Harvard University announced Thursday that it is creating an endowed visiting professorship in the field of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender studies, staking its claim as the first American university to create such a chair.
The milestone hits a sour note at Yale, given that the University passed up the chance to create such a position more than a decade ago. In 1997, the prominent AIDS activist Larry Kramer ’57 offered Yale funds to create either an endowed chair in gay and lesbian studies or a student center for LGBT students. The University rejected the offer, sparking a major conflict with Kramer that ultimately garnered national media attention.
At the time, Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead said Yale’s decision was partly based on the fact that the field of gay and lesbian studies was relatively new to academia.
“Gay and lesbian studies have produced tons of interesting work, but it’s a little hard to know what institutional form it will take 200 years from now,” he said.
Of course, it’s worth noting that, despite the Kramer controversy, Yale has had a long tradition in teaching LGBT studies.
In 1987, the University founded the Lesbian and Gay Studies Center, and although the program has changed its name and structure over the years, the LGBT Studies program has grown considerably over time. In 2001, Kramer’s brother, Arthur Kramer ’49, gave a $1 million gift in Larry’s name to found the Larry Kramer Initiative for Gay and Lesbian Studies, which was closed after five years when the gift was spent.
And over time, Yale has hired prominent scholars related to LGBT studies, most notably George Chauncey ’77 GRD ’83, an expert in the history of sexuality and American social history who accepted a teaching position in the History Department in 2006.
Harvard’s new professorial position — to be filled by a different visiting professor each semester — was made possible by a $1.5 million gift from the Harvard Gay and Lesbian Caucus, which is composed of LGBT alumni, faculty, staff and students, according to the group’s Web site.