Gift of Graham estate will support innovative liberal arts teachingBy Josh Schonwald
The estate of the late Katharine Graham, former publisher of The Washington Post, has given the University $5.5 million, $4 million of which has been designated to support an innovative program designed to advance the quality of liberal arts teaching at the University.
Honoring Graham, an alumna of the College (A.B.,’38), a former member of the University’s Board of Trustees and one of the most influential newspaper publishers of her generation, the gift is the largest contribution ever to the Society of Fellows in the Liberal Arts. This program recruits some of the world’s most promising young scholars to teach liberal arts courses in the University’s renowned undergraduate college, and the Katharine Graham Fellowships will support four, four-year positions in the Society of Fellows.
“The Graham fellows are a vital part of the College’s most central commitment,” said John Boyer, Dean of the College, “that of continually sustaining and enriching the teaching of the College’s liberal arts curriculum.”
“Katharine Graham was one of the University’s most distinguished and generous alumnae,” said President Randel. “During the more than 30 years that she served as a University Trustee, her courage and her commitment to the highest ideals embodied precisely that for which the University stands.”
Selected from among the world’s top young scholars, the inaugural Katharine Graham Fellows include Julia Kindt, a historian of the ancient world, who received her Ph.D. from Cambridge University; Abraham Stone, a Harvard University Ph.D. and philosopher; and two anthropologists, Holly Swyers (A.M.,’99, Ph.D.,’03) and Hylton White (Ph.D.,’01), who both received degrees from Chicago. The four will join 21 current members of the Society of Fellows.
The purpose of the Society of Fellows, which grew out of a program established in 1975, is to create an elite cadre of specialists in liberal arts teaching, said Boyer, who created the group in 1999.
Fellows are selected because of their interest in and aptitude for undergraduate teaching, their research and scholarly abilities, and their ability to lead the intimate and rigorous classroom conversations that are among the hallmarks of the College. Fellows receive regular guidance from senior faculty members on teaching strategies, and in an effort to allow them to concentrate on teaching, they are freed from committee and departmental responsibilities.
But the privileges afforded these fellows come with a great responsibility, said David Bevington, the Phyllis Fay Horton Distinguished Service Professor in the Humanities and one of the society’s co-directors. Fellows, who also have the title of Collegiate Assistant Professor, teach Core courses—Human Being and Citizen, Greek Thought and Literature, Self, Culture and Society, and Classics of Social and Political Thought—that have been part of the curriculum for decades.
“These courses are the very heart of the College program, devoted to the study of great books and ideas across the curriculum,” said Bevington, one of 20 senior members of the Society of Fellows. “They are the basis of our College’s continuing and growing commitment to liberal education.”
Not only does the society bring superior young teachers to the College, Boyer said, but it also serves a crucial role in supporting veteran faculty members and achieving the College’s commitment to high quality teaching in the Core curriculum.
“The idea of the Society of Fellows is radically simple,” said Boyer. “Combine the engagement and fresh outlook of the fellows with the wisdom and experience of senior faculty.” In bi-weekly meetings, Boyer said, both junior and senior faculty work together from their distinctive perspectives to advance the pedagogic experience in the Core courses.
In addition to helping enrich undergraduate teaching, the society assists junior fellows in achieving their intellectual and professional goals. As members of the society, junior fellows receive mentoring for their scholarly projects from an interdisciplinary group, including some of the University’s most distinguished faculty.
Moreover, in seeking to create a community of scholars, the Society of Fellows sponsors academic conferences each year on such themes as agency and cultural stratigraphy.
Since its creation, the Society of Fellows has been an exceptionally successful program, said Boyer; its fellows often are among the College’s most well-regarded instructors by both students and colleagues. Boyer said he was most grateful for the Graham family’s support of the Society of Fellows. “The University has benefited from three generations of the Graham family’s involvement,” he said, “and these fellowships will continue that association for years to come.”
In her autobiography, Graham described her own experience in the famous Hutchins and Adler seminar on the Great Books as “good for me.” Chicago was “a center of intellectual turmoil. I had found an intellectually stimulating academic environment, had developed wonderful friendships, had grown up significantly and enjoyed myself very much indeed.”
She went on to become one of the most influential and admired women of her generation, taking over as president of The Washington Post in 1963, following the death of her husband.
She led the newspaper to national prominence in the 1970s with its investigative reporting on the Pentagon Papers and the Watergate scandal, and transformed the small Post Co. into a diversified Fortune 500 media corporation.
In 1998, she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for her autobiography, Personal History. To honor Graham, the University named a College house in the Max Palevsky Residential Commons after her in 2002.
Bevington added that the Graham gift will “support this crucial endeavor and signal its prime importance in our intellectual and professional lives. We are deeply grateful for this splendid support.”