute a significant portion of the board. [see chart] The positions which these men hold offer them lucrative opportunities to manipulate university land holdings and finances for their own private gain.

On Columbia's Board we may identify at least one clearly definable community of interest which has done just that: Percy Uris and Adrian Massie of Uris Buildings Corporation, Peterson of Irving Trust Co., Alan Temple of First National City Bank, Maurice T. Moore of the law firm, Cravath, Swaine and Moore, and Benjamin Buttenweiser of the investment firm of Kuhn, Loeb and Co.

In order to operate profitably in the New York real estate business a company has to meet three major prerequisites:

It must assemble a prospective site, i.e. buy up small plots of property from their numerous owners. Maintaining the secrecy of its plans is essential to prevent land prices from sky-rocketing.


It must secure future tenants for the building in order to assure potential creditors the operation will be profitable.


It must arrange for loans to finance the construction of the building. Realty firms are heavily dependent on their creditors, principally commercial banks [for short-term financing]. This dependence is a result of the nature of realty investment which unlike the stocks and bonds of ordinary investment companies is in the form of non-liquid capital [land, buildings]. Rental income pays off the initial cost of building a building at a slow rate.

Anyone having a position on the Columbia Board would have a clear advantage over his competitors in meeting these prerequisites for he would have access to both the financial resources of the university and the corporate connections of its other board members. This is clearly demonstrated by how Percy Uris as Chairman of the Finance Committee used Columbia finances to assemble sites which his company then leased from Columbia; and how he used his contacts on the Board to attain not only tenants and creditors but also top notch legal and financial advice.

Wall St. Lease

Toward the and of 1966, Percy Uris as Chairman of the Finance Committee used University finances to assemble an entire block [Front St., South St., Gouverneui Lane and Wall St.] at 111 Wall St. On January 17, 1967, Columbia leased the land to Uris Buildings corporation on a long term basis [until April 2009, with two 30 year renewal options] for an annual rent of $400,000.

A few months prior to leasing the land from Columbia, UBC secured a tenant for the building which it planned to build on the site. The tenant was the First National City Bank of which Columbia trustee Alan Temple is a director and vice president.

Percy Uris was able to secure short term financing for the building from the bank of another Columbia trustee, William E. Peterson [at that time an alumni trustee -- life trustee since January, 1968]. On June 13, 1967, Irving Trust Co. of which Peterson is president loaned UBC $22,500,000 for the construction of the building.

Two other Columbia trustees provided Percy Uris with topnotch financial and legal advice when he and his brother, Harold Uris, reorganized their real estate holdings into a public corporation in March, 1960. Benjamin J. Buttenweiser, a long time Columbia University trustee and partner of the prestigious investment firm of Kuhn, Loeb & Co., received a $250,000 commission from UBC as its financial advisor. This company has underwritten every stock and bond issue which UBC has floated since. Maurice T. Moore, likewise a longtime Columbia University trustee, and partner of the law firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore as well as a former Chairman of the Board of Time Inc. functioned as UBC's legal advisor.

Rockland County Purchase

Another example of Percy Uris's use of his position as a Columbia trustee to the advantage of his company is the Rockland County purchase which he made in August, 1967. On October 5, 1967, an article in the Columbia student newspaper, The Spectator, revealed that UBC had purchased a 220 acre plot in Orangetown, Rockland County, which Columbia University had an option to buy, but rejected. As Chairman of the Finance Committee which oversees the management of University funds, Uris was in a strategic position to influence Columbia's decision not to buy the site and to arrange for its acquisition by his own company. The executor of the will of the estate which offered the land for sale was conveniently, Irving Trust Co., UBC's major creditor whose president, William Peterson, sits of the Columbia Board of Trustees.

The likelihood of a tri-cornered deal between Columbia University, UBC and Irving Trust Co. is suggested by subsequent events. In the winter of 1968 Columbia University bought a 545 acre site in Rockland County near that purchased by UBC. UBC has announced that it plans to build a complex of office research buildings on its site while Columbia has announced that it plans to construct 1,000 faculty homes on its site. The two projects may well be interrelated -- that is, designed to accommodate an industrial spin-off from Columbia University itself.

The rise' of Percy Uris to such an influential position on the Columbia University Board of Trustees was due primarily to his formal alliance with the Rockefeller interests. A review of the sequence of events surrounding Uris's rise makes the provisions of this alliance clear. In 1960 the Uris Brothers who had built up a substantial realty and construction business -- building 14% of the office space constructed in New York City since World War II -- entered into a series of deals with Rockefeller Center Inc. The formal alliance began when Lawrance Rockefeller, head of Rockefeller Center Inc. allied with Percy Uris in order to undercut another realtor, Zeckendorf of Webb & Knapp, who held a site between 51st Street and the Avenue of the Americas. Lawrance Rockefeller undermined Zeckendorf's plans for a luxury hotel on the site by refusing to back him. By withholding his endorsement Rockefeller ensured that Zeckendorf would not find the creditors who alone would make his project a success.

