Campus: Northridge -- March 6, 2007

Real Estate Investor Robert Barbera Creates Endowment to Underscore the Value Public Debate

NORTHRIDGE, Calif., March 6, 2007) — Real estate investor and philanthropist Robert Barbera has established a $150,000 endowment at Cal State Northridge to foster an appreciation among students of their liberties and responsibilities as Americans, in particular the value of public debate.

The Robert Barbera Endowment in Forensics will support the university’s annual Collegiate Forensics Invitational Tournament as well as other debate programs in CSUN’s Department of Communication Studies. The $150,000 endowment is in addition to the $7,500 gift Barbera gave to the department earlier this year to underwrite the costs of the first Robert Barbera Intramural Debate Tournament in the spring of 2007.

"Mr. Barbera’s gift is designed to encourage young people to become more engaged on issues of civic and national importance and to create an opportunity and a platform for such engagement," said Peter Nwosu, chair of the Department of Communication Studies. "His gift will make such a difference in the lives of our students, and potentially society as a whole."

Collegiate forensics, the study of public discussion and debate, is one of the most rigorous academic extra-curricular activities at the university. Forensics students spend hundreds of hours preparing and competing against students from universities across the country and around the world.

At the CSUN invitational, students from all over the country compete in such areas as policy debate, parliamentary debate, extemporaneous speaking, impromptu and after-dinner speaking, communicational analysis, duo interpretation, dramatic interpretation, prose, programmed oral interpretation and persuasive and informative speaking.

Barbera said he sees his gift as a way of cutting through the shouting and ranting that marks so much of today’s discourse and of reminding people, particularly young people, of the role respectful dialogue played in this nation’s history and hopefully will again.

"Today, people don’t so much talk to each other as they do shout and yell at each other," he said. "We’re so busy trying to get people to agree with us, we’re not listening to what they have to say. There is so little respect or appreciation for where the other person is coming from and how they arrived at their conclusion. What CSUN does with its forensics program is remind people how to talk and listen to one another. It’s such a valuable tool to have, whether you’re engaged in world affairs or in simple person-to-person relationships."

Barbera is a longtime supporter of the university. Last year, he created a $52,000 endowment to support performances of music students. A year before that, he established the Robert Barbera Scholarship in Voice in the music department. He has spent many years building support for the university’s Italian program in the College of Humanities. He also serves on the development committee of the Imagine the Arts Campaign for the university’s new performing arts center.

Barbera said he was a scholarship recipient when he went to college and he understands the importance of gifts from donors to a student’s education.

"This is my way of paying back, helping others like I was helped," he said.

CSUN’s director of forensics Sylvia Symonds said a gift like the one from Barbera was "unheard of" in the field of forensics.

"This ensures that the program will be successful, not just now but in the future," she said. "It was so unexpected and so generous. The students are thrilled."

Born in Brooklyn, New York, Robert Barbera moved to California in 1955 and later graduated from California State University, Los Angeles with a degree in accounting. After working several years as an auditor and corporate financial advisor, he started his own real estate company. Barbera has been active in a number of Italian-American organizations, promoting a series of philanthropic ventures to encourage the study of Italian at CSU Long Beach and Pepperdine University as well as at CSUN. His wife, Jo, is a former employee of Northridge’s Michael D. Eisner College of Education.

Barbera is also chair of the board of the Americanism Educational League, which is dedicated to informing and educating all citizens, especially students, about the liberties and responsibilities that are their birthright as Americans.

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