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May 04, 2016

Humanities programs to benefit from $2 million commitment from alumnus

Joseph Cunningham ’67 (MA) and his wife, Andrea, have committed $2 million to support research, lectures, and public forums within the humanities.
The Cunninghams established the Joseph F. and Andrea H. Cunningham Endowed Fund for the Humanities to create opportunities for all University students, regardless of their backgrounds, to obtain a fuller appreciation for the world and their place in it through the humanities.

“The Cunninghams’ gift will have a profound impact on what we can do in the humanities in the future,” says Gloria Culver, dean of the School of Arts & Sciences. Culver, who established the University’s Humanities Center shortly after being appointed dean in April 2015, says recently there has been renewed interest among faculty members, students, and alumni who want to ensure the humanities remain vibrant at the University.

“Having unrestricted resources to explore creative endeavors, especially those involving student and faculty research, is invaluable,” Culver says. “There has been extensive devaluing of humanities education, which has put it on a dangerous precipice. I don’t think there’s a wide realization of what the world would look like if people weren’t learning to be broad-thinking citizens of the world.”

Literature and the arts were important influences on Cunningham’s education. Prior to receiving an MA in history from Rochester in 1967, Cunningham received a bachelor’s degree from John Carroll University and a law degree from Columbia Law School.

“In higher education, there’s typically an emphasis on pre-law courses for young people who are working to become lawyers, and I think that’s a little misdirected,” says Cunningham, who has practiced law for more than four decades. “I think if you’re strong in literature and history, you’re ideally prepared for law school and a wider range of matters beyond your specialty.”

Residents of Arlington, Virginia, the Cunninghams previously established the Joseph F. Cunningham Professorship at the University to support a scholar in the area of history, particularly modern European and American history. They are also members of the George Eastman Circle, the University’s leadership annual giving society.

“Joe and Andrea Cunningham have long been champions of the humanities and the University,” says Joan Shelley Rubin, interim director of the Humanities Center and the Dexter Perkins Professor in History. “And now they’re helping to shine a light on humanities excellence at Rochester with a gift that will immeasurably enhance our ability to enrich the intellectual life of our students and faculty, as well the general public.”

The Humanities Center supports multidisciplinary engagement around literature, history, the arts, and philosophies of cultures past and present with the aim of fostering educated, contributing global citizens. The center is scheduled to open a new physical space within Rush Rhees Library in fall 2016.

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