Uris Buildings Corp. promptly picked up the site which Zeckendorf was forced to sell and announced a joint venture between his company and Rockefeller Center Inc. to build an office building. Lawrance Rockefeller's endorsement enabled Percy Uris to land a prestigious tenant, Sperry Rand (a Rockefeller associated business). Uris owns 50% of the building and Rockefeller Center Inc. the other 50%. Shortly afterwards the two concluded another lucrative deal with Hilton Hotels Inc. They arranged for the building of a New York Hilton, which is 25% owned by Rockefeller Center Inc., 25% by Hilton Hotels, Inc. and 50% by UBC.

Uris' appointment as a life trustee of Columbia University in 1960 was undoubtedly due, in considerable part, to his business partnership with the Rockefellers, (just as was the appointment of Percy's brother, Harold, to the board of Cornell University by Governor Rockefeller in August 1962). The Rockefeller family, though not directly represented on the Columbia board, plays a strong indirect role in the formulation of university policies through their extensive contributions and through their representatives on the board and in the administration.

Rockefeller controlled corporations (such as Rockefeller Center Inc., Chase Manhattan Bank, The Bank of New York, and Standard Oil of New Jersey and the American Express Company) and the Rockefeller Foundation contribute a significant percentage of Columbia's finances. Both post-World War II Columbia presidents, Eisenhower and Kirk, have been closely linked with the Rockefellers. Eisenhower's political base, the Wall Street Republican establishment, includes among its main components the Rockefeller family. The primary corporate connection of President Kirk is Socony Mobil Oil Co; Kirk was the first director chosen outside the management of his Rockefeller controlled firm. Besides Uris the main representative of Rockefeller interests on Columbia's board is Frederick Kappel. Kappel is the former Chairman of the Board of A.T&T in which the Rockefeller family has a strong interest and is a director of Chase Manhattan Bank and Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, both Rockefeller controlled financial institutions. (See the section on Institutional Expansion for a discussion of the Rockefeller influence over other Morningside Heights institutions.) The Rockefeller family also has a longstanding business relationship with Columbia. Since the 1930's Rockefeller Center Inc. has leased the land for its buildings, a former Columbia campus site, from the university.

Uris proved to be an ambitious ally. He quickly established an independent base of power by exerting, control over the treasurer's office -- an operation separate from the central campus on Liberty Street -- which handles Columbia's portfolio. The office is headed by William Bloor (whose brother James Bloor is head of the Central Savings Bank of N.Y.) who, according to inside sources makes-investment decisions only in close consultation with Uris. Uris used his influence over Bloor to arrange for a purchase of a large block of his corporation's stock -- 33,422 shares. (in addition to donating, along with his brother, 75,000 shares).

Uris established a secondary base of power in the Business School. By 1964, he had donated at least $3 million to a new graduate school of Business building named after himself (Uris Hall) and architecturally influenced by his philistine motto: "a good looking or beautiful building is one that does its work well." To solidify his influence with the Business School he appointed its dean, Courtney C. Brown, director of Uris Business Corporation in April 1960. Brown along with his wife holds 1,566 shares of UBC stock worth approximately $59,508. Uris's associate, a major stockholder of UBC, Charles Beneson, is also a large donor to the Business School.

A further indication of Uris' power was the appointment of Adrian Massie, Chemical Bank, N.Y. Trust Co. official, to the Board of Directors of Uris company nine months after Massie joined the Columbia. Board of Trustees (January 1962). Massie was given the option to buy 4,650 shares of common stock at the adjusted price of $15.53 per share at a time when the market price was $38.00 -- a profit of $84,000.

The close alliance between Uris, Chairman of the Trustees' Finance Committee, Brown, Dean of the Business School, and Bloor, University Treasurer represents what may be considered the clique which presently controls university finances, and hence has a strong hand in university policy. The major role they played in planning the Piers Area Development Project indicates the strength of their hold over university funds. This project (to cover ten city blocks from 125th Street to 135th Street), is modeled after the Stanford Industrial Park in which satellite industries take advantage of university research facilities. As such, the project constitutes a major innovation for Columbia University. Among the major inhabitants of the project will be the Riverside Research Institute, a university associated agency which handles numerous defense contracts (see the Defense Research Nexus section). Uris Buildings Corp., of course, is scheduled to build the complex.

Evidence indicates that, though the Rockefellers were instrumental in Uris's rise to power, they have, in fact, lost control of him. The student rebellion appears to have aggravated a split which has been developing in the Board. 'Those most closely associated with the Rockefellers, particularly Kappel and Paley (a close friend of the family), espouse a more flexible policy towards student protests than that which the Uris clique in power has administered. Governor Rockefeller's recent speech (May 24, 1968) in which he rejected Nixon's interpretation of rebellion as insurrectional is a further indication of the split. Sources reveal that Rockefeller associates are trying to wrest control over Columbia's funds from the Uris clique. Given the institutional power of the Rockefellers Uris' chances of survival are slim.