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Department of Communications/
News Bureau
22 Davis Hall, 10 Lippitt Road, Kingston, RI 0288
Phone: 401-874-2116 Fax: 401-874-7872

Alumni and friends establish scholarships to honor two retired URI College of Arts and Sciences professors

KINGSTON, R.I. -- August 30, 2001 -- A women’s advocate and a social activist, both retired faculty members of the College of Arts and Sciences, will be remembered by their students – both past and future. That’s because endowed scholarships are being established for both professors at the University of Rhode Island by their friends, colleagues, former students, and business associates. Currently, the combined scholarships are valued at approximately $41,000.

One scholarship, named for Phyllis Brown of Saunderstown who retired this year from URI’s Chemistry Department, will enhance fellowship stipends for chemistry graduate students. The other scholarship, named in honor of Elton Rayack of Peace Dale, professor emeritus of the Economics Department, will help fund the education of an economics major with a strong commitment to social justice.

"I never thought of myself as a women’s libber until I was working at another University and discovered that I wasn’t ever going to get promoted despite the fact that I did my job well, stayed out of trouble, got published, and did cutting-edge research. I was a woman," said Brown who retired in July. "Forget about the glass ceiling. I was bumping into the (entry) door."

Brown University originally rejected her application to graduate school shortly after World War II ended and returning veterans were given preference.

Eighteen years, four children, umpteen PTA, Girl Scouts, and League of Women Voters meetings later, Brown gave Brown another try, was accepted, and earned her Ph.D.

Hired by URI in 1973, Brown soon developed an international reputation in the still-young field of using liquid chromatography to solve problems in medicine, writing groundbreaking texts on the subject. The nucleotide assays she developed were the basis for genomic studies and helped made possible the human genome project.

At her retirement party in June, Brown was presented a book packed with notes from former students, many of whom said that Brown was a role model. "It was so gratifying," said the chemist and mentor. "I always think of my students as an extended family. The mother in me didn’t just disappear when I became a professor."

When Elton Rayack was hired by URI in 1958, he quickly gained a reputation of being a rebel with many causes. His activism got fired up during the Depression years and his light has been steadily illuminating social injustices and infringements of civil liberties ever since.

Perhaps the most repeated Rayack story occurred when President Lyndon B. Johnson came to the Kingston campus to receive an honorary degree in 1966. Rayack planned to walk out in protest of Johnson’s policies in Vietnam. Instead, the professor found himself being escorted out by URI student nurses planted in the audience by the Secret Service, making it look as if he were ill. It was a clever ploy, Rayack admits, but frightening to think just how far the government will go to silence opposition.

A strong advocate of civil rights, Rayack marched in Washington, was one of the first people to oppose the Vietnam War ("It was a disaster from the beginning") and fought for academic freedom as a member the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). He battled to keep the book, The Tropic of Cancer, away from the censors. The book was hidden from students, he said, noting the library was chosen as the hiding place.

Although he retired in 1990, Rayack has never laid down his mental picket signs. When asked about today’s pressing issues, he quickly states them: civil rights, President Bush’s foreign policy of dismantling antiballistic missile treaties, and the redistribution of wealth in the country where the top 5 percent of the population have the largest share of pie while welfare recipients are left with crumbs.

When URI’s Economics Department held a roast last spring in Rayack’s honor to raise funds for the scholarship, nearly 200 friends attended. "It was good to see everyone," he said.
Anyone wishing more information about either scholarship should contact Tom Zorabedian, senior development officer for the College of Arts and Sciences, at 401-874-2853 or zman@advance.uri.edu.

For Information: Jan Wenzel, 874-2116

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