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A composite photo of the Old Well with Steve Israel's headshot on top of the photo.
Steve Israel’s $10 million investment in the O.B. Hardison Scholarship celebrates and emphasizes the value of the humanities.

A major gift from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill alumnus Stephen H. Israel ’66, Vice Chairman Emeritus of Korn Ferry, will provide full Honors Carolina scholarships for undergraduate students pursuing a major in the humanities, whether they came in with this intent or were undecided as to their major and discovered the value of broadening their lives and opportunities by way of a liberal arts education.

Steve Israel’s $10 million investment in the O.B. Hardison Scholarship celebrates and emphasizes the value of the humanities. The scholarship supports students in the College of Arts and Sciences who choose to major in English and comparative literature, art history, classics, classical archaeology, history, philosophy, musicology or religious studies.

Steve Israel established the scholarship in honor of the late Professor O.B. Hardison ’50, whose literature courses changed his life. Hardison was a Renaissance scholar in the department of English who later became director of the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C.

“I started as a business major, but unexpectedly during my junior year, I took Hardison’s courses on John Milton and the Renaissance in English Literature, and my world changed forever,” Israel said. “A well-rounded liberal arts education is so crucially important today. I see evidence of it all around in my work. Studying the humanities instills wisdom, discernment, strong communication skills and good character no matter the career choice. My liberal arts education at Carolina expanded my world and my life. All Carolina graduates should have that opportunity as well.”

The O.B. Hardison Scholarship serves as the first step toward the ambitious goal to raise $100 million to elevate and secure the future of the humanities at UNC-Chapel Hill. This includes support for distinguished professorships, graduate student fellowships and curriculum development grants, as well as additional funding for the Hardison Scholarship.

“The liberal arts are the backbone of a Carolina education, and we are grateful for this tremendous support for the humanities,” said Lee H. Roberts, interim chancellor of UNC-Chapel Hill. “This gift could not have been more timely. We are committed to ensuring every student receives a well-rounded education and graduates with the tools they need to succeed.”

UNC-Chapel Hill and the College of Arts and Sciences trace their roots to the study of the humanities and have a long and proud tradition of preparing the leaders and innovators of tomorrow with a broad and deep liberal arts education. Eighty percent of Carolina undergraduates leave the University with at least one major from the College. With this remarkable estate gift, the College renews its commitment to demonstrating the importance of a liberal arts education for career preparedness and for shaping lives of purpose and consequence.

“The liberal arts are about how the arts and humanities, social sciences and natural sciences work together to make students more prepared for life, and for all of their future careers,” said Jim White, Craver Family Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “This thoughtful gift from Steve is a resounding vote of confidence in the College as we strive to maintain and demonstrate the power of a liberal arts education and re-affirm the humanities as a cornerstone of an excellent education and a foundation for our democracy. Carolina was founded over 200 years ago to educate Americans so that they could own and keep our then fledgling democracy. That mission remains, perhaps even more so today. The strength of our democracy depends on the liberal arts.”

“The scholarship is as much, if not more so, for the undecided student as for those who are already interested in the humanities,” Israel said. “I am sure there are other alumni who agree and who will join the University and me in supporting this scholarship.”

“Coming together to discuss and learn from others’ experiences and perspectives is a hallmark of a liberal arts education. These same approaches and habits of mind fuel productive societies,” said Jim Leloudis, the Peter T. Grauer Associate Dean for Honors Carolina. “Discussing the issues of the day — as well as the timeless question of ‘what makes a good life?’ — prepares students to be engaged citizens, responsible community members and critical thinkers. It primes them for leadership in their careers.”

Fueling a Humanities Renaissance at Carolina

Recognizing the need for an updated narrative around the value of the humanities and liberal arts education, the Hardison Scholarship is designed to reach those undecided students who are interested in English or another discipline in the humanities but may not see the link between that course of study and success in their intended careers.

“I believe there is a perception that students become English majors because they enjoy reading, and an assumption that they will have limited career opportunities once they graduate. This is simply not true,” said Israel. “There are clearly other majors that may have more lucrative job prospects immediately after graduation, but in time, the liberal arts majors catch up. The humanities and liberal arts more broadly make for better and more effective leaders in all fields of endeavor.”

Emily Long ’19 (biology), M.A. ’20 (English), M.D. ’24, a soon-to-be “triple Tar Heel” who has benefited from education in STEM and the humanities shared: “To study the humanities is, fundamentally, to enter others’ perspectives through stories, poetry and art; to think critically about these perspectives, situating them within their social contexts; and to form one’s own opinions about the themes that works of art represent. The same can be said of a physician’s approach to patients: We must listen to their stories, piecing together the history they tell us with charts, labs and imaging. We must understand how the world in which patients live impacts them and then act on what we have learned to improve their health.”

A longtime champion of the humanities, Steve Israel sees his commitment as another Carolina voice working to change the conversation around liberal arts education. “Had it not been for Hardison, I would not be where I am today,” he added.

The O.B. Hardison Scholarship commitment serves as the foundational investment in continuing the advancement of the humanities at Carolina.

“I see this scholarship as an anchor for a much larger Renaissance at Carolina focused on the importance and relevance of the humanities,” said Israel. “I am challenging others to join me in leading the resurgence of the liberal arts at Carolina, and for that matter, around the world. The first step is building the Hardison Scholarship endowment. The larger goal is to raise $100 million for the humanities more broadly at UNC-Chapel Hill.”

To make a gift to the O.B. Hardison Scholarship for the Humanities visit

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