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The Daily Tar Heel

Founder of UNC's Institute for the Arts and Humanities dead at 88

CORRECTION: A prior version of this article incorrectly identified the number of faculty that has been supported by The Institute for the Arts and Humanities. The number is over 1000. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for this error. 

CORRECTION: A prior version of this article incorrectly identified Ruel Tyson Jr. as simply specializing in religious studies. Tyson Jr. was a professor in the field. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for this error. 

The founder of UNC’s Institute for the Arts and Humanities, Ruel Tyson, Jr., died last week, following a career at the University which spanned several decades. 

Tyson, a professor in religious studies, joined the University in 1967. The North Carolina native was born in 1930 and spent his early life studying at universities across the nation and in England, before settling down as the chairperson of the Department of Religious Studies at his home state’s flagship university.

“He was a visionary leader in the area of faculty development and faculty support, and in advocacy for the arts and humanities,” said Mark Katz, the director of the Institute for the Arts and Humanities. 

In 1987, Tyson used his bridge-building tactics to create the institute now helmed by Katz, which to date has supported over 1000 faculty. 

“It was Tyson’s early mission to develop a program to nurture liberal arts learning and support faculty excellence at UNC,” the IAH said in a press release. 

His initiative started small, but eventually expanded, leading to the construction of Hyde Hall, which serves as the headquarters of the IAH. It was dedicated on University Day in 2002.

Tyson, the original IAH director, held an office in the building and retired in 2006. 

“His particular gift and value was bringing people together through conversation,” Katz said. 

Today, the IAH maintains a number of different programs, fellowships, grants and awards.

“Ruel Tyson will be remembered as a strategic and bold visionary,” interim Chancellor Guskiewicz said in the IAH press release. “From his vision, the IAH grew into a vibrant and thriving community of engaged scholars and fellows from diverse disciplines.” 

Katz remembers Tyson as a master communicator who helped buttress talks across academic disciplines and helped diversify the campus’s intellectual culture. 

“He was able to bring people together,” Katz said. “He was able to use intellectual inquiry and storytelling and thoughtful dialogue to build an intellectual community across this campus.”

Tyson, a member of UNC’s oldest honor society, the Order of The Golden Fleece, was 88 years old. 

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