Endowed chairs, professorships honor faculty

By Eleanor Black

To celebrate the excellence of faculty members at the University, endowed chairs and professorships are awarded to those who distinguish themselves in their fields.

Faculty appointments range from a campus-wide scope to others based in individual colleges, departments or other academic units. These appointments are supported financially by an endowment’s annual spending allowance, which is the result of one or more private gifts.

The type of named appointment is defined by the terms of the gift or gifts contributing to it, said Barbara Wilson, executive vice provost for faculty and academic affairs in an email. A named chair is the highest named title at the University and is reserved for appointments supported by a minimum endowment of $2 million. A named professorship is supported by a minimum endowment of $500,000.

“The endowment earns income in the way of interest, and that is what we use to pay for the professorships’ salary supplement and research funding,” Wilson said.  “We don’t actually touch the endowment itself.  Each chair or professorship has its own endowment … that is earning money.”

Paula Adametz Hays, administrative assistant in the office of the LAS dean, said each appointment is different.

“Some endowed appointments come with agreements where the donors specify the area and/or department,” Hays said in an email. “In those cases, the units determine if they have a current faculty member in the relevant area with the appropriate stature, or if this would need to be filled through an external search.”

For named appointments at the college level that are supported by a gift to the college, Hays said a call is put out to all unit heads when there is a vacant or available funded appointment.

The units can then make nominations, which are reviewed by a college committee comprised of faculty members who already hold a named appointment. The committee then passes its advice onto the dean, who then decides how to proceed. 

She added that the next step would be to solicit letters from experts at other institutions about the scholarship and accomplishments of the faculty member in question. Named professorships and chairs are then voted upon by the LAS Executive Committee and then passed along to the Committee on Endowed Appointments.

At this time, Swanlund Chairs make up the largest group of campus-level endowed chairs with 15 appointments. The endowment was provided by the late Maybelle Leland Swanlund, and its purpose is to attract leading figures in the arts and sciences to the University or to recognize outstanding faculty members at the University, according to the Office of the Provost website.

Physics professor Klaus Schulten, a Swanlund Chair, said the named professor positions are given to those seen as particularly strong leaders in their field. Once one becomes a named chair, there are no specific rules to be followed, but there are certain expectations.

“When you get the chaired professor position, you have to be a world leader or clearly distinguished leader in your field,” he said. “People hope that you stay a leader in your field and that you continue to be an academic and scientific leader as time goes on.”

Schulten added that although he doesn’t have to take any concrete actions as a named chair, he does feel obligated to continue working hard.

“You want to add honor to it, you want to also show gratitude to the people that believe in the institution, who have shown support in it,” Schulten said.

Professor in journalism Leon Dash, also a Swanlund Chair, said he does “feel an internal pressure to do a lot of things.”

While working on a documentary about the University’s Department of Rehabilitation and Education Services, the first of its kind in the nation, Dash traveled to various locations to help try to raise money for the project. As the director of the Center for Advanced Study, Dash is currently traveling to five similar centers at public universities around the nation to help look at the future of the University’s center. Much of the travel expenses for these projects are paid for by his Swanlund endowment.

Gutgsell endowed professors make up the second largest group of campus-level endowed chairs with 14 appointments. These professorships are five-year renewable term appointments, though Professor Robert McChesney, a Gutgsell professor in communication, said he was not certain what the criteria are for renewal.

“I assume it is to maintain a stellar and productive research record,” he said in an email, adding that the purpose of the endowment is to “provide resources to faculty so they might be equipped to do their work more effectively.”

McChesney shared Schulten’s sentiments about the honor that comes with the endowed appointments.

“It is an immense honor to have an endowed chair, and I suspect my peers feel the same way I do: with these privileges come great responsibilities to the university, the scholarly community and the general public,” he said.

For donors, the endowment is more about giving than receiving attention. In 2010, alumnus James Avery established the James Avery Endowed Chair in the College of Fine and Applied Arts with a $1.5 million gift

“I got a wonderful education there at the architecture department as an industrial designer,” Avery said. “My professor, Jim Shipley, was great and I appreciated his impact on my life and so I set up that chair.”

In addition to honoring his former teacher, Avery set up the chair to help those in the field with any financial needs. He has no input on who is appointed and said “whoever they wish to help is great.”

“The purpose of the chair is to help others, (who) need some financial help to get along,” Avery said.

Avery said he believes in returning as much as he can to those who have helped him and he hopes future graduates do the same.

Such endowments make it clear to members of the University that this is a valuable institution.

“I’m a proud faculty member and I’m also proud of people loving the University and believing in it and supporting it,” Schulten said. 

Eleanor can be reached at [email protected]