Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities: Who Is William “Bro” Adams?

Saturday, July 12, 2014

On April 10, 2014, President Barack Obama announced his intention to nominate William “Bro” Adams as Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). He was confirmed by the Senate on July 9. Created in 1965, NEH distributes grants to museums, archives, libraries, colleges, universities, public television, radio stations, and individual scholars.


Adams, 66, is from Birmingham, Michigan, but graduated from the Holderness School in New Hampshire in 1965. He then went to Colorado College, but soon dropped out and joined the U.S. Army. Adams served in Vietnam as a first lieutenant, and then returned to Colorado College and graduated in 1972. He later earned a Fulbright Scholarship, studying philosophy in 1977-1978 at École des hautes études and the École normale supérieure in Paris. Adams received his Ph.D. in political philosophy from the University of California at Santa Cruz in 1982.


Adams began his career as an educator at the University of North Carolina in 1983, when he was an assistant professor of political science. The following year, he had a similar position at Santa Clara University.


In 1986, Adams moved to Stanford University, becoming an instructor and program coordinator in its Great Works in Western Culture program. He stayed for two years before moving to Wesleyan University in Connecticut in 1988 as an administrator. Adams remained there until 1995, eventually becoming the university’s vice president and secretary.


Adams’ first chance to lead a college came in 1995, when he was named president of Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. He held that position five years until taking over at Colby College in Maine in 2000.


Adams remained at Colby College for 14 years, with one of his achievements being a $376 million capital campaign for the college. Adams was also a director of Maine Public Broadcasting from 2002 to 2012.


One of Adams’ biggest challenges will be to keep the NEH in business. Congress has slashed its funding and the latest budget proposal from Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) would kill it altogether.


Adams’ nickname, “Bro,” was the nickname of his father’s best friend, who was killed in World War II. Adams and his wife, Lauren Sterling, a philanthropic specialist, have two children.

-Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

President Nominates William D. Adams as Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities (National Humanities Alliance)

New President Brings ‘Discipline and Distinction’ to Waterville College (by Colin Hickey, Waterville Sentinel)


Leave a comment