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Mark Ross and Shannon Chandley

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URI launches $500,000 campaign for Center for the Humanities

Scientists often get awarded huge grants to continue their research. Humanists, on the other hand, often get huge dark circles under their eyes trying to figure out how to pay for their scholarly pursuits.

Now thanks to a new initiative at the University of Rhode Island, faculty members and graduate students in the humanities will be able to sleep better at night.

The University is launching a four-year $500,000 endowment campaign to bolster the coffers of its Center for the Humanities. Some enthusiastic alumni have already stepped forward with leadership gifts totaling more than $125,000 and two URI graduates Shannon Chandley and Mark Ross have agreed to co-chair the campaign (see sidebar).

“We have just successfully completed three important and much needed building campaigns. We can now turn our full attention to continuing to grow the University’s endowment,” said Robert Beagle, vice president of University Advancement. “Establishing an endowment for the humanities is an ideal way to launch this initiative.

“At URI, we enjoy a distinguished humanities community. For example, four of our humanities faculty members just concluded a year as Fulbright Fellows, two of our history students were nominees for Marshall scholarships which are given for academic excellence and service, and one recent humanities alumni, Rachel Walshe, won a Rhodes Scholarship. We need this kind of stable support that an endowment can provide for this core area of education,” Beagle added.

This new effort will expand and endow the current activities of URI’s Center for the Humanities, created by URI’s Faculty Senate in 1994. The Center broadly defines humanities to include the disciplines of history, English, languages, philosophy, religious studies, music, art, and theater, as well as such inter-disciplinary programs as African and African-American studies, women’s studies, and comparative literature. It also includes all other disciplines that employ humanistic content or approaches in research and teaching, especially anthropology, communication studies, economics, journalism, political science, psychology, and sociology. All of the University’s 11,000 undergraduates are required to take courses in humanities in order to graduate.

Specifically, the endowment for the Center will fund research fellowships for outstanding humanities faculty members and promising graduate students, and a series of public speakers featuring distinguished humanities scholars.

“The humanities form a vital component of the College of Arts and Sciences and are at the heart of our scholarship, curriculum, and public outreach,” said Winifred Brownell, dean of the college who is helping spearhead the campaign. “This year’s Honors Colloquium, for example, is coordinated by Philosophy Professor Lynn Pasquerella and Political Science Professor Larry Rothstein and is focused on the ethical, legal, and social impact of the genetic revolution. This is a great illustration of how the humanities connect to our lives, other disciplines, and crucial issues.

Brownell stressed: “There are several award-winning faculty and students in the humanities whose scholarship is published by some of the most prestigious presses in the world. Some of their awards include Woodrow Wilson, Ford, Fulbright, NEH, Guggenheim, NATO, American Council for Learned Societies, and AACU fellowships.

“In the post 9/11 era, many recognize the valuable perspectives of humanists more than ever before. We need to support our humanities scholars in these endeavors and this campaign is designed to do exactly that,” said the dean.

Each year since its establishment, the Center has awarded two to four small fellowships to faculty members to enhance their humanities research. Often the fellowships have provided modest amounts of money for such things as travel expenses, archival research, or perhaps a lap top computer.

Fellowships have helped fund a labor professor’s study of Irish-American labor history, a journalist’s exploration of ethics in global journalism, a sociologist’s study on the effects of fishing regulations on Rhode Island families, and an anthropologist researching the life of Emma Darwin, among others.

“Just a modest amount of money can make all the difference in the world,” said Marie Jenkins Schwartz, an associate professor of history and director of the Center for the Humanities, whose earlier humanities fellowship helped her complete research that led to the publication of a book on reproductive health care for enslaved women.

“The campaign will allow us to offer fellowships to graduate students for the first time and that truly is exciting,” said Schwartz noting that the College of Arts and Sciences Hope and Heritage Fund provides funds for undergraduate travel and related expenses. Graduate students have no such fund.

”Furthermore, until now the Center has only been able to give fellowships to faculty who were on sabbatical,” Schwartz added. “The endowment will certainly provide more opportunities for more faculty members.”

Any donor who donates $1,000 or more will be given permanent recognition on a plaque created for the Center for the Humanities. Naming opportunities for faculty and graduate student fellowships, speaker program, and more are available. For more information, call Tom Zorabedian, senior development officer for the College of Arts and Sciences, at 401-874-2853 or e-mail him at

By Jan Wenzel

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