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Bill Kier at the chalkboard in the front of a classroom

Former biology chair Bill Kier said 'say yes' funds provided him with flexibility to support a diversity of needs. (photo by Mary Lide Parker)

The College of Arts and Sciences has received a $5 million gift to provide Dean Karen M. Gil with “say yes” funds that empower department chairs to be agile, responsive and innovative.

The gift, from an anonymous alumni couple, will create a new $4 million academic leadership endowment and provide an additional $1 million — $200,000 a year over five years — in immediate funds as the endowment builds.

“As a former department chair, I know the importance of having strategic funding, whether I needed to be able to recruit or retain a valuable faculty member, pay for summer research expenses or support faculty in their teaching or scholarly work – the list is as diverse as our academic departments,” said Gil.

In 2010, the donors committed $1 million for the same purpose.

“We could see a real difference in how department chairs were able to support faculty and students, as well as their own research,” said one of the donors. “For teaching and research-oriented faculty, serving as a department chair can be time-consuming and challenging. Our gift demonstrates our confidence in Carolina’s arts and sciences tradition by providing the dean with resources for the College’s leadership, particularly at the department level.”

History chair Fitzhugh Brundage used the funding to support projects beyond campus. (photo by Beth Lawrence)
History chair Fitzhugh Brundage used the funding to support projects beyond campus. (photo by Beth Lawrence)

The 2010 gift allowed Gil to award grants ranging from $5,500 to $30,000 from the fund to 28 department chairs. Those chairs have, in turn, distributed the grants to more than 200 faculty members, from the fine arts and humanities to the social and natural sciences. One of every four tenure or tenure-track faculty members in the College has received support from the first gift. Many more undergraduate and graduate students also benefited through enhanced classroom and experiential learning opportunities.

Biology professor and former department chair Bill Kier, who received a grant from the first gift, said it “provided me with flexibility to support a diversity of needs, including undergraduate teaching, graduate training and postdoc support. The funding has had remarkable impact already on my teaching, my training of students, my research and even on my administrative and service duties here at UNC.”

History chair Fitzhugh Brundage used the funding to support projects beyond campus, including the inaugural North Carolina History Education Workshop in April 2014. The event brought together N.C. public school history teachers, university researchers and public historians.

“The original gift has already had a transformative effect on my ability to recruit and support effective faculty leaders and to enable these leaders to truly lead in their departments,” said Gil. “We are very grateful to the donors for this visionary gift that will benefit generations of faculty.”

Published in the Spring 2015 issue | The Scoop

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