Endowed Faculty Chairs
Understanding their vital role in UTSA’s transformation
to a premier research institution
The endowed chair, for a university, is a tool for recruiting a talented professor. For the professor it is a plum, a mark of achievement, and a little extra money.
“An endowment can do some really magical things for a college,” said Daniel Gelo, Dean of the College of Liberal and Fine Arts. “Endowments are just invaluable in helping propel us toward a Tier One university profile.”
For those unfamiliar with academic jargon, an endowed chair is simply a prestigious faculty position supported by private gifts to the university. At UTSA, these endowed positions include professorships, distinguished professorships, chairs, and distinguished university chairs, each requiring a progressively higher initial donation.
The minimum amount required to establish an endowed professorship is $250,000, while a distinguished university chair requires a gift of $2 million.
The invested donations produce about 5 percent a year, which is used as the professors’ stipends. It is commonly assumed that an endowment pays the faculty member’s salary, but that is not always true. The university pays the professor’s salary and the endowment funds are “the icing on the cake,” Gelo said.
And what professors do with that money is very, very important for the university.
Building New Initiatives
Joycelyn Moody, the Sue E. Denman Distinguished Chair in American Literature, is using some of her endowment funds to build the university’s future and the future of African American studies across the nation.
The African American Literatures and Cultures Institute, which Moody directs and funds through her endowment, is an elite three-week summer residency program designed to prepare a handful of promising college juniors for graduate school.
“We’re already seeing the fruits,” Moody said. Summer 2010 was the institute’s first year, and already several students are applying for graduate school slots, she said.
Moody was inspired to create the institute by an article by the late Nellie McKay, an African American scholar and professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, who expressed concern that not enough students of African American studies were “in the pipeline” to replace the current generation of teachers.
“African American studies is a scholarly discipline that must be studied and cultivated, and not necessarily by African Americans,” Moody said.
She also used her endowment funds to create a one-year postdoctoral position that allowed her to recruit another talented scholar, Kinitra Brooks, now an assistant professor.
“It was very generous,” Gelo said, “and allowed us to bring in a promising Ph.D. for a year, and subsequently recruit her. It’s rather expensive for us to do that normally.”
Moody said the endowment gives her latitude to do many things, including maintaining her own research funding on 19th-century African American literature without having to compete with colleagues for those resources.
“I had a fabulous job as editor of the African-American Review. It would have taken an awful lot to get me to leave—and it did.”
Moody has built a core of studies in African American literature at UTSA by partnering with Brooks, who focuses on black feminist theory in literature, film and popular culture, and with Dr. Sonja Lanehart, who holds the Brackenridge Endowed Chair in Literature and the Humanities.
“The collaborations among the three of us have certainly increased the profile of African American language and literature at UTSA,” Lanehart noted.
Professor Lanehart, whom Gelo recruited from the University of Georgia, specializes in sociolinguistics, identity studies, and language and literacy in the African American community. She uses her endowment funds to sponsor conferences such as New Ways of Analyzing Variation 39 and the African American Language Conference, and to support African American Studies at UTSA.
Dr. Lanehart’s activities, funded by the endowment, have made her work nationally visible, and have helped UTSA expand its reach. She has received invitations to serve on committees and to participate in national and international organizations such as the Linguistic Society of America, the American Psychological Association and the American Education Research Association. She also serves on the editorial board of the journal American Speech.
Gelo said he approached Moody and Lanehart for the same reasons he recruited all of COLFA’s endowed chairs: “We are looking for top talent,” he said, “people who have established research records with strong instructional and service components.”
Bruce Daniels, the Gilbert M. Denman Endowed Professor in American History, whom Gelo recruited from Texas Tech University, “brings a level of renown to our history department,” Gelo said. “He’s a recognized authority on colonial New England history and the life of the Puritans.”
Gelo also emphasized that endowed chairs like Professor Daniels, who was a department chair at his prior institution, bring the ability to mentor junior faculty and advise their colleagues about program growth.
Daniels, who is modest about his status, added that one challenge is to understand the priorities of the donors who established the endowments and match them to academic directions and research priorities. COLFA donors have been very pleased with the impact of the chairs they have supported, said Gelo.
“My stipend has proven immeasurably valuable in allowing me to travel to distant archives and libraries for research in original records that are neither published nor available outside of the repositories,” Daniels noted. “As a colonial and Revolutionary historian, I have traveled primarily to the six New England colonial capitals of Hartford, New Haven, Providence, Newport, Boston, and Portsmouth/Concord, to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., and to the largest British collection of early American documents in the Huntington Library in California. Historians do not have laboratories, but they almost always must travel to their sources, and thus I am exceptionally grateful for the aid this stipend provides.”
Each endowed professor must submit an annual budget that explains how he or she will spend the endowment funds. The expenditures can take many forms, including underwriting travel for the professor or students to attend conferences or purchasing library books that support the faculty member’s niche.
For David Frego, Roland K. Blumberg Endowed Professor in Music, the money is also useful for another vital part of university leadership—community engagement.
Frego, whom Gelo recruited from Ohio State University, is recognized for his expertise in Dalcroze Eurhythmics, a study of the way the body’s movements relate to music.
Using this method, Frego teaches concepts of music through movement, applied as therapy, which has evolved into a focus on post-traumatic stress disorder. Frego recently completed a program in Bosnia Herzegovina sponsored by the Pavarotti Foundation that works with people traumatized by civil war as well as with land mine survivors.
“We are working to connect the brain and the body, but it’s more than exercise. It’s interactive with others, healing, and it also involves journaling and reflection; I just show up with a drum, and we’re off,” Frego said.
This summer, Dr. Frego led a workshop for classroom music educators and studio music teachers from across the U.S., Brazil and Korea on how to incorporate rhythmic movement into their curricula.
“The students talked of being awakened to a new approach to teaching music and movement,” said Frego.
While his expertise is an asset to UTSA in its path towards Tier One status, Dr. Frego’s outgoing personality is also uniquely fitted for the chair position in the Department of Music, which involves quite a bit of public interaction.
“Music requires a lot of development activity,” Gelo said. “David spends a lot of time with alumni and donors, involving them in university discussions and activities which are vital to the department.”
“I enjoy that part of my job very much,” Frego said. “The encouragement and donations that supporters provide make many departmental activities possible, including lyric theater, research in vocology, scholarships—and even our new marching band.”
Every donation to the university is valuable, from the smallest contribution to a named scholarship fund. For those who have the resources, though, endowing a professorship is an especially meaningful way to have a significant impact on the school’s development into an outstanding institution.