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William Drea Adams
William Bro Adams.jpg
'Bro' Adams
10th Chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities

In office
July 2014 – May 2017
President Barack Obama
Donald Trump
Deputy Carole M. Watson
Preceded by Jim Leach
19th President of Colby College

In office
Preceded by William R. Cotter
Succeeded by David A. Greene
President of Bucknell University

In office
Preceded by Gary Allan Sojka
Succeeded by Steffen H. Rogers
Personal details
Born Birmingham, Michigan
Spouse(s) Lauren Sterling
Alma mater Colorado College
University of California at Santa Cruz

William Drea Adams is an American educator and advocate for the humanities. He was the tenth Chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities from 2014 to 2017.[1][2] He served as President of Bucknell University from 1995–2000, and as the 19th President of Colby College from 2000 to 2014.[3]

Early Life and educationEdit

William D. Adams 13874-074

Adams at the LBJ Presidential Library in 2016

Adams was born in Birmingham, Michigan,[4] attended the Holderness School,[5] and began undergraduate studies at Colorado College. He left the school and served for three years in the United States Army, including one year in Vietnam as an infantry advisor in the Mekong Delta, but returned to graduate in 1972 magna cum laude.[5] He subsequently spent a year in France as a Fulbright fellow, studying at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes and the École Normale Supérieure before earning a Ph.D. in the History of Consciousness program at the University of California at Santa Cruz in 1982.


Adams began his professorial career as an assistant professor of political science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and then Santa Clara University. In 1986 he moved to Stanford University where he coordinated the Great Works in Western Culture program. He earned his nickname, Bro, in honor of a friend who died in World War II.[6] In 1988 he took an administrative position at Wesleyan University, eventually becoming the vice president from 1993–1995.[7] Adams authored a PhD dissertation in history of consciousness titled Digging in the same place: an essay in the political and social philosophy of Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1982).[8] He served five years as president of Bucknell University in Pennsylvania from 1995–2000, and became Colby's 19th president on July 1, 2000. Adams served as a director of the Maine Public Broadcasting Network from 2002–2012, Wittenberg University from 2007–2011, and the Unitil Corporation since 2009.[9] President Obama announced his intention to nominate Adams to be the tenth Chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities in April 2014,[10] and the nomination was confirmed by the Senate in July 2014.[2] Adams resigned his NEH appointment in May 2017, citing accomplishments in the public humanities under the NEH Common Good initiative and the transition in federal administrations.[11]


  1. "Senate Confirms Head of US Humanities Endowment". The Washington Post. 9 July 2014. Retrieved 13 July 2014. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Ex-Colby President Confirmed as Chair of National Endowment for the Humanities". Portland Press Herald. 9 July 2014. Retrieved 13 July 2014. 
  3. "Presidents of Bucknell || Office of the President || Bucknell University". Retrieved March 18, 2010. 
  5. 5.0 5.1
  8. "Digging in the same place": an essay in the political and social philosophy of Maurice Merleau-Ponty (Thesis). University of California Santa Cruz. 1982. Retrieved 13 July 2014. 
  11. "NEH Chairman William D. Adams Announces Resignation". Washington, D.C.: National Endowment for the Humanities. May 22, 2017. Retrieved 23 May 2017. 
Academic offices
Preceded by
Gary Allan Sojka
President of Bucknell University
Succeeded by
Steffen H. Rogers
Preceded by
William R. Cotter
President of Colby College
Succeeded by
David A. Greene
Government offices
Preceded by
Jim Leach
Chairperson of the National Endowment for the Humanities
Succeeded by

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