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Supporting the Life of the Mind

Philosophy department caps fundraising efforts with $2 million gift

Charles Griswold, the chair of the philosophy department, says that the department’s recent fundraising success helps students “pursue the wisdom and understanding that are the hallmarks of our discipline.”

The study of philosophy may seem ethereal, but even philosophers incur worldly expenses. The College of Arts and Sciences philosophy department is currently in the fortunate position of receiving significant support for its teaching and research, thanks to a banner gift year and fundraising efforts over a decade that have raised several million dollars — including a recent anonymous gift of $2,033,875 designated to endow a Hellenic studies fund.

“Thanks are due to a group of BU alumni and friends who understand that sustaining the life of the mind requires more than good wishes,” says Charles Griswold, the chair of the department. “Through a combination of gifts to endowment and to current departmental operations, they have supplied some of the much-needed means the department requires if its faculty and students are to pursue the wisdom and understanding that are the hallmarks of our discipline. We have made a wonderful start and look forward to reaching the level of funding appropriate to the quality of our students and faculty.”

The Hellenic studies fund will support undergraduate and graduate students who are achieving competence in ancient Greek and plan to teach or research Hellenic philosophy, history, or literature at the secondary school or college level. The fund will also provide new opportunities for study in Greece and surrounding regions. The department’s focus on Hellenic studies is already well established because of the graduate dual-degree program and undergraduate joint concentration offered with the classical studies department, as well as the publications of several philosophy faculty. The donor recognized Peter Diamandopolous, a professor of philosophy, and John Silber, University president emeritus and a philosopher, in making the gift.

Silber, who was honored earlier this month for his 30 years of service to the University, was also recognized by the Board of Trustees with the establishment of the Silber Chair in Philosophy, the department’s first endowed faculty chair in recent history.

The department has also made great progress in funding student projects, establishing new academic initiatives, and building student-faculty connections through the five-year Karbank Challenge, a gift-matching effort established by Steve Karbank (CAS’79) in 2003. Griswold announced in March that the Karbank Challenge had been completed a year ahead of schedule, raising a total of $221,075 from Karbank and 26 other donors. Since its creation, the Karbank fund has been used to develop the study of environmental ethics at BU through the Karbank symposium in environmental philosophy, as well as construct a new seminar room, subsidize student and faculty research, and underwrite events that encourage students and faculty to talk philosophy. “Intellectual conversation is essential to a philosophical, and indeed humanistic, education,” says Griswold. “The more we promote it outside the classroom, the better we are doing.”

Karbank also helped establish an endowed fund honoring Abner Shimony, a professor emeritus of philosophy. The department has undertaken an extensive alumni outreach effort, Griswold says, aimed at reestablishing ties with its alumni and increasing participation in fundraising across the board.

Griswold, who has led the department for 15 years, will step down at the end of the summer and will be replaced by Dan Dahlstrom, a professor of philosophy. During his tenure, Griswold has supervised a period of great academic and financial growth. Other fundraising efforts include the new Excellence in Philosophical Studies Fund, endowed with gifts totaling approximately $167,561, and some $42,000 for other endowed funds. “In soliciting these gifts,” he says, “I very much had in mind the pressing need of our students, both graduate and undergraduate, for financial support in view of both high tuitions and the dearth of resources in philosophy for those pursuing projects in the summer or in addition to the normal curriculum. We very much hope to add to these funds over time.”

Griswold and Stanley Rosen, Borden Parker Bowne Professor of Philosophy, have also secured Earhart Foundation Fellowships, covering full tuition and a stipend, for several graduate students every year since 1994. These fellowships have been key to the department’s efforts to raise the quality of the graduate program, and to date have a cumulative value of over a million dollars. In addition, beginning in September 2003, the Center for the Philosophy and History of Science has received significant gifts from an anonymous donor. These include a fellowship for a graduate student and funding for a colloquium series, as well as an exchange program with Tel Aviv University.

“It has been a challenging and rewarding 15 years,” Griswold says. “It gives me great satisfaction to know that I leave behind far greater resources for the support of our students and faculty than were available when I arrived. I very much hope that our friends and alumni will help us to expand these resources very significantly, as befits a philosophy department of this size and quality.”