Endowed professorship bestowed as part of million-dollar donation

An associate professor in the English department, located in DeBartolo Hall, was named as the inaugural Grace Ruth Memorial Endowed Professor of English on Tuesday. Photo courtesy of Maria Eliott / Jambar Contributor

By Abigail Cloutier

Laura Beadling, an associate professor of English and film studies at Youngstown State University, was named as the inaugural Grace Ruth Memorial Endowed Professor of English on Tuesday.

The professorship was created through YSU’s “We See Tomorrow” $1 million donation from Robert Reeder III. It was created in memory of his grandmother, a tutor and Sunday School teacher whose dreams of law school never came to fruition.

“Our family could not be more pleased with Professor Beadling being awarded the inaugural Grace Ruth professorship in English. Her scholarship and vision for the award are both exceptional; we look forward to her accomplishments over the next three years,” Reeder said.

Beadling is one of 17 endowed professors and chairs on campus. All the positions are funded through private donations.

“Endowed professors have a lasting impact on the university and our students, increasing the institution’s academic excellence and providing educational and scholarly opportunities across the campus,” YSU President Jim Tressel said.

She plans to use the three-year position to work on a book-length project focused on director and screenwriter Alexander Payne.

“He’s never studied as one of [the] major American independent filmmakers, like Spike Lee, or the Coen brothers or Quentin Tarantino, they’re all much better known. But he’s got a similar track record in terms of commercial success,” Beadling said.

Despite two Academy Awards and seven Oscar nominations, Beadling said Payne and his work has often been overlooked in academia. 

“Partly why he’s not as studied as the others is that he’s really interesting in terms of genre. If you watch a Quentin Tarantino movie, you’re going to get something that’s sort of bloody and violence, lots of references to the ’70s. Same with the Coen Brothers. But Alexander Payne mixes drama and comedy, he has movies that I think have a lot of interesting, thoughtful things to say, that have moments that are really, really funny, and yet are also very dramatic. Because he’s hard to categorize, that maybe he’s been a little bit less studied,” she said.

Beadling has been a YSU faculty member since 2013 and earned her doctorate in American studies from Purdue University.

She plans on using the endowment not just for her research, but to also bring new programs to her English and film students. 

“I also had some ideas for what I would want to do with the funding and how those interests that I have would impact the students. I want to bring some filmmakers to campus to speak to our students. I want to learn how to edit, film and [do this all] myself. That would be something that I can bring into my introduction to film class, and have that be an option for an assignment rather than just writing a paper about film,” she said. 

She expressed her gratitude for the endowment and said she’s honored to be the first endowed professor in the English department. 

“I’m very, very grateful. I’m very excited to get into my various projects here, and so thankful to the Reeder family for making it possible. It would be very cool anytime, but it’s particularly cool to be the first endowed professor for the English department,” Beadling said.