$5 million boost to expertise in post-truth era

Tuesday 20 December 2016


A $5 million dollar donation from a former student will allow the University of St Andrews to establish a Chair in Philosophy and Public Affairs and an Endowed Lectureship in American Literature, signalling the real value which ethics and the arts still hold in the “post-truth” era.

The donation to St Andrews from the Shelby Cullom Davis Charitable Fund was arranged by Christopher C Davis and is believed to be one of the largest single gifts ever received by a Scottish university. Christopher Davis studied Moral Philosophy and Practical Theology at St Andrews and graduated in 1987. After working for the Episcopal Church in Paris, he returned to the United States to pursue a career in investment management. The Chair in Philosophy will be named ‘The Shelby Cullom Davis Chair in Philosophy’ after Christopher’s grandfather.

St Andrews will use the donation to recruit the highest calibre of international humanities staff to its School of English and School of Philosophical, Anthropological and Film Studies. Both Schools are ranked among the top five in the UK, while St Andrews is regarded as one of 20 leading centres in the world for the study of Philosophy.

Together these investments are expected to help further understanding of the critical concepts and ideologies that have shaped the American nation, the principles of social and political philosophy, and contemporary questions of national identity, influence, ethics and public affairs.

In her recent Installation speech, St Andrews’ new Principal, Professor Sally Mapstone, said that universities needed to re-establish the value of academic authority in a world that has increasingly dismissed the contributions of experts. St Andrews’ task will be made easier by the donation from its former student.

“We are experiencing the post-truth climate in which expertise is derided,” she said.

“We need to reclaim expertise by the value of our research, teaching and outreach, and by the compelling nature of their communication.”

‌The creation of an Endowed Lectureship in American Literature deepens St Andrews’ special relationship with the literary super-power as the American Century draws to a close. Three signatories of the Declaration of Independence passed through St Andrews, and Scotland’s first university was the first British university to teach American literature.

The lectureship will allow the University to grow its expert-base, which already includes leading poetry and fiction commentator Professor Robert Crawford, Professor John Burnside who teaches American poetry, and American author Reif Larsen. The University’s research in English Literature was ranked world-leading in the last Research Excellence Framework (REF) exercise in 2014.

As a philosopher himself, Christopher Davis (pictured right) specified that the major part of his gift should be used to fully endow a chair in Philosophy. This appointment will bolster the global reputation of the University of St Andrews’ Centre for Ethics, Philosophy and Public affairs: the first of its kind to be established in the UK.

He said: “I owe more to St Andrews than I can say. The University’s ethos embodies values that are increasingly rare on campuses and in society: academic rigor, informed and open-minded debate, internationalism, good-willed collegiality and simple decency. In today’s world, what could be more deserving of support?”

Welcoming the gift, St Andrews Principal Professor Mapstone said: “I am delighted by the confidence Chris Davis, his family and our wider family of alumni have shown in our University’s mission. This donation represents a very significant investment in two of the pillars of learning – a sense of the value of critical enquiry, and the skills that help us to seek it.

“At a time of global change and ideological shifts, philosophy and literature are essential in enabling us to see these issues whole. The University of St Andrews is proud to be able to enhance the leadership that it can give at this time and in these crucial subject areas.”

The University set the goal of creating these positions as part of its ongoing 600th Anniversary fundraising campaign, launched in 2011 by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

The Lectureship in American Literature is also supported by a range of donations from St Andrews’ growing family of American alumni.

The donation from the Shelby Cullom Davis Charitable Fund Inc means the 600th Anniversary Campaign reaches a major milestone of £75m toward its £100m target.

Notes to editors
A total of £1.34m has now been raised in support of the Lectureship in American Literature which was also supported by funds raised during the University’s major 600th Anniversary events, including a golf tournament in 2013 and the New York Gala Benefit in 2014 attended by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

The appointment of the Lectureship in American Literature will be made in 2017 to 18 with positions taken up in academic year 2018 to 19.

Chris Davis and his family have been longstanding donors to St Andrews, having contributed to ongoing scholarships for students graduating from United World Colleges to St Andrews since 2003, supporting six students and donating in excess of £150,000 in that time.

Issued by the Press Office, University of St Andrews, contactable on 01334 462530/467227 or email [email protected].

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