$2-Million Gift Goes Directly to Newly Tenured Colby Faculty

Announcements6 MIN READ

College joins first-of-its-kind pilot project to support and advance tenure

Contact: George Sopko ([email protected]) 207-859-4346
October 7, 2021

To help attract and retain the best scholars and teachers possible, as well as support the important role of tenure in academia, Colby announced today that it will be the inaugural college in the Haynesville Project, a first-of-its-kind pilot program that provides financial support for newly tenured faculty. Developed by Tom and Cathy Tinsley P’10, and modeled in part on the MacArthur (“Genius”) Grants, the core of the initiative is a generous $2-million gift to Colby that will provide direct funding to talented faculty who are at pivotal points in their careers.

Newly tenured professors—Haynesville Project Fellows—will each be awarded a $100,000 grant over a two-year period. The goal is to provide the resources needed to foster creative and high-impact research projects and excellence in teaching through dependable financial commitments. Funds may be used entirely for research purposes, or up to 40 percent of the funds may be used for personal expenditures.

The Haynesville Project will work with 15-20 professors over the three-year pilot program, starting with the six Colby professors who received tenure in February 2021. The project is named after Tom Tinsley’s late father, James A. Tinsley, an exceptional scholar and teacher who grew up in the Louisiana town of Haynesville.

“The Haynesville Project, through the generosity of Tom and Cathy Tinsley, celebrates and furthers the potential of extraordinary scholars who have made it through the rigors of the tenure review process,” said President David A. Greene. “The direct support provided to our professors will be a liberating force, allowing them to take their work in exciting and powerful new directions. This is a brilliantly conceived program that matches resources with talent at the perfect time in the lifespan of gifted faculty. The Tinsleys have hit a home run with this program.”

Supporting Tenure

James A. Tinsley considered tenure integral to the decision to focus one’s life’s work in academia. A professor of history at the University of Houston for 42 years, he believed tenure was both a recognition of a professor’s past work as well as the school’s promise to grow a professor’s potential as a scholar.

James A. Tinsley
James A. Tinsley

“Cathy and I share the view of my father that tenure is an important part of the ‘bargain’ that the academic community makes with its scholars,” said Tom Tinsley. “It is one of the most important decisions that a college makes, based partly on their respect for the contribution that a professor has made but also, and more importantly, on the potential of the individual to continue to grow as a scholar. We are pleased to make resources available to the newly tenured faculty of Colby College. As we celebrate their past accomplishments, we look forward to their future impact.”

This unique pilot program will provide an added level of security for faculty that is not often found at colleges or universities—an incentive that will help attract some of the nation’s top teachers and researchers who may be considering not just other institutions, but other industries and sectors. A key goal of the project, which Colby believes is the first of its kind, is to lay the groundwork for similar investments at other colleges and universities across the country.

“This gift will have an enormous impact on the lives of the faculty members who benefit from it,” said Colby Provost, Dean of Faculty, and Professor of American Studies Margaret T. McFadden. “Tenure is a really important moment in a faculty member’s life, and it’s often a moment where people are thinking about what their next step is. This provides talented and accomplished faculty members with a way to imagine an entirely different scale of project than they might otherwise be imagining. It’s this beautiful, liberatory moment; it’s saying to these people, ‘We believe in you.’”

McFadden added that liberal arts professors do not generally have significant access to grant funds early in their post-tenure careers. “This is an experiment in finding ways to deepen the commitment between the institution and its lifelong staff,” she said.

The first cohort of Haynesville Project Fellows at Colby includes Bradley Borthwick, art; Alicia E. Ellis, German; Aaron Hanlon, English; Robert Lester, economics; Lindsay Mayka, government; and Arnout van der Meer, history.

“For me, tenure is a tremendous privilege and an opportunity to figure out how I can make a positive impact not just in my immediate field of study, but in the broader world,” said Haynesville Project Fellow Aaron Hanlon, associate professor of English. “I have new skills to learn and new ways of understanding the practical value of literature for solving problems one might not expect literature scholars to work on, whether in shaping artificial intelligence or understanding science denial. This incredible gift gives me the resources to take my research and teaching in radically new directions.”

Inspiring Inquiry 

The Haynesville Project Board will work closely with Colby and the fellows to understand what professors are interested in doing with the additional financial support. The Tinsleys hope that it gives professors some financial freedom to spring forward in academic pursuits, and perhaps also fill personal or familial financial gaps. The Haynesville Project Board and Colby leadership will assess the project during its third year (2024) to determine whether to continue the program.

The Haynesville Project is a form of venture philanthropy, according to Tom Tinsley, and Colby is displaying significant leadership in accepting a gift to create a pilot program. “Venture philanthropy is meant to be disruptive in a positive way; where you want to help an organization change,” he said. “You give for a specific purpose and often work with that organization around that purpose. President Greene was willing to do that and trial this project with us, and that made all the difference.”

If the program is successful at Colby, the Tinsleys hope to introduce it to other colleges and universities. “We assumed other people must be doing this, but we haven’t been able to find a program like it at other liberal arts colleges,” said Cathy Tinsley. “I would love to see if we can make this snowball.”

The Tinsleys, who have always been advocates for a liberal arts education, are longtime Maine residents, with several members of their family having attended Colby. While they have put their philanthropic efforts into education for many years, previous contributions directly supported students. This new gift, inspired by Tom’s father and funded by the Maine Tinsley Family Trust, is a slight pivot that’s intended to support institutions by working directly with professors.

About James A. Tinsley

Jim Tinsley was born in 1924 and grew up during the Great Depression. He attended Baylor University, the University of North Carolina (master’s), and the University of Wisconsin (doctorate) on scholarships. During World War II, he participated in the Navy’s V-12 College Training Program, which was designed to supplement the force of commissioned officers who were fighting overseas.

Tinsley moved to Houston in 1955 with his wife and two young children to teach at the University of Houston. Shortly after they had another child, in 1956, he received tenure. While there, Tinsley chaired the History Department and served as the associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. He retired in 2000, having mentored many young scholars through their doctoral studies and the tenure application process. He passed away in 2008.