The College Magazine - Summer 2001
If the dean of the College had his druthers, there would be ...

For Every Professor, a Chair
For Every Chair, a Professorship
by Craig Owens

The March 8, 2001, Wall Street Journal devoted its front page to the topic of endowments, and the Chronicle of Higher Education reports on endowments almost constantly. Newsletters, alumni-relations notices, and college magazines (like this one) always mention their importance. But what, precisely, is an endowment? How does it work? What does it do? Do healthy endowments mean a healthy university?

Dean Swamy

Increased funding from private donations can result in short and long-term improvements and enhancements that make a difference to teaching, research, and in particular; students.

As the Bloomington Campus Endowment Campaign came to an extraordinarily successful close recently, I asked a handful of professors and Dean Kumble Subbaswamy - the people at IU on the front line of teaching and research - to give me some insight into what endowed professorships and chairs mean to the institution's mission of discovering and teaching knowledge. Their answers differ according to their experiences and backgrounds, but they all agree on one major premise: Increased funding from private donations can result in short- and long-term improvements and enhancements that make a difference to teaching, research, and, in particular, students. They also agree that, like juggling, managing endowments - and the chairs and professorships that result from them - requires consummate skill and constant attention.

Indiana University endowments work like this: Money donated from private sources is invested and managed by the IU Foundation to provide growth year to year. Only the earnings of the endowment are ever spent; the original sum is always untouched. Earnings include dividends, interest, and any capital appreciation. The foundation distributes approximately 5 percent of the fund each year for such diverse enrichments as topping off an existing salary line, supporting undergraduate, graduate, or postdoctoral students, paying for travel, equipment, technical support, publication costs, seminars or lectures, and other important initiatives that further teaching and research. The portion of the earnings not distributed is retained in the fund to keep pace with inflation and provide more growth in the future.

John Bodnar, Chancellor's Professor and chair of the Department of History, understands this process well and asserts that the benefits from the endowment "work out in a lot of different ways. We've had a number of endowed chairs and professorships in history: a chair in Latin American history; one professorship in Indiana history and American history; and another professorship in Russian history."

Holding an endowed faculty position is more prestigious and gives the faculty member more money to make his or her work possible. Sometimes that means funding for research into areas of specialty. At other times, endowment funds are used to improve facilities, training, and instruction for students in a specific field. As Bodnar explains, "An endowed chair allows us to attract faculty of a very high level of distinction. Likewise, we've built one of the best Latin American history fields in the United States, and that endowment allows us to reinforce existing areas of strength. We don't look at them as ways simply to get more resources, but as ways to expand core areas of excellence."

Gerald Larson, Tagore Chair of Indiana Studies, explains to students the significance of a sculpture.
Gerald Larson, Tagore Chair of India Studies, explains to students the significance of a sculpture.

The endowment also makes the day-to-day operations of a school or department more efficient and effective. Bodnar points out that "endowments allow us to plan our futures a bit more creatively, if you will, with the guarantee of extra resources that allow us to think about our long-range planning." That kind of freedom from year-to-year budgetary reallocations means that researchers can commit to creative approaches, that teachers can offer something lively and cutting-edge to students, and that students can pursue special opportunities with professors who are doing important work in their fields.

John Schilb, who holds the Culbertson Chair of Composition in the Department of English, concurs. He recognizes that the chance to research and practice composition pedagogy with the strength of an endowment behind him is a rare opportunity since "there are few endowed chairs of composition in the country." Thus, students of writing - and every student at IU is at one time or another a student of writing - get opportunities at IU they might not have at other research institutions.

"Experts in composition and cultural studies have given talks not only to faculty, but to students taking W131, our introductory writing course," Schilb points out. "A number of these speakers are alumni, for example, Tom Fox, David Shumway, and Deborah Brandt. Others include Anne Ducille, Victor Villanueva, and authors of W131's Guide to Writing David Rosenwasser and Jill Stephen. We've had huge audiences for Ducille and Shumway. In fact, Professor Shumway, a film analyst, commented that it was the largest audience he can remember speaking to on a campus."

Events and lectures are some of the places where the benefits of endowment get the greatest exposure and make the most noticeable difference. But the Culbertson Endowment works in subtler ways as well. It provides stipends for graduate students teaching science-focused versions of W131. It funds the purchase of classroom materials. It offsets the cost of graduate-student travel to composition conferences and colloquia. It brings in consultants, such as Victor Vitanza, who advised the English department on electronic technology and computer-aided strategies for teaching and learning writing.

