Colby Receives $1-Million Gift To Support Humanistic Inquiry and Research

Announcements5 MIN READ
By Laura Meader
June 26, 2020

To further advance its leadership in the humanities, Colby College announced today that it has established the Margaret T. McFadden Fund for Humanistic Inquiry through a $1-million gift from Trustee Anne Clarke Wolff ’87 and Benjamin “Ted” E. Wolff III ’86. The endowed fund is named in honor of Provost and Dean of Faculty and Professor of American Studies Margaret T. McFadden, an accomplished and beloved academic leader at the College.

“The Colby faculty shaped Anne and Ted in important and lasting ways,” said Colby President David A. Greene. “This remarkable gift, like others they have made, supports scholars and teachers who are having a profound influence on today’s students. Naming this fund for Margaret McFadden reflects their belief in the power of educators, who deepen our understanding of the world’s most important issues and challenge conventional thinking, to create new knowledge. And in supporting humanistic inquiry—an area of great distinction for Colby—they are enabling scholarship that enlightens us to the human capacities and proclivities, across time and cultures, for acts of beauty and progress as well as brutality and devastation. This work could not be more pertinent or essential. I am so grateful to Anne and Ted for their commitment to furthering Colby’s important mission.”

The Margaret T. McFadden Fund for Humanistic Inquiry, which marks the first time Colby has named a gift for a provost and dean of faculty, will provide funding in perpetuity for seven to 10 annual faculty grants focused on research in the humanities. Colby’s faculty in the Division of the Humanities represents the departments of African American Studies, Art, Classics, East Asian Studies, English and Creative Writing, French and Italian, German and Russian, Music, Philosophy, Religious Studies, Spanish, and Theater and Dance. In addition, the gift will support work in other humanities-oriented fields, including history, American studies, cinema studies, and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies.

“There has never been a more important moment for the humanities to receive the same patronage as the sciences and social sciences,” commented Ted Wolff. “The goal of this gift is to inspire the level of scholarship for which Margaret is known and to continue to develop and support the humanists who are so important to our culture and society.”

Margaret McFadden joined Colby as a faculty member in 1996 and was named provost by President Greene in 2017 after serving as associate provost. A scholar of American popular culture with interests in gender and sexuality, media, and comedy, McFadden won teaching prizes at Colby and Yale, where she earned her Ph.D. after undergraduate work at Wells College. In 2001 she was awarded Colby’s highest faculty prize, the Charles Bassett Teaching Award, given annually to a professor and chosen by the senior class.

“When we thought about our next contribution to Colby, we wanted to recognize a person at the College who has gone above and beyond in contributing their time, knowledge, and energy,” said Anne Clarke Wolff, who currently serves as vice chair of the Board of Trustees. “For us, there was no question that person was Margaret. She’s an amazing leader who is always working for Colby. Whether it’s bringing diversity, inclusion, and equity to the forefront or seamlessly moving the College to remote learning in just two weeks due to the Covid-19 crisis, her commitment and talent are exceptional and deserve recognition.”

Deep Service and Contributions

Provost McFadden’s contributions to the Colby community include growing and diversifying the faculty and increasing support for faculty research and teaching. She is currently leading the arts faculty in the planning for Colby’s Gordon Center for Creative and Performing Arts, and she has also served on major College committees such as the Committee on Mission and Priorities and the Committee on Promotion and Tenure. Additionally, she helped lead the establishment of the Center for the Arts and Humanities, the program in environmental humanities, and the Cinema Studies Program.

Her work reflects her long commitment to engaged scholarship and a fully inclusive academic environment, the latter reflected in her service on Colby’s Task Force on Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity. As a scholar, McFadden has explored the representation of gender, race, class, and sexuality in American popular culture, from the 1930s to the present day. Her most recent book, The L Word, was published in 2014, and she is now at work on a project on gender and comedy in the 1970s.

“I am deeply honored and completely humbled by this gift,” commented Provost McFadden. “Anne and Ted have been such extraordinary supporters of the academic program and of the faculty over many years, and this incredible gift will enable faculty research in fields that are particularly dear to my heart. It’s also an ideal moment for such a gift, as faculty in the humanities have been working together for several years to imagine new forms of collaborative and interdisciplinary humanities research that will take up pressing questions facing our community and our world. To find answers to these questions, humanities scholars must often make extended trips to distant research sites, and these funds will allow that to happen and enable work that we simply couldn’t do before. It meets a very important need of our faculty, and I am so grateful for Anne and Ted’s generosity and vision.”

In addition to supporting research travel, it is expected that the funds will also help Colby faculty obtain access to research materials not otherwise accessible, secure research or editorial assistants, and support research projects as envisioned by the Humanities Division’s recent proposal for public humanistic inquiry labs. The gift will also enable new forms of research and publication, including digital humanities projects, performances, or exhibitions.