As Phillip Brian Harper, M.F.A. ’85, M.A. ’86, Ph.D. ’88, considers taking on a new job, he always asks himself a couple of questions: Could I have an even greater impact in this new role? Do I have something to contribute to this conversation that no one else does?
In his newest position – program director for higher learning at the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, which he began Oct. 1 – Harper will play a key role in guiding foundation grants to colleges and universities throughout the country, particularly focused on humanities and the liberal arts. And now, with the foundation’s new emphasis on social justice and equity, the projects the foundation supports have a newly refined mission.
“The humanities are the story of the way that human beings have negotiated the circumstances they find themselves in,” said Harper, whose M.F.A. is in creative writing and whose doctorate is in English. “While some people think that Mellon’s new mission represents a narrowing of focus, I see it as an opening, a reinvigoration of what the humanities are at their core.”
Harper is looking forward to having conversations with a broad group of universities to help them think about the way they are pursuing the humanities. “I do think the humanities in general has not succeeded to the extent it ought to,” he said, “in reaching a broad constituency the way those areas of study should.”
Kathy Hovis is a writer for the College of Arts and Sciences.