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Ruel Tyson (photo by Johnny Andrews)
Ruel Tyson (photo by Johnny Andrews)

It is with profound sadness that we announce the passing of the Institute for the Arts and Humanities’ visionary founder, Ruel Willoughby Tyson Jr. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill lost an esteemed scholar, colleague, mentor and friend on the evening of Thursday, May 30, 2019.

Tyson was born in the Winterville Township in Pitt County, N.C., on Dec. 2, 1930. Growing up near the banks of the Tar River, he attended public schools in Greenville before graduating from Washington and Lee University with highest honors in philosophy in 1953. His scholarship led him to Yale University; the Victoria University of Manchester in Manchester, England; the University of Chicago; and St. Anthony’s College at the University of Oxford. Tyson’s first teaching position was at the Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, TX.

In 1967, Tyson joined the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the Department of Religious Studies. During his tenure at UNC-Chapel Hill, Tyson served as chair of the Department of Religious Studies and founding director of the Carolina Seminars Program. He was recognized for his teaching and scholarship as a recipient of the Nicolas Salgo Distinguished Teaching Award, the Thomas Jefferson Award and the Chancellor’s Award at Carolina. Tyson was also inducted to the Order of the Golden Fleece, the university’s oldest and highest honor society for those who have made significant contributions to undergraduate education.

It was Tyson’s early mission to develop a program to nurture liberal arts learning and support faculty excellence at UNC. In 1987, Tyson founded what is now known as the Institute for the Arts and Humanities (IAH), with support from the College of Arts and Sciences. What started as brown-bag lunches in the 1,141-square-foot West House building, the IAH quickly grew to implement its flagship Faculty Fellowship Program in 1988.

Tyson continued to lead the Institute’s development for the next 20 years, including building a new home for the IAH in Hyde Hall, until his departure in 2006. The Institute now supports not only arts and humanities faculty, but all UNC faculty, across its programs, fellowships, grants and awards provided. Following Tyson’s vision, the IAH remains guided by its humanistic roots and takes an interdisciplinary, community-focused approach to the support and development of Carolina faculty.

“Ruel Tyson will be remembered as a strategic and bold visionary. Thirty-three years ago, he foresaw how a central home for the arts and humanities could aid in recruiting and retaining our world-class faculty. From his vision, the IAH grew into a vibrant and thriving community of engaged scholars and fellows from diverse disciplines – over 1,000 faculty have benefited directly from IAH investment in their research and teaching,” said Kevin Guskiewicz, interim chancellor.

“Ruel Tyson was known as an extraordinary teacher of religious studies who taught his students to think critically and compassionately. He encouraged faculty to collaborate and to seek fresh perspectives from scholars outside their fields,” added Terry Rhodes, interim dean of the College of Arts & Sciences. “Ruel was a beloved friend and colleague, and a mentor to so many.”

We are filled with immense gratitude and indebted to Tyson’s dedication to service at this university. In his honor, the Institute promises to continue fulfilling his commitment in supporting UNC’s outstanding faculty.

And as Tyson would say in his favorite phrase, this is “to be continued.”

Read more in this tribute to Ruel Tyson on the IAH website.

The Institute for the Arts and Humanities

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