Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Harvard to Endow Chair in Gay Studies

(From the New York Times) Harvard University will endow a visiting professorship in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender studies, a position that, it believes, will be the first endowed, named chair in the subject at an American college.

The visiting professorship, which the university is planning to announce formally as part of commencement exercises on Thursday, was made possible by a gift of $1.5 million from the Harvard Gay and Lesbian Caucus. With the gift, Harvard said it would regularly invite “eminent scholars studying issues related to sexuality or sexual minorities” to teach on campus for one semester, according to a draft of a university press release.

The chair is being named for F.O. Matthiessen, a Harvard scholar and literary critic who “stands out as an unusual example of a gay man who lived his sexuality as an ‘open secret’ in the mid-20th century,” according to the release.

Professor Matthiessen, the release added, “leapt to his death from the window of a Boston hotel room” in 1950, despondent, at least in part, over the death several years earlier of his partner, the artist Russell Cheney.

While lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender studies represents a relatively new field of study at American universities, Harvard’s would not be the first such endeavor. The first university program in gay and lesbian studies was established at the City University of New York in 1986, according to Harvard’s research.

In the late 1990s, Yale rejected the offer of an endowed chair in gay studies from Larry Kramer, the writer and AIDS activist. Yale later accepted $1 million from Mr. Kramer’s brother, Arthur Kramer, a money manager, to help finance what had become a growing gay and lesbian studies program.

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