Eugene M. Tobin, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

TITLE: Senior Program Officer, Higher Education and the Liberal Arts Colleges Program

FUNDING AREAS: Liberal arts, humanities scholarships, diversity and inclusion in higher education

CONTACT: EMT@Mellon.org, 212-838-8400

IP TAKE: Tobin is committed to keeping liberal arts and humanities education a viable and enriching course of study—and career choice. 

PROFILE: Program officer Eugene M. Tobin manages grants for liberal arts colleges and higher education at the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. According to his bio at their site, Tobin's grantmaking deals with "faculty and curricular development, presidential leadership, undergraduate teaching and learning, educational effectiveness, and institutional collaboration." 

The president's report for 2011 at the foundation describes a recent re-thinking of the priorities in Tobin's division. Previously, it gave to colleges dealing with the fallout from Hurricane Katrina. Satisfied with its investments in that area, Mellon has shifted its attention to "undergraduate research, integration of the arts across the curriculum, and introduction of the digital humanities." Tobin and his team appropriate around $130 million in this arena each year, and though they do give to organizations such as the Social Science Research Council, the American Indian College Fund, and Convergence, the vast majority of their granting goes directly to colleges and universities themselves. Some recent examples with their updated focus include:

  • $4.28 million to American Council of Learned Societies (NYC) in continued support of a program that funds the appointment of PhDs in the humanities to yearlong fellowships in non-academic organizations, including at nonprofit and government agencies;
  • $50,000 to Austin College (Sherman, TX) to explore opportunities for teaching and learning through the use of digital resources;
  • $2 million to University of California at Los Angeles, to support an initiative at the intellectual and institutional intersection of architecture, urbanism, and the humanities.

Tobin himself got a bachelor's degree in History Rutgers University (New Jersey) and his master's and PhD in American Civilization at Brandeis University (Massachussets) in American Civilization. He then taught at Hamilton College for thirteen years, at which the college elected him to replace Harry Payne as their in 1993. Tobin presided until a plagarizing scandal, in which he was caught "failing to properly attribute the sources used in in a speech to incoming freshmen"—from an Amazon.com book review—and resigned in 2002.

He cashed out at Hamilton with $350,713 in salary and benefits along with a severance package worth $827,000. That year, according to the NY Post Standard, Tobin had the distinction as the highest-paid college or university president in the nation. On paper it was a hard fall, but hard feelings were seemingly minimal; a few years later, Mellon would grant Hamilton College $800,000 to establish "five postdoctoral fellowship positions in the arts and humanities."

Upon his graceful exit from academia, Tobin hitched up with the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and wrote several books about higher ed policy and administration. He co-authored the 2006 Outstanding Book Award-winning Equity and Excellence in American Higher Education, which mounts a thoroughly defended argument about why elite universities need to admit more minority and low-income students, and how doing so "will in no way compromise these institutions' commitments to academic excellence," according a review of the work in College Literature.

Check him out below giving a talk on the future of the liberal arts college at Lafayette College:

VIDEO: