Alumnus Gifts $10 Million to Support the Humanities

Stephen Israel ’66 (Photo: UNC)

Stephen Israel ’66, saying the humanities and liberal arts make for better and more effective leaders, has given $10 million to the University to fund full scholarships for undergraduate students majoring in the humanities.

The O.B. Hardison Scholarship will support students in the College of Arts and Sciences who are pursuing humanities majors including English, art history and classics. Israel, vice chairman emeritus of Korn Ferry, a global organizational consulting firm, credits Hardison ’50 (’50 MA) with helping him recognize the value of a liberal arts education. Hardison, who died in 1990, was a Renaissance scholar in the department of English who later became director of the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C.

“I started as a business major, but unexpectedly during my junior year, I took Hardison’s courses on John Milton and the Renaissance in English literature, and my world changed forever,” Israel told UNC Media Relations. “A well-rounded liberal arts education is so crucially important today. I see evidence of it all around in my work. Studying the humanities instills wisdom, discernment, strong communication skills and good character no matter the career choice.”

The O.B. Hardison Scholarship is the first step in a campaign to raise $100 million to elevate and secure the future of the humanities at UNC.  It includes support for professorships, fellowships and curriculum development. The scholarship will be housed within Honors Carolina, a program that recognizes the University’s top students and connects them with dedicated faculty and advisors to pursue their career goals.

In October, the North Carolina Legislature restricted funding for distinguished professorships to science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields at all 16 UNC campuses, excluding positions in the humanities, which had been funded in the past. The policy change left UNC faculty members concerned over the future of humanities; however, members of the UNC Board of Trustees pledged continued support. (See “Assurance Given to Continue Funding Humanities Professorships,” January/February 2024 Review.)

“The liberal arts are the backbone of a Carolina education, and we are grateful for this tremendous support for the humanities,” Interim Chancellor Lee Roberts said in a statement. “This gift could not have been more timely. We are committed to ensuring every student receives a well-rounded education and graduates with the tools they need to succeed.”

In November, James White, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Review, “I think that a liberal arts approach to education — which includes the STEM fields, it includes the arts and humanities, it includes the social sciences — I think that yields the best education.”

White added he supports promoting the STEM fields but, “if we do not embrace the human side, then we lose out on how brilliant technological advancements fit in economically, fit in socially, fit in politically, fit in ethically. The best way to have effective technological advancements is to use that liberal arts broad approach.”

Israel said the scholarship is also for students who have yet to declare their major and want to explore the humanities.

“I believe there is a perception that students become English majors because they enjoy reading, and an assumption that they will have limited career opportunities once they graduate. This is simply not true,” Israel said. “There are clearly other majors that may have more lucrative job prospects immediately after graduation, but in time, the liberal arts majors catch up. The humanities and liberal arts more broadly make for better and more effective leaders in all fields of endeavor.”

— Cameron Hayes Fardy ’23

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