The University of Virginia today announced today a $3 million anonymous donation to establish the Richard Lyman Bushman Chair of Mormon Studies in the University’s Department of Religious Studies. The chair is still subject to approval by the University’s Board of Visitors, after which a search committee will look for candidates for the inaugural appointment, due to begin serving in the 2013-14 school year.
This announcement will lead to creating a third research institution in Mormon Studies outside of LDS Church-owned institutions. Mormon Studies programs currently exist at the Claremont Graduate University in California, and at Utah State University.
While I assume that everyone is generally pleased about this (I certainly am), I have to ask a question, perhaps due to my own ignorance of the way university campuses work. The quesiton is: Is this the best way to further develop Mormon Studies?
It seems likely that the $3 million endowment was made by a Mormon donor (and I assume someone with a UVA connection). I believe that I’ve heard that similar donations were behind the establishment of the programs at Claremont and USU. I suppose it is even possible that all three were established by the same donor.
Establishing programs and endowed chairs certainly has advantages. They guarantee that Mormon Studies will produce research and be taught to students, perhaps for the long term. In addition, they will probably also produce the kind of one-time conferences that encourage further research.
I don’t know what alternatives there might be. So, my academic friends, is this the best place for donors to put their money? Will this have the most long-term impact?
Regardless, I think this is a great day for Mormon Studies.