Professor Dov-Ber Kerler, occupant of the Alice Field Cohn Chair in Yiddish Studies in the Borns Jewish Studies Program, emphasizes the special relationship between research and teaching that the endowment makes possible. The Cohn Chair is focused on the specific field of Yiddish language studies. Kerler says, "In some American universities, PhD students in Yiddish studies are supervised by professors who happen to like Yiddish or simply know a little. I believe that the Cohn Chair may before long attract to Indiana University some of the most promising and dedicated future scholars and teachers of Yiddish."

The chair's mission should be "utmost dedication to both teaching and scholarship," points out Kerler. "Of course, an important educational component of the undergraduate teaching consists of lectures on Yiddish literature in English translation. However, on the graduate level, students majoring in Yiddish will be expected to master the language. Moreover, they will also be encouraged to learn Hebrew and to write and publish some of their research in Yiddish."

Kerler has taken seriously the liberty to think creatively about teaching and research and hopes to use endowment resources to mobilize students and faculty to do research outside the academy. "My dream would be to organize a special expedition to the Ukraine, where the last Yiddish-speaking Jews can still be found, and record and videotape them," Kerler muses. "Similar work has been done during the last nine years by the greatest Yiddish scholar of my generation, Professor Dovid Katz. Every year there are fewer and fewer native speakers left, and I hope that my new position at IU will allow me to stop dreaming and do something about this."

Indeed, another dream - the dreams of 15,000 Indian nationals living in Indiana - made the founding of the India Studies Program possible at IU. Professor Gerald Larson, who holds the Tagore Chair in India Studies, explains the genesis of his position and program. "The Indian community in Indiana thought it would be a nice thing to raise money for a named chair," Larson says. "In a short time, the community was able to raise $250,000, which made it possible to establish a program and appoint the Rabindranath Tagore Professor, named for the Indian humanist and universalist who in 1913 was the first non-Westerner to win the Nobel Prize."

Since the initiative began in 1994, gifts, pledges, and growth have increased the Tagore endowment to more than a million dollars, which helps maintain the Indiana Network for the Development of Indian Awareness, a consortium of colleges that devote resources to disseminating understanding about Indian culture. The endowment also funds the development of new courses and publishes and distributes numerous newsletters, essays, and monographs. Moreover, the Tagore Chair has boosted IU's academic reputation. Larson's position is one of only three endowed chairs of its kind in the nation.

The Tagore Chair has resulted in the creation of a whole new field of study at IU. That means courses and objectives never available to students before the endowment are now in place and ready to offer insights and training to those eager to learn. Five years ago, for example, 20 students enrolled in the courses of the fledgling India Studies Program. Now nearly 200 students are taking its courses.

"Endowed faculty positions have given us the funding and prestige to recruit outstanding newfaculty and keep our very best faculty here when other universities try to lure them away."

"There is no question in anyone's mind that the College's success in the Bloomington Campus Endowment Campaign has made a huge difference in what we are able to accomplish," says Dean Subbaswamy. "Endowed faculty positions have given us the funding and prestige to recruit outstanding new faculty and keep our very best faculty here when other universities try to lure them away."

Why then is Swamy juggling chairs? He explains: "In some cases, we can substitute endowment funding for money that would have been committed and can now be redirected. That makes endowments incredibly valuable to the College. But endowments almost always come with associated costs. If the endowment is restricted to a specific area of teaching or research that requires new faculty, we must decide to use a faculty salary line to make it happen. That costs the College more money. New programs can require staffing that most endowments aren't large enough to cover. In the sciences, named faculty positions recruited outside the university can result in up to a million dollars in start-up costs. Those aren't covered by endowments either."

College of Arts & Sciences Campaign Report

  • Bloomington Campus Endowment Campaign: July 1, 1994, to Dec. 31, 2000

  • Total Raised in Gifts and Pledges: $32,207,840

  • Total Raised in Documented Expectancies: $25,701,007

  • Total Funding Raised During the Campaign: $57,908,847 = 193% of Goal

  • Number of Endowed Chairs Added During the Campaign: 26

  • Number of Endowed Professorships Added During the Campaign: 24

  • Total Number of Endowed Chairs in the College: 30

  • Total Number of Endowed Professorships in the College: 40

  • What's the best of all possible worlds? According to Swamy, whose perspective as dean of the 39 departments and 20 programs reflects the high degree of skill and attention he brings to the College: "We've been incredibly fortunate in our alumni and friends, and I am thankful for all the endowments they've established. I'm thinking now that we need unrestricted chairs and professorships that can be used at the dean's or the departments' discretion - where the need is greatest. That kind of flexibility will help move us forward in a constantly changing academic and fiscal environment. That's what I'm working toward."

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