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  May 12, 2003

First Gladstein Human Rights Chair Named

Richard Ashby Wilson, a social anthropologist, has been appointed the first Gladstein Chair in Human Rights. Wilson, who is currently a visiting professor at New School University in New York, will join the faculty in the fall.

One of the first things Wilson plans to do when he arrives on campus is begin organizing the University's new Center for Human Rights. The Center will serve to integrate contributions from the humanities, social sciences, law, and other disciplines across schools and colleges.

"There are so many interesting human rights-related projects being done on campus," Wilson says. "I'm excited about the prospect of bringing all of that work together and building on it to make UConn an internationally recognized university for the study of human rights."

The University has already laid important groundwork for building a comprehensive human rights program. The Thomas J. Dodd Research Center is committed to the collection and preservation of archival materials and oral histories of, among others, the Nuremberg Trials and the Alternative Press in the United States. In addition, the University has a formal partnership with the African National Congress that emphasizes the preservation of its records, oral history, and the sponsorship of a broad-based academic program in comparative human rights, and has the first UNESCO Human Rights Chair in the United States.

"It's a unique opportunity to bring all of these initiatives together," Wilson notes.

Wilson also plans to support the University's human rights minor and develop a major in the field. He hopes to work closely with students, both undergraduate and graduate, to develop programs in which they're interested.

Another of Wilson's early plans is to hold a conference on a human rights topic in the fall of 2004. "I think people will see a much heightened sense of activity," Wilson says.

Wilson is well qualified to accomplish his goals. Since receiving his doctoral degree in social anthropology from the London School of Economics and Political Science in 1990, he has published two books, edited four others, and written many journal articles. His achievements, along with his interdisciplinary work and the fact that Wilson is comfortable working in both the theoretical and empirical realms, made him an ideal person for the Chair, says Ross MacKinnon, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, who chaired the search committee for the position. Chancellor John Petersen agrees.

"If you went down a checklist of all the qualities we wanted the Chair to have, Professor Wilson couldn't be more qualified," Petersen says. "He's going to be a major addition to the human rights program and to the anthropology department."

Their enthusiasm springs in part from the fact that Wilson's work in Latin America and South Africa fits well with the University's commitment to establishing expertise in those areas. Wilson's latest book, published in 2001, is The Politics of Truth and Reconciliation in South Africa: Legitimizing the Post-Apartheid State. His first book dealt with violence against Mayans in Guatemala. He also researched Guatemala's truth commission.

"His theory is grounded in the real-world experience he's had in Latin America and South Africa," MacKinnon says. "His choice of regions couldn't be better in terms of what we're trying to accomplish."

Wilson, who will be a tenured full professor in anthropology, will serve a five-year term that is renewable.

Since being named among the Chancellor's priorities under campaign UConn, human rights programs have become central components of the University's academic and public service missions.