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Alumni Chair in Humanities

History of Alumni Chair in Humanities

The history of what is now called the Alumni Chair in Humanities dates back to at least the early 1980s and is rooted in the formation of the Core Program. This program, created by a dedicated group of humanities faculty, achieved an extraordinary integration of required courses in English, history, philosophy, and religious studies. The Core program, however, had limitations at the time. By its nature, it depended upon a small group of faculty members working together closely, and thus it could enroll only a comparatively small number of students, usually about 120 per year. The faculty and the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences began to work toward ways to extend the benefits of interdisciplinary study to larger numbers of faculty and students.

With the stimulus of faculty members such as Dr. Michael Payne (Philosophy) and with the guidance of Dean Frank Lazarus, the College submitted a proposal to the National Endowment for the Humanities in the mid-1980s. On 15 December 1986, Dean Lazarus announced that the NEH had awarded a Challenge Grant to support "an endowed professorship in the Humanities". The three-to-one Challenge Grant of $300,000 required the university to raise $900,000 by 1990 in order to realize the grant's full $1.2 million potential. Because this challenge was met to a great extent by the generosity of University of Dayton alumni, the professorship became known as the Alumni Chair in Humanities.

As planning for the position progressed, the chair holder's work was focused less on the Core Program and more broadly on the task of demonstrating through interdisciplinary measures the centrality of the humanities to the intellectual life of the university. Eventually, the chair's duties were defined to include teaching one course per term in the humanities, organizing and serving as keynote speaker for an annual humanities symposium, conducting scholarly research in the humanities, assisting other faculty in developing interdisciplinary courses, and managing a humanities library fund. Each Alumni Chair would hold the office for four years.

The search for the first Alumni Chair in Humanities began in 1992. Candidates were required to be tenured senior professors with a record of teaching excellence, scholarly achievement, and interdisciplinary interest. In February 1993, Dean Paul Morman announced the selection of Eugene August (English) to the position.

"We wanted to create on campus an office that would symbolize the importance and tradition of the humanities", said Dean Paul Morman in 1993 when defining the role of the Alumni Chair. "We have a long tradition here of trying to educate the whole person", he added. "The humanities play a key role in that". The history of the Alumni Chair's office represents an extended endeavor to realize that vision.

The beginning of Dr. August's term as Alumni Chair coincided with the opening of the new, 16 million-dollar Jesse Philips Humanities Center. On 25 August 1993, the workers still putting the finishing touches to the Sear Recital Hall and other parts of the building, the new Humanities Center opened on schedule for classes. To mark these events, the university hosted a year-long celebration of the humanities with concerts, exhibitions, dramas, departmental symposia, and guest speakers. The building itself was dedicated on 26 October 1993 with ceremonies that included an address by Nobel Peace Prize winner, Elie Wiesel.

With the opening of the Humanities Center, the Alumni Chair's office on the fourth floor became the hub for the planning and implementation of numerous interdisciplinary activities, including courses and mini-courses, residence hall discussions, an essay contest, dramatic presentations, concerts and library acquisitions. Carolyn Ludwig was responsible for the efficient handling of the multiple tasks involved in the operation of the office.

The first Humanities Symposium was held on 28 February and 1 March 1994, in the Sears Recital Hall. The theme of the symposium, "Faith, Reason, and the Life of the Mind", addressed one of the four themes in the Humanities Base, a university-wide program designed to enhance interdisciplinary connections among required humanities courses. Activities included a keynote address, a "Meeting of the Minds" panel exchange, a visual art lecture-slide presentation, and a faculty panel discussion. Later symposia addressed the other three themes in the Humanities Base.

In 1997, Michael Barnes (Religious Studies) was appointed the second Alumni Chair in Humanities. While continuing many of the projects established by the office, he also introduced numerous innovations. In particular, seed money was made available for creative endeavors by faculty members, including drama writing and production, art and poetry performances, residence hall presentations, and a human rights program. Content of the chair's interdisciplinary courses and of the symposia focused on topics that coincided with Dr. Barnes's ongoing research and publications. The Alumni Chair's office also provided much-welcomed computer training and assistance to faculty members befuddled by the latest advances in electronic technology.

In 2001, Richard Benedum (Music) was appointed as the third Alumni Chair. During his tenure (2001-2005), he created a web page for the office of the Alumni Chair, and brought a state-wide and national presence to the office. He brought representatives from the Ohio Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities to the UD campus, thereby encouraging colleagues to write grant proposals. During his tenure as Alumni Chair, he was also appointed to a position on the Ohio Humanities Council. He continued his record of writing successful local, regional, and national grant proposals; throughout his teaching career at UD, he received more than 250 grants totaling nearly $3 million.

