Stanton Leaves After Six Years As Professor of Human Rights

ERIC STEIGLEDER

In the wake of budget shortfalls, UMW has been faced with some difficult decisions, including job freezes and tuition hikes. However, Mary Washington is not only cutting funding, but also cutting people.
Effective at the end of this semester, Gregory Stanton, the James Farmer professor of human rights, will leave his post in the history and American studies department.
Another victim of the current economic woes, the loss of Stanton’s visiting professorship is just one of the changes the university will undergo in order to weather the choppy seas of fiscal shortfalls. Stanton began teaching at Mary Washington six years ago, serving as the James Farmer Professor of Human Rights, a visiting professorship. Stanton’s lengthy and expansive career made him a valuable catch for the University. A former Peace Corps volunteer, he worked with the State Department for nearly a decade, gaining acclaim for his vocal dissent from U.S. foreign policy during the Rwandan Genocide in 1994.
He went on to found Genocide Watch, a group tasked with monitoring possible international occurrences of genocide.  Recently, he was elected president of the International Association of Genocide Scholars after serving as that group’s vice president.
As an academic, Stanton carries degrees from Yale Law School, Harvard Divinity School and the University of Chicago, among others.
After a single semester at Mary Washington, it soon became clear that Stanton’s passion, knowledge and teaching ability struck a chord on campus.
The committee that oversaw the James Farmer Professorship asked Stanton to return the following spring. Soon after, the committee asked that the professorship be changed from a semester by semester contract to a year by year contract, the equivalent to that of an assistant professor.
Stanton proceeded to serve in this capacity for twelve semesters, a feat he finds surprising, given the nature of visiting professorships.
“I came as a visiting professor and have now taught here for six years,” he said. “The University has treated me well.”
Students and colleagues will attest, that his commitment to human rights is evident not only his professional career, but through his six years here at the University as well.
Stanton views the situation pragmatically.
“It’s the University’s decision to determine its priorities,” he said. “And some facets have to go if you’re going to cut your budget.”
Not to say that Stanton views his time at UMW through the lens of a disaffected professor.
“I have loved every minute of it,” he said. “The University has been very supportive, and the department of history and American studies has been very supportive of my work.”
Stanton expressed his initial shock after he first learned that his contract would not be renewed. According to Stanton, Chair of the History and American Studies Department Jeffery McClurken and Distinguished Professor of History and American Studies Carter Hudgins first learned that Stanton’s contract would not be renewed next fall after a meeting with the Dean of Faculty, Rosemary Barra. “McClurken and Hudgins came to me with the bad news.” he said. “They told Dr. Barra that I needed to know if I would be rehired next year, and she said ‘I don’t think so.’”
Knowledge of Stanton’s departure has made its way across campus for the better part of this academic year, culminating in a student led protest, complete with a facebook group and hand-written letters petitioning the administration.
Senior Erin Sanderson, a student of Stanton’s, had a hand in developing the initial protest, alongside fellow junior Farrah Tek.
“My initial reaction was absolute shock,” Sanderson said.
And although it has been close to five months since the news of his departure first broke, Sanderson still feels passionate about Stanton’s departure.
“I became a human rights focus in American studies because of him,” She said. “He’s so involved and so approachable. He’s one of the few people who have the diplomatic experience.”
This reaction is a common one amongst Stanton’s students.
Sophomore Sarah Lowdon was saddened by the news.
“I think Dr. Stanton has really changed my life,” Lowdon said. “From the Peace Corps, to being a part of the civil rights and anti-Vietnam movements, to founding the International Association of Genocide Scholars, this is a man who not only lived history, but created it.”
Lowdon said she had developed a rapport with Stanton that surpassed student-mentor relationship; the two had became friends.
“From his lifetime of experience, he has been able to teach us from the ‘inside’ about government and non-profit work and dealing with and preventing genocide,” she said. “I am devastated that he will not be here next year.”
In fact, Lowdon was so inspired by Stanton’s work that she and fellow sophomore Corrie Shellnutt developed a new student club. UMW’s chapter of STAND, an anti-genocide group targeted directly at students, is the first of its kind here at Mary Washington.
“He makes you feel like you can make a difference,” Shellnutt said. “He knows so much.”
Sophomore Kelly Reeder was adamant about the role Stanton has played in her academic career.
“By far, Dr. Stanton has been the most influential professor that I have had, and probably will ever have, at Mary Washington,” Reeder said. “To have him here is simply amazing. It’s an experience unrivaled by any other human rights program in the country.”
Reeder also expressed that Stanton has been integral in influencing and inspiring her future career choices.
“My desire to join the Peace Corps and to go into international law has been reaffirmed,” she said. “I have seen what one individual can do through passion, and if I can only do a minute part of what he has done for the world, I would be more than content.”
Stanton said he harbors no ill will.   At the end of the day, Stanton is only troubled by a single fact.
“I’m going to miss the students,” he said.  “I love them.  And you can use that word because that’s how I feel. They are curious, intelligent, and committed to making the world a better place. It has been an honor to teach them.”

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