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Program will create community of humanities scholars

From the April 23, 2007, Princeton Weekly Bulletin

The Council of the Humanities has launched a new program that offers faculty the opportunity to spend a year of academic leave at the University to pursue research interests and engage the campus in humanities projects.

The Old Dominion Professors program will enable faculty to interact with colleagues and students in new and interesting ways, said Carol Rigolot, executive director of the Humanities Council.

"It's a time without teaching, but to still be here," Rigolot said. "People are so busy during the normal academic year. This will allow faculty to participate in activities that they don't have time for when they are here frantically doing work."

Through an endowment created years ago by the Old Dominion Foundation, the Humanities Council will pay for a tenured professor who is already eligible to take one semester of leave through University policy to take an additional semester of leave if the faculty member agrees to stay on campus for the year. The professorship was conceived by Alexander Nehamas, former chair of the Humanities Council and the Edmund N. Carpenter II Class of 1943 Professor in the Humanities.

"The program will benefit not only the Old Dominion Professors themselves, but the wider community," Nehamas said. "By being available to students and other members of the University more generally, the Old Dominion Professors will provide a nucleus of innovative intellectual activity that will add to the life of everyone in the Princeton community."

Six professors were recommended by the executive committee of the Humanities Council and appointed by Dean of the Faculty David Dobkin to serve as Old Dominion Professors for the 2007-08 academic year. They are: William Gleason, associate professor of English; Molly Greene, professor of history and Hellenic studies; Gilbert Harman, the Stuart Professor of Philosophy; Paul Lansky, the William Shubael Conant Professor of Music; Albert Raboteau, the Henry W. Putnam Professor of Religion; and Daniel Rodgers, the Henry Charles Lea Professor of History.

Gideon Rosen, chair of the Humanities Council and professor of philosophy, said the goal of the program is to "carve out a space for informal scholarly exchange" among faculty working in the humanities. Old Dominion Professors will share offices outside of their home departments and participate in a variety of council activities, such as joining ongoing discussion groups, serving as fellows in the Society of Fellows in the Liberal Arts and leading student and faculty seminars, conferences or performances.

"The professorship is very appropriate to the Humanities Council's mission to serve as a crossroads of people and ideas," said Henry Putnam University Professor of History Anthony Grafton, who helped develop the program during his term as Humanities Council chair. "It will allow a group of scholars to not only pursue their own work, but also to make up a lively community of scholars."

The program also will provide Old Dominion Professors with the time and funding to spearhead initiatives on campus that go beyond their normal teaching duties.

"For instance, Paul Lansky will create listening groups to help students and faculty understand the varieties of contemporary music," Rigolot said.

She also noted that the program will give professors more time for outside scholarly endeavors rather than the one semester of leave allotted to tenured professors every three or four years.

"You actually have a fighting chance of finishing a book if you have a whole year to consecrate to it," she said.

For example, Gleason will use the next year to complete a new book about race, American literature and the built environment, while Raboteau will work on a new project that emerged from a freshman seminar he taught titled "The Holy Ordinary: The Sacred in Contemporary Fiction."

Rigolot said the Humanities Council plans to select a different group of Old Dominion Professors each year, with the hope that previous participants will continue to stay engaged in council activities. Tenured faculty members in the humanities and humanistic social sciences are eligible to apply for the professorship.

The endowment created by the Old Dominion Foundation also supports two other programs on campus: the Old Dominion Senior Fellowship, which brings international scholars to teach at the University for a semester; and the Old Dominion Faculty Fellows, where professors from different disciplines meet regularly to discuss topics of common interest.

For more information about the Old Dominion Professors, visit the Humanities Council website or e-mail Rigolot.

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