In 2005, John Heitmann (History) was appointed as the fourth Alumni Chair. Using the overall topic of "Cities in Perspective", he developed symposia along interdisciplinary lines, connecting speakers with pressing contemporary issues and upper level General Education offerings. The first year focused Ken Jackson, author of Crabgrass Frontier, on exurban population shifts; the next year focused on the city and the environment and featured Diane Wilson, author of An Unreasonable Woman. The third year examined New Orleans and Katrina two years after the storm. It featured Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jed Horne (author of Breach of Faith), Catholic youth minister Ansel Augustine, and musician J.D Hill. The fourth symposium featured Chelsea Sexton, one of the featured personalities in Chris Paine's Who Killed the Electric Car. Sexton discussed alternative energy and environmental impact. A second speaker, Jim Rubenstein, lectured on the automobile industry and the future of the Midwest. Linked to the symposia were curriculum developments related to the formulation and delivery of a new course involving several faculty from a number of departments, "Cities and Energy". His term as Alumni Chair also enabled Dr. Heitmann to complete work in the area of automobile history, including the publication of The Automobile and American Life.

In 2009, Patricia Johnson (Philosophy) was appointed as the fifth Alumni Chair. She focused on diversity issues, developing a workshop for faculty. They met regularly over the course of a semester to discuss issues related to introducing diversity into their courses and the general curriculum. She developed and taught a course on philosophy and cultural diversity. Four symposia featured UD faculty and also contributed to discussions related to diversity: Living Traditions,” “Humanities Education for the 21st Century,” “Exploring Dayton,” and “Inventing Identity.” She collaborated with Bro. Ray Fitz, the Ferree Professor of Social Justice, facilitating faculty seminars that explored ways in which faculty from the College and from the School of Business Administration could work together to help educate students for lives of reasoned action. She worked with faculty to create photo exhibits in the Humanities Building, including the work of Bro. John Lemker, SM, which is displayed in the Alumni Chair office. She and Heidi Haas worked with the library to implement a process for ordering and cataloguing materials purchased through the Alumni Chair’s endowed fund for augmenting library holdings. This included the purchase of many digital resources:

  • The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music On-line (Alexander Street Press)
  • American History in Video (Alexander Street Press)
  • British and Irish Women's Letters and Diaries (Alexander Street Press)
  • North American Women's Letters and Diaries (Alexander Street Press)
  • African American Newspapers, 1827-1998, digital edition (Readex)
  • The March of Time (Alexander Street Press)
  • Digital Library of the Catholic Reformation (Alexander Street)
  • Classical Music in Video (Alexander Street)
  • Proquest History Vault Struggle for Women’s Rights

Most importantly, she enjoyed research and writing, renewing her work and publications in hermeneutics and drafting a manuscript on friendship.

In 2013, Ellen Fleisichmann (History) was appointed as the sixth Alumni Chair. With a focus on Middle Eastern history, Dr. Fleischmann's research has explored the transformations in the lives of Middle Eastern middle class women and men brought about by the forces of nationalism, colonialism, feminism, and social change beginning in the nineteenth century and continuing into the twentieth. As Alumni Chair, Dr. Fleischmann has brought several speakers, presentations and symposia to the University of Dayton to explore the historical, political and societal issues that impact the Middle East and its place within a global context. Events held during her term as Alumni Chair in Humanities include:

  • "The Birth of Whose Nation? Black and White in America"
  • "Pirates of the Mediterranean: Sea Bandits and the Making of Modern States"
  • "Symposium on Islam and Social Justice"
  • "Beyond the Margins: Researching and Teaching the Middle East in Ohio"
  • "Making Sense of ISIS"
  • "The Great War as Cultural Crisis: Race, Religion, and the Ku Klux Klan"
  • "Crossing Borders: International Humanitarian and Peace Work During World War I"
  • "Gender Issues in the the Arab World: The Case of Tunisia"
  • "UD Night at The Neon"
  • "Social Dance During the World War Era"
  • “International Law, Human Rights and the Politics of Despair”
  • "Photographing the Egypt-Palestine Front During the Great War"
  • "Iraq, Violence, Memory: An Iraqi Voice on the War"
  • "Let's Go to Guantanamo!"

In 2017, Julius Amin (History) was appointed as the seventh Alumni Chair.


Alumni Chair in Humanities

300 College Park
Dayton, Ohio 45469 - 1549