FFRF and donor Brian Bolton team up to endow Badger State secular professorship

The Freedom From Religion Foundation proudly announces a pioneering professorship in secular studies at a home state university — only the third such professorship in the nation.

The Brian F. Bolton and Anne Nicol Gaylor Endowed Professorship in Secular Studies of $500,000 is being set up at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. FFRF is creating the endowment in coordination with Brian F. Bolton, a generous FFRF member who has provided the funds in part to memorialize FFRF principal founder Anne Nicol Gaylor, who died at age 88 in 2015.

Bolton, a professor emeritus, in 2020 previously endowed a secular study professorship at the University of Texas-Austin. Pitzer College has pioneered secular studies, thanks to the work of Professor Phil Zuckerman. A $2.2 million donation from Louis J. Appignani in 2016 established the nation’s first academic chair “for the study of atheism, humanism and secular ethics.” Additionally, FFRF in 2021 gave a $300,000 endowment for Pitzer’s trailblazing Secular Studies program, in memory of the late Kenneth L. Proulx.

Secular Studies involve the interdisciplinary examination of religious, philosophical, social, historical and political issues based on reason, science and evidence. The professorship will focus on quality research and intellectual engagement within the context of an access-driven, public institution that reaches first-generation students, students with disabilities, and adult learners.

Brian Bolton is a longtime FFRF Life Member for whom the executive wing of FFRF’s office, Freethought Hall, is named, due to his support of the Madison-based headquarter’s expansion. Bolton also underwrote for more than a decade FFRF’s essay contest for grad/older students. He is a retired psychologist, humanist minister and university professor emeritus at the University of Arkansas who graduated from a University of Wisconsin System campus.

With 48 percent of Generation Z identifying as having no religious affiliation, it’s more important than ever that secularity is studied on college campuses,” said Bolton.

Anne Gaylor, who was a lifelong Wisconsin resident and graduated from a University of Wisconsin campus, was the principal founder of FFRF. An ardent feminist, Gaylor advocated for years to support opportunities and health care for women. “The professorship is a way for her legacy to thrive and live on,” says Annie Laurie, her