Mellon Foundation Announces Phillip Brian Harper to Become Program Director for Higher Learning

headshot © NYU Photo Bureau: Hollenshead.

NEW YORK, NY, AUGUST 26, 2020 – The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation today announced the appointment of Phillip Brian Harper, currently the Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Science at New York University, as its new Program Director for the Foundation’s Higher Learning grantmaking area. The position, effective October 1, 2020, will shape and direct giving on issues surrounding higher education, particularly in the humanities and liberal arts. Critically, Harper will encourage expanded access to those disciplines while implementing a new strategic direction for the Foundation that is focused specifically on social justice and equity. In addition to leading program staff in Higher Learning, he will advise more broadly on strategic concerns and special initiatives.

“Phil is a noted and admired field-builder, an esteemed and productive scholar of literature, visual and cultural studies, a precise thinker, and clear, elegant writer. With a deep commitment to interdisciplinarity and a keen understanding of how humanities education and scholarship can address the evolving needs of our society, Phil brings his generosity of intellect, clarity, and creativity to the Foundation as we implement our new strategic framework,” said Elizabeth Alexander, president of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

“This is an extraordinarily exciting moment at which to be joining Mellon,” said Harper. “Under Elizabeth Alexander's leadership, the Foundation has articulated a vision for the future that is clear, compelling, and rigorous, and I am eager to work toward its realization in the domain of higher learning. In particular, I want to foster both curricula and institutional leadership structures that represent the full range of human experience and perspective, and my position at Mellon will provide me with the ideal means for doing so.” 

Having served as chair or director in four different departments and programs—a remarkable accomplishment—Harper is a literary scholar and cultural critic, with much of his work exploring 20th-century American fiction and other forms of expressive culture. This includes the lived negotiation of racial, gender, and sexual identities, as well as the various modes of mass-cultural production, circulation, and consumption. 

Harper is the Erich Maria Remarque Professor of Literature and is jointly appointed in the departments of Social and Cultural Analysis and English within the Faculty of Arts and Science. His fields of specialty include modern and contemporary US literary and cultural studies; African American literary and cultural studies; aesthetics and social theory; and gender and sexuality studies. Harper has served as Director of Graduate Studies of American Studies, English, and Social and Cultural Analysis; Director of the American Studies and Gender and Sexuality programs; Founding Chair of the interdisciplinary Department of Social and Cultural Analysis; and Chair of the Department of English. Harper began his academic career as an assistant professor of English at Brandeis University and went on to serve as assistant professor of English and of Afro-American Studies at Harvard before joining the faculty at New York University in 1995. He was appointed Dean of NYU’s Graduate School of Arts and Science in July 2017. 

He is the author of Framing the Margins: The Social Logic of Postmodern Culture (Oxford UP, 1994); Are We Not Men? Masculine Anxiety and the Problem of African-American Identity (Oxford UP, 1996); Private Affairs: Critical Ventures in the Culture of Social Relations (NYU Press, 1999); and Abstractionist Aesthetics (NYU Press, 2015), which considers the social-critical potential of abstractionism, as contrasted with realism, in African American expressive culture. Harper is currently investigating the function of “the contemporary” within US literary culture, and is preparing to conduct ethnographic work among present-day non-professional readers of literature to determine what interpretive practices they deploy in their engagements with fictional texts. 

Harper has a BA from the University of Michigan, and an MA, MFA, and a PhD from Cornell University. 

About The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is the nation’s largest supporter of the arts and humanities. Since 1969, the Foundation has been guided by its core belief that the humanities and arts are essential to human understanding. The Foundation believes that the arts and humanities are where we express our complex humanity, and that everyone deserves the beauty, transcendence, and freedom that can be found there. Through our grants, we seek to build just communities enriched by meaning and empowered by critical thinking, where ideas and imagination can thrive.

For more information, contact

Laura Washington
Director of Communications
lw@mellon.org