The $3 million Kenan eminent professorships, part of a $27 million commitment to the Carolina First campaign from the William R. Kenan Jr. Charitable Trust, are among the largest endowed professorships in the University’s history.

“Higher education, and particularly the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has always been a priority for the Kenan Trust. In recognition of the importance of the Carolina First Campaign to the University, the trust wanted to give a gift that builds on the precedent set by generations of members of the Kenan family,” said Richard M. Krasno, executive director of the William R. Kenan Jr. Charitable Trust. “The gift to the University is more than a donation, it is a continuation of a tradition that is more than 200 years old.”

As long as there’s been a Carolina, there have been Kenans to support its mission. The family and its philanthropic entities have given more to the University over history and during the Carolina First Campaign than any other private donor. The various Kenan family philanthropies gave the University nearly $70 million during Carolina First, including $27 million to endow 10 faculty chairs, including five $3 million eminent professorships.

Gifts from the Kenan family have benefited Carolina faculty since 1917, when Mary Lily Kenan Flagler left a bequest establishing the Kenan Foundation for Distinguished Professors. William R. Kenan Jr. (class of 1894) died in 1965 and left $95 million for philanthropy in the service of education, singling out his alma mater for special attention. The trust was formed that year and immediately began providing support for endowed professorships.

Kenan Jr. also established The Randleigh Foundation Trust, which has made significant grants to UNC through the years, especially for the College of Arts and Sciences and the Special Collections Library.

It all began in 1790, when North Carolina legislator James Kenan, a member of UNC’s first Board of Trustees, contributed $50 to the construction of Old East, the first state university building in the nation. Over the next two centuries, dozens of family members would serve as trustees, make their way to Chapel Hill as students or function as benefactors. Taken in sum, this has created what Chancellor James Moeser has happily characterized as “one of the oldest philanthropic partnerships in American higher education.”

There’s virtue in longevity. Members of various Kenan branches continue to give to the University, either as individuals or through foundations and trusts. The gifts range from targeted to all-purpose, with funds going to professorships and libraries, athletic scholarships and the arts. But the charitable benchmark of the family was established when William Rand Kenan Jr. died and left the bulk of his estate for the trust bearing his name. From that has been shaped a national philanthropic institution focused widely and deeply on higher education, but favoring UNC, the only school specifically mentioned in the guidelines for the trust.

Today, the William R. Kenan Jr. Charitable Trust is valued at $550 million to $600 million, and the assets of the four affiliated William R. Kenan Jr. funds come to $140 million to $150 million. About 90 percent of their grants each year fund education both inside and outside the classroom.

“In recognition of the importance of the Carolina First Campaign to the University, the trust wanted to give gifts that built on the precedent set by generations of members of the Kenan family,” said Krasno, former president of the Monterey Institute of International Studies in Monterey, Calif., as well as former president and CEO of the Institute of International Education in New York.

The Kenan Eminent Professors

2005 – Present: Jeff Spinner-Halev

Minrose Gwin

2006 – Present: James Rives

2008 – Present: Patricia McAnany

2009 – Present: Zaragosa Vargas