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Russell G. Hamilton

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Credit: Billy Kingsley, Vanderbilt University

Russell G. Hamilton, the first African American dean at Vanderbilt, led the Graduate School as Dean for Graduate Studies and Research from 1984 to 2000. He remained on faculty as a professor of Spanish and Portuguese, was awarded emeritus status in 2002, and retired in 2005.

Hamilton, a native of New Haven, Connecticut, earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut, his master’s from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and studied in Brazil for two years before completing work on his Ph.D. at Yale University. Upon graduation, he was hired as an assistant professor by the University of Minnesota, where he also served as a full professor and an Associate Dean for Faculty.

After 20 year at the University of Minnesota, Hamilton joined the Vanderbilt Community as Dean of the Graduate School. During his tenure he focused on expanding student support and diversity: heading the university’s Committee for Recruitment and Retention of Minority Faculty; establishing the Graduate Student Travel grant program; initiating Graduate Student Research Day; expanding the Dissertation Enhancement Award with increased funding to add to student research resources; and increasing the Honors Fellowship Program to help recruit the best applicants. During this time, the university made great strides in recruiting African American doctoral students and supporting them through the completion of their degrees.

“Russell Hamilton was a true pioneer whose ability to bring people together to advance Vanderbilt’s growth brought distinction to the university’s academic mission and inspired us all,” said Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos. “He was deeply respected and admired, and we can all learn a great deal from Dean Hamilton’s legacy of recognizing and empowering his colleagues. His dedicated service as dean and transformative achievements paved the way for so many.”

Hamilton also served as chair of the board of the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) and headed a CGS task force to examine the role and nature of the doctoral dissertation. Additionally, he was an active member of the CGS Committee on Minorities, the National Advisory Committee on the Compact for Faculty Diversity and the advisory board for the African Training for Leadership and Advanced Skills Project.

Hamilton wrote two books, Literatura Africana, Literatura Necessária and Voices from an Empire: A History of Afro-Portuguese Literature. His awards include the Mary Cady Tew Prize for the most promising doctoral student in Romance languages at Yale; the Wilbur Lucius Cross Medal awarded to outstanding graduate alumni of Yale; and the Louise Williams Educational Service Award from the alumni association of the Dixwell Community House in New Haven, Conn.

A modest man, Hamilton shared credit for the accomplishments with his associates. “If I’ve done one thing right, it is that I’ve made some good choices with respect to Graduate School administrators and staff. I’ve surrounded myself with good people and I inherited good people,” he told the Vanderbilt Register in 1999. A beloved husband, father and mentor, he is remembered fondly as “the epitome of a gentleman and a scholar.”

Condensed from ‘s March 4th 2016 article,
Vanderbilt mourns former Graduate School dean Russell Hamilton