Chancellor Jimmy Cheek's Top 25 Initiative is far from accomplished, but another step was taken this week as the Humanities Center announced its faculty and graduate fellows for the next academic year.
The Humanities Center, a relatively new institution, is considered crucial to the chancellor's goal of becoming a Top 25 public research university. Thomas Heffernan, the Kenneth Curry Professor of English and director of the Humanities Center, said that the Center is vital to accomplishing the goal.
"Part of the criteria for Top 25 institutions is getting national humanities fellowships," he said. "There are no Top 25 institutions without a humanities center: none, zero, naught."
The recipients of the Humanities Center fellowships for the next academic year include five faculty fellows and three graduate fellows. They cover a wide range of academic studies, including history, English, classics and philosophy.
Specific proposals include a philosophical study of the nature and significance of luck, Nazi racial selection and re-Germanization during World War II, and a study of Tudor era drama.
Applicants for the Humanities Center fellowships go through a rigorous and competitive process. The program's staff, as well as outside reviewers, look at the applications, which include articles, proposals for research, résumés and letters of recommendation. An average is calculated and recipients are chosen.
"The spread of disciplines is varied, but we bring them together ... ." Heffernan said.
Kyle Stephens, a doctoral candidate in history and graduate fellow of the Humanities Center, described the application process as extensive and competitive.
"I treated the application process as a full-time job," he said. "I wrote, re-wrote and polished my application package until I was convinced I could do no better."
Those awarded with fellowships receive their own offices in Melrose Hall, as well as access to all the resources of the Humanities Center and an exemption from the teaching and service often required of professors for two semesters. Heffernan said the offices are the exclusive workplace of the fellows.
"We have weekly luncheons in which they present and participate in discussion of their papers," he said. "This helps stimulate interdisciplinary endeavors."
Dr. Flavia Brizio-Skov, professor of Italian and faculty fellow, enjoys the benefits afforded by the Humanities Center.
"I have the possibility of spending all my time studying and writing," she said. "We have a secretary, a photocopier and everything else you need. It's the ideal condition for writing."
Stephens, whose graduate research examines Indian removal during the early 19th century, agrees with Dr. Brizio-Skov regarding the benefits provided by his fellowship in the Humanities Center.
"They were essential," he said. "The purpose of the Humanities Center is to provide an arena where professors and graduate students can work—meaning where they can think, write and share ideas. Both the financial backing provided by the Center, including tuition waivers and stipends, as well as the physical space to write, has been an extraordinary blessing."
Dr. Heffernan has big plans for the Humanities Center. He hopes to expand the number of resident fellows to a maximum of 14, as well as increase the number of seminars held in the center to around 80 per year from the approximately 50 it had this year. He also aims to achieve $7 million of funding by the year 2020.
"There is a lot of work to do, and it is a very ambitious plan," he said. "It is important that fellows and graduate students feel a part of this place."