by Whitney Hale
(June 3, 2014) — The next director of the University of Kentucky Gaines Center for the Humanities has been named subject to approval by the Board of Trustees. If approved, historian and Distinguished Service Professor Phil Harling, who was selected from a national field of candidates, will take over the directorship and the position of John R. Gaines Endowed Chair in the Humanities on Aug. 15.
"It is a combination of recognized excellence in research and teaching, combined with his extensive service to UK and his knowledge of the administrative workings of our university that makes Dr. Harling an ideal director for the Gaines Center," said Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education Ben Withers. "He will help us all make sure that the Gaines Center remains one of UK’s defining features, providing an unparalleled opportunity for undergraduates to explore ideas, discover their own voices, and learn from UK’s best faculty and staff."
Founded in 1984 by a generous gift from John and Joan Gaines, the Gaines Center functions as a laboratory for imaginative and innovative education on UK's campus. Devoted to cultivating an appreciation of the humanities in its students and faculty, the center embraces varied paths of knowledge, and particularly strives to integrate creative work with traditional academic learning.
The new director is looking forward to take over the leadership position of such a prestigious program. "From my perspective, the Gaines directorship must surely be one of the best jobs on campus. So, I feel very fortunate and deeply honored to have been selected. Like all jobs worth having, it will present its share of challenges, but it will surely be very good fun, too," Harling said.
The Gaines Center is also designed to provide a link, intellectual as well as geographic, between the campus and town communities. It sponsors an array of public events, seminars and workshops that bring rich and varied resources of the Lexington community and UK together.
As part of its curriculum, the center provides an intensive education for approximately 25 third- and fourth-year undergraduate students. The main components of the center’s pedagogical program include an annual Gaines seminar taught by multiple faculty and a senior thesis under the direction of a faculty advisor.
An admirer of the center's goals of providing extraordinary learning and leadership experiences, fostering the discussion of timely ideas, and advancing town-and-gown relations, Harling hopes to bring more campus awareness to the great work the center is doing and develop even more opportunities for its fellows.
"First and foremost, I’d like to see the Gaines Center reach out and build even stronger ties with the broader UK campus," Harling said. "The center needs to work in especially close cooperation with the other units in UK’s Academy for Undergraduate Excellence — the Honors Program, the Chellgren Center, the offices of Undergraduate Research and of External Scholarships. UK is enrolling more high-achieving students than ever before, so it’s crucial that we collaborate to create synergies that will optimize the success of those students."
In addition, Harling will look for new ways to be an advocate for the importance of studies in the humanities. "I think it will be important for the center to articulate and to champion the value of a humanistic education at a time when that value is, alas, no longer quite as taken-for-granted as it once was, even by many well-educated citizens. It seems to me that this goal is best advanced in tandem with yet another: to promote the Gaines program as an excellent opportunity for especially promising students across all of UK’s colleges, and to try to recruit the strongest applicants whether they aspire to be humanities professors, doctors, engineers or biotech researchers."
Harling has been a faculty member at UK for over 20 years. He grew up in Evanston, Ill., and received his bachelor's degree from Grinnell College in 1986 and his doctoral degree in history from Princeton University in 1993. A specialist in the history of modern Britain and the British Empire, he is a fellow of the Royal Historical Society and has authored two books and numerous articles.
Harling is the recipient of several teaching awards at UK, notably the Provost Award for Outstanding Teaching, as well as research fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Philosophical Society. A Distinguished Service Professor at UK, for several years he served as associate dean of faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences, and was interim dean of the college for the 2008-09 academic year.
Harling's wife, Bettina Morrish, is a veteran history teacher and department chair at the Sayre Upper School. The couple live in the Bell Court neighborhood of downtown Lexington with their sons Nate and Nick, and their two dogs, Sally and Mason.