It's been more than two decades since Warren J. Spector attended St. John's College in Annapolis, but the Wall Street banker can vividly recall the conversations the school inspired among students - some of them lasting well into the night.
"One of the things that's unusual about St. John's is that it's a community - one that fosters a continual discussion," said Spector, a 1981 graduate who is president and co-chief operating officer of Bear, Stearns & Co. in New York. "You're in a classroom having a discussion, and then you leave, and you're still in it. Then, at 10 p.m., you go to the campus coffee shop, where everyone is still discussing."
It's this kind of dialogue that Spector hopes will always be unique to St. John's, which is why he recently gave the college one of the biggest donations in its 221-year history for the construction of a dormitory - Spector Hall.
"It was very clear to me that with real estate prices as strong as they are, it's becoming dramatically difficult for both students and faculty to live near St. John's and participate in the discussions," said Spector, who serves on the school's Board of Visitors and Governors. "To me, a new dorm solves a critical issue for the school - the more people are physically together, the more they are able to converse."
Both Spector and the college declined to disclose the amount of the gift, but said it will cover the cost of constructing the dorm, which is estimated at $7 million. Spector Hall will house 40 students in spacious suites when it opens in January.
Named for Spector's late father - Philip Spector, a residential, commercial and industrial contractor - the dorm is one of two buildings that represent the first new student housing to be built on St. John's Annapolis campus in 50 years.
"I'm delighted by this gift beyond measure," said St. John's President Christopher Nelson. "We are a true community of learning, where what happens in the classroom spills out onto the campus, into the dining halls and onto the playing fields. Having more upperclassmen around to serve as examples for the freshmen will be a wonderful thing for this college."
In recent years, Nelson said, the rising cost of real estate in downtown Annapolis has forced many of St. John's upperclassmen to move far from campus. Spector Hall - along with the other new dorm - will increase the proportion of students the school can house from 60 percent to 80 percent.
Spector, a Maryland native who transferred to St. John's his sophomore year after one year at Princeton University, said he decided to fund the construction when he heard about the problem of housing costs at a board meeting. Since he graduated from St. John's, where he studied political philosophy, Spector said he's always wanted to support the school - a small liberal arts college with another campus in Santa Fe, N.M.
"St. John's was a powerful experience for me," said Spector, 48, who lives in Manhattan's West Village. "I wanted to go to a college where I felt energized and stimulated and engaged every day, and when I got to St. John's, that's how I felt."
Spector also enjoyed studying in Annapolis, a town he called "beautiful and idyllic."
When asked how his gift will change student life at St. John's, Spector said he hopes its benefits will be lasting.
"It will permanently assure that there will be a good place for students to live on campus," he said. "And by living on campus, they will be able to get the full benefit of education there."