Do It To Make A Difference

by Jaishree Drepaul-Bruder

Bill Zimmerman firmly believes that if you choose to be charitable, do so for no other reason than to be kind. “Do it to make a difference, not as a way of tooting your own horn,” says the Research Professor Emeritus at the Center for Political Studies at the Institute of Social Research. It was in this spirit that he created the Ryan Jr. Faculty Fund. The award was initially named for Zimmerman’s mother, Isabel Ryan Zimmerman. “I wanted to honor the simplicity at the core of her Quakerism and the marginally Quaker environment that I grew up in,” he says.

Bill Zimmerman, photo by Eva Menezes/ISR

In 2013, he agreed to change the name to the Zimmerman Jr. Faculty Fund, in honor of his 50th anniversary with the University of Michigan (U-M). But the purpose of the Fellowship remained the same. “It’s intended,” Zimmerman explains, “to provide some discretionary funds for my successors as Directors of the Center for Political Studies in their efforts to recruit and retain outstanding junior faculty.” During his own time as director of the Center for Political Studies (CPS) Zimmerman found that staff retention could be challenging. “We only hire smart faculty, and people at other universities would notice that,” he says.

Humbly, Zimmerman describes the Fellowship as “fairly small potatoes, but still a very helpful thing for the center’s directorship.” And as for the chosen faculty member, the Fund gives them some relief time to further any scholarship that they need to accomplish. “It could, for example, help someone transform their dissertation into a first book or do something similar,” says Zimmerman. Current CPS Director Ken Kollman affirms that the Fund has indeed had a big and incredibly positive impact on the establishment. “It’s perfectly targeted to where great research institutions need the most help and where it is challenging to find other sources,” he says. He adds, “the Zimmerman Fund has been, and will continue to be, a terrific asset for the Institute for Social Research and CPS to attract and retain early-career researchers in the social sciences.”

Zimmerman himself is able to relate on a personal level to the tangible consequences that funds like his can have on junior faculty members. “I did receive similar help, mostly in the way of relief time and summer salaries. It was just really nice and extremely helpful to my career,” he recalls. George Breslauer, a friend and former student of Zimmerman, can also empathize from firsthand experience. “I was given such funds in my untenured years and was deliriously happy when I got the telephone call,” says the Professor of the Graduate School, Department of Political Science, and Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Emeritus, University of California at Berkeley. Breslauer, who earned his Ph.D. in political science in 1973 from the University of Michigan (U-M), took both undergrad and grad courses with Zimmerman. It was also Zimmerman who supervised his doctoral dissertation. “We remained close for life, even though our paths crossed infrequently,” says Breslauer. He describes his former teacher as always stimulating and encouraging. Motivated by immense respect and how supportive Zimmerman had been of him, Breslauer along with Allan Stam, Dean of the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy at the University of Virginia, worked together to solicit help from Zimmerman’s former students in order to top off the Fellowship.

Those who responded to the appeal generally expressed their deep appreciation of, and affection for, Zimmerman, Breslauer happily reports. “Personally, I was delighted to have the means as well as the opportunity to contribute to a Fund in his name,” he says. And Breslauer could unreservedly champion the purpose of the Fund (which provides one-ninth of the recipient’s academic year salary) as he appreciates the multiple benefits. “From an institutional standpoint, such gestures can deepen loyalty to the university and may lower the temptation for junior faculty to seek higher salaries elsewhere.” He continues, “relative to the cost of living, the salaries of junior (untenured) faculty tend to be modest. So this helps by affording them some financial breathing room.”

Chris Fariss

Chris Fariss

This year, it was Assistant Professor Chris Fariss, 36, who received the Fellowship. Fariss finished his Ph.D. in 2013 at the University of California, San Diego. He’s worked at U-M for two years now in the Department of Political Science and his core research interest lies in human rights. “I am very happy with all of the fantastic support and funding provided to faculty at U-M. The CPS has been the best part of my job at U-M. They make a lot of my research possible,” he says. Specifically, Fariss focuses on the politics and measurement of human rights. His interest in this area began in 2003 during a summer course at the University of North Texas called Peace Studies. He discloses that the process of discovery is what “drives” him presently. “More often now though it is teaching my students about this process,” he says.

Fariss is also moved by the many positive human rights developments happening in the world. “But these are less publicized relative to places where conflict and human rights abuse are occurring,” he explains. “My research has helped to reveal this,” he adds. That said, alongside access to reliable and valid data, Fariss confides that he has to deal with another big obstacle. “One of my biggest challenges is how to convince the political science community to take measurement seriously,” he says.

While Fariss may face certain hurdles in the political science arena, at home in the CPS he certainly isn’t lacking believers, Zimmerman being one of them. He stresses that the Fund recognizes early promise. “I’m only now starting to get to know Chris, but he’s quite smart and a great addition to our faculty. His work and research is very important,” he says. This is meaningful recognition and the respect is mutual. “Bill’s office is just down the hall from me,” Fariss says. He adds, “I think that he works harder than I do. It’s good inspiration.”