Photo taken from ground-level down a snow-covered path leading to Adelbert Hall as students walk by

Case Western Reserve University awarded $2 million Mellon Foundation grant to promote leadership development and diversity in humanities ranks

With a $2,028,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Case Western Reserve University will establish a training program for humanities faculty and graduate students that promotes equity and diversity in academic leadership.

The four-year award will fund a new Humanities in Leadership Learning Series (HILLS) Program at Case Western Reserve that will enroll 24 arts and humanities faculty members and postdoctoral fellows—and up to 24 more arts and humanities graduate students—in a curriculum offering significant administrative experiences and instruction.

HILLS will aim to strengthen representation of arts and humanities faculty from groups that are underrepresented within higher education leadership positions—and, ultimately, offer a replicable model for other institutions of higher learning.

The Mellon Foundation grant and HILLS program are a response to the dearth of senior administrators from arts and humanities backgrounds at research universities: According to the American Council on Education (ACE), only 3.6% of presidents at doctoral degree-granting institutions hold PhDs in the arts or humanities, while the Council of Independent Colleges reports that only 8.7% of provosts at such institutions have doctoral training in those fields.

What’s more, fewer than one in five presidents at Association of American Universities (AAU)-member institutions are female, and 88% of private nonprofit degree-granting university presidents are white, according to the ACE.

Photo of Provost and Executive Vice President Ben Vinson III
Ben Vinson III

Efforts to promote inclusion and diversity of background and thought in academic leadership are essential to the future of higher education, said Ben Vinson III, provost and executive vice president of Case Western Reserve.

“By supporting leadership development in the humanities ranks, with a particular focus on attracting those from underrepresented backgrounds, we will enable our institutions of higher education to embrace diversity as they train the next generation of leaders to address the evolving opportunities and challenges within academia,” said Vinson, an accomplished historian of Latin America, who will lead HILLS as the grant’s co-principal investigator.

The HILLS program

In launching HILLS, the university will expand a pilot program—funded by a 2019 Mellon Foundation Academic Leadership Development grant—that supported an initial cohort of faculty fellows.

Leveraging the pilot’s success, HILLS will offer a more comprehensive curriculum of leadership training that explores how traits, knowledge and skills nurtured by arts and humanities educations can inform effective approaches to academic administration.

The new initiative also will engage with academic search firms to increase understanding of how future higher education leaders can demonstrate the value of their arts and humanities training—in addition to what is apparent from a candidate’s curriculum vitae or published research.

The university will fill three grant-funded HILLS Program Postdoctoral Fellowships—to join up to five other members within its annual postdoc/faculty cohort—to participate in each of the three year-long HILLS seminars. Members of these cohorts will work with university faculty mentors, teach a general course and a short seminar within their specialty, as well as pursue a research project that helps develop their professional career.

Joy Ward
Joy Ward

These cohorts will be joined by shorter-term cohorts of graduate students to build communication and community among scholars at different stages of their academic careers.

“Not only will this initiative help strengthen inclusive institutional cultures, HILLS will also help create a more just and equitable representation of leaders on our campus and beyond for many years to come,” said Joy K. Ward, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Case Western Reserve.

Once established, the HILLS curriculum will be publicly accessible to other institutions.

Case Western Reserve also will work on academic leadership training efforts with other colleges and universities, including local institutions with whom the university has existing relationships, such as Cuyahoga Community College and Cleveland State University.

Serving as HILLS co-investigators with Vinson will be Timothy Beal, the Florence Harkness Professor of Religion and chair of the Department of Religious Studies, and Joy Bostic, associate professor of religious studies and director of the African and African American Studies Program. Both Beal and Bostic recently served in senior administrative roles.

“Elevating the skills and aptitudes that humanities scholars bring to academic leadership, and helping position them to serve their peers in the decades to come, will be essential to developing diverse and inclusive institutional cultures in pursuit of more just and equitable systems within higher education,” said Beal, who led the HILLS pilot.

For more information, contact Daniel Robison at