William D. Adams, Former Chairman of the NEH, and Michael McPherson, Outgoing President of the Spencer Foundation, Appointed Senior Fellows at The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

NEW YORK, NY, July 10, 2017 – The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has announced the appointment of William D. Adams, former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and Michael S. McPherson, outgoing president of the Spencer Foundation, as Senior Fellows.

“It is an honor and pleasure to welcome Bro and Mike to the Mellon Foundation for a period of study, engagement, and exploration,” said Mellon Foundation President Earl Lewis. “Bro has been a stalwart public servant, highly regarded educational leader, and steadfast defender of the importance of the arts and humanities to the wellbeing of a vibrant, literate democracy. Mike is a friend, noted college and foundation president, and leading economist. Without question, we will all benefit from Mike’s ability to probe, question, synthesize and engage. We look forward to both fellows taking residency.”

“We are delighted to have Bro and Mike join us,” said Mariët Westermann, executive vice president for programs and research at The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.  “These two extraordinary academic leaders and scholars will contribute greatly to our research and grantmaking initiatives related to the liberal arts and the humanities. They will also have opportunities to continue their own scholarship, which often had to take a back seat to their leadership roles in higher education and philanthropy for many years.”

"I'm very grateful to the Mellon Foundation for the opportunity to continue to speak and write about the importance of the humanities,” stated Adams, who will begin his fellowship on August 1, 2017. “I'm also looking forward to assisting the Foundation with projects that might benefit from my experiences at NEH and in higher education. The chance to advance my own research and writing is also very exciting to me."

McPherson, who will start his fellowship on October 1, 2017, also co-chairs, with William Damon of Stanford University, the advisory committee for the Mellon Foundation’s research initiative on the value of a liberal arts education.  “I look forward to working with Bill Damon and others in the coming year, advising Mellon on its new research initiative concerning the future of liberal education,” said McPherson. He also plans to complete a book of essays reflecting on what he learned about philanthropy and education during his fourteen years at the helm of the Spencer Foundation. 

William D. Adams was the tenth chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities from 2014 to 2017. Shortly after arriving at NEH, Adams launched an agency-wide initiative titled The Common Good: the Humanities in the Public Square. The initiative seeks to demonstrate the relevance of the humanities to the life of the nation during a time of unprecedented domestic and global challenges.

Under the rubric of The Common Good, NEH launched a number of new grant lines, including the Public Scholar Program, Common Heritage, Dialogues on the Experience of War, Next Generation Humanities Ph.D. Grants, Humanities Connections, NEH-Mellon Fellowships for Digital Publication, Open Book, Creating Humanities Communities, and Humanities Access Grants. During his tenure at NEH, Adams also sought to deepen the engagement of the agency with community colleges and veterans groups and causes.

Prior to joining NEH, Adams served as president of Colby College in Waterville, Maine, from 2000 until his retirement on June 30, 2014. He also served as president of Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania from 1995-2000. A native of Birmingham, Michigan, Adams earned his undergraduate degree in philosophy at Colorado College and a PhD from the History of Consciousness Program at the University of California  Santa Cruz. He studied in France as a Fulbright Scholar before beginning his career in higher education with appointments to teach political philosophy at Santa Clara University in California and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He went on to coordinate the Great Works in Western Culture program at Stanford University and to serve as vice president and Secretary of Wesleyan University. Adams’s formal education was interrupted by three years of service in the Army, including one year in Vietnam. In each of his professional roles, Adams has demonstrated a deep commitment to the humanities and to the liberal arts.

Michael S. McPherson, the fifth president of the Spencer Foundation, took the title of president emeritus as of July 1.  Prior to joining the Spencer Foundation in 2003, he served as President of Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, for seven years.  A nationally known economist with a focus on the interplay between education and economics, McPherson spent the 22 years prior to his Macalester presidency as professor of economics, chairman of the economics department, and dean of faculty at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts.  He holds a BA in Mathematics, an MA in Economics, and a PhD in Economics, all from the University of Chicago.

McPherson is co-author and editor of several books, including Lesson Plan: An Agenda for Change in American Higher Education; Crossing the Finish Line: Completing College at America’s Public Universities; College Access: Opportunity or Privilege?Keeping College AffordableEconomic Analysis, Moral Philosophy, and Public Policy. He was founding co-editor of the journal Economics and Philosophy, and has served as a trustee of the College Board, the American Council on Education, and Wesleyan University.  He was a fellow of the Institute for Advanced Study and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.  He is currently a trustee of McNally Smith College of Music as well as president of the board of overseers of TIAA-CREF.

Since 2015, the Mellon Foundation has invited individuals to pursue research and work with Foundation colleagues on shared interests through a senior fellowship.  Karen Brooks Hopkins, the former president of the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), began her two-year senior fellowship in September 2015. In April 2016, James Shulman, founding president of Artstor, began his tenure in the role.

Founded in 1969, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation endeavors to strengthen, promote, and, where necessary, defend the contributions of the humanities and the arts to human flourishing and to the well-being of diverse and democratic societies by supporting exemplary institutions of higher education and culture as they renew and provide access to an invaluable heritage of ambitious, path-breaking work. Additional information is available at mellon.org

Media contact

Laura Washington