Sebbard honored for support, fundraising

L.A. Cicero Susan Sebbard

Sebbard has worked at the Humanities Center since 1985. She is currently the assistant director.

As assistant director of the Stanford Humanities Center, Susan Sebbard was perhaps caught a little more off guard than most when she was notified that she will be a co-recipient of the 2005 Marshall O'Neill Award. She thought that the honor, a symbol of faculty appreciation for outstanding contributions to the university's research mission, typically went to research staff in one of the science departments.

On staff at the center since 1985, Sebbard's role has evolved from that of secretary reporting to both the director and associate director to her current position as the center's assistant director—with her responsibilities growing immensely over time. But besides the background banter in the office about the importance of literature and culture, the one constant throughout her tenure has been fundraising.

"Fundraising for the humanities is typically more challenging than fundraising for the sciences," she said. "The humanities are a little tougher sell, because people don't always see the immediate relevance."

Fortunately, Stanford's professors get it, and on Oct. 24, a faculty committee decided to honor Sebbard with the award, which includes a $3,000 cash prize. The committee also selected Kathy McClelland, director of the Research Compliance Office, and both will be honored today at a reception that starts at 4 p.m. at the Faculty Club. The award is sponsored by the Office of the Dean of Research and Graduate Policy.

As described in letters nominating Sebbard for the award, the center is "a crucial institution for the support of humanities research on campus"—through its fellowship program, sponsored events and research workshops. The center hosts 25 to 30 fellows per year, most of whom are working on books. Both the director and associate director serve three-year terms, with a maximum of one renewal.

New directors bring new priorities and perspectives to the center, Sebbard said. Hence, the need for constancy and institutional memory is essential. History Professor Keith Baker, director of the France-Stanford Center and a former director of the Humanities Center, said Sebbard deserves the award because she is "a principal reason the ideas of successive directors and associate directors have taken root and flourished."

As well, "her knowledge, judgment and taste are called upon continually in matters outside her job description," said John Bender, professor of English and comparative literature and director of the Humanities Center.

As for her formal responsibilities, Sebbard works closely with the director on all development activity and oversees all donor-related matters. She also manages the center's overall administrative functions, including personnel selection and assisting the center's associate director with financial oversight. Sebbard became the center's assistant director in 2000, when the position was created.

Sebbard's bachelor's degree in foreign languages—Spanish, French and Russian—from Principia College in Illinois hints at her innate interest in the humanities. But she also delights in the dynamic environment of the center, where, in a prior position, she oversaw the processing and selection of resident fellows.

"Susan's personal care and attention has translated directly, I believe, into the dozens—hundreds?—of successful book manuscripts that have come out of the Stanford Humanities Center in the 20 years she has served this institute," said Charles Junkerman, associate provost and dean of Continuing Studies at Stanford, as well as associate director of the center from 1990 to 1995.