Fulbright College’s Blair Center Receives $1 Million Campaign Gift in Memory of Namesake

by | Oct 24, 2019 | Alumni, Announcements, Dean's Corner, Gifts

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – University of Arkansas alumnus Brian Wolff, who serves as executive vice president of public policy and external affairs for Edison Electric Institute in Washington, D.C., has committed a $1 million planned gift to the university in support of the Diane D. Blair Center of Southern Politics and Society in the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences.

Wolff, a Pine Bluff native, was the first person in his family to graduate from college and said the impact and responsibility of that experience propelled him into his career. As a student at the U of A, he studied under the center’s late namesake, Diane Blair, who became a mentor and inspiration to him.

Blair was a professor of political science, an advisor for and historian of the Clinton-Gore presidential campaigns, a public servant and a noted advocate for Arkansas women. She was posthumously inducted into the Arkansas Women’s Hall of Fame in 2019.

“Diane highlighted unconscious bias and opened our eyes to it,” Wolff said. “When I thought about providing a gift to the university and what effect it would have, I thought about Diane and the body of work being done in the Blair Center.”

The research center that bears her name was established in 2001 with a $3 million U.S. Congressional appropriation that was put into an endowment.

Fellow U of A alumnus and associate professor Angie Maxwell is director of the Blair Center, which supports and promotes the critical, interdisciplinary study of the general politics, identity politics and culture of the American South’s past and present. Maxwell also holds the university’s Diane Blair Endowed Professorship in Southern Studies.

“We are so grateful for Brian’s generous gift,” Maxwell said. “His support will help our research continue to flourish in this vitally needed area of scholarship. Southern politics have all too often been oversimplified and misunderstood. The center’s aim is to help contextualize and understand the past and present political culture of the American South and how this impacts us all.”

Wolff wanted to provide funding for what was most needed in the center, and he chose to do this through an endowed gift. He said he hopes the gift is used to fund an endowed chair.

“An endowment will provide more impact to carry this work forward,” he said. “We’re still captivated by the complexity of the South and the entrenched beliefs of its people. There are broad misunderstandings and misconceptions about the South, and the work being done by Angie Maxwell and the Blair Center will stand the test of time. This gift will sustain that work into the future.”

Maxwell said one of the center’s key projects is its Blair Center Poll, which was last conducted immediately following the November 2016 presidential elections. It is the only national academic survey with a specific focus on the South, as well as African Americans and Latinos both inside of the South and across the country.

Todd Shields, dean of Fulbright College, said Wolff’s gift will help the center further expand its research capabilities.

“Brian is such an amazing, accomplished alumnus who is the living embodiment of all we hope our students can go on to achieve,” said Shields, who also is a political science professor and was the Blair Center’s founding director.

“Brian is deeply invested in making sure the next generation of students and scholars benefit from the Blair Center’s work, and him making this wonderful gift in Diane’s memory makes it all the more meaningful,” Shields said.

Wolff graduated from the U of A with a Bachelor of Arts in economics from Fulbright College. He completed the Senior Executive Program from Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business and the Mastering Negotiations Program in Executive Education at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. He was also a Presidential Leadership Scholar.

Prior to joining Edison Electric Institute, Wolff was a strategist for the U.S. House of Representatives and served under Nancy Pelosi, Robert T. Matsui, Rahm Emanuel and Chris Van Hollen. He also served as finance and taxation legislative aide to former Sen. David H. Pryor and worked in business development at Cassidy & Associates. Wolff began his career in Washington as a producer and copy editor for Cable News Network, better known today as CNN.

At the U of A, Wolff serves on the Arkansas Alumni Association Board of Directors and the Arkansas Alumni Association campaign committee. He is also a life member of the Arkansas Alumni Association, a member of the Chancellor’s Society and is counted as a Thoroughred for his consecutive giving to the U of A.

“I’ve always been proud of the university and value the importance of staying connected with the place and people that played such a major role in my life,” Wolff said. “I strive to be even more connected.”

For more information about the Blair Center or to make a year-end gift to support it, please give online now, or contact Fulbright College’s Office of Development and External Relations at 479-575-3712, or email fulbright@uark.edu.

A version of this story also appeared in the U of A’s Newswire publication

Read more about Diane D. Blair and her legacy in this previous Fulbright REVIEW spotlight story.

Jennifer Holland

Director of Communications, College of Education and Health Professions

479-575-3138 // heidisw@uark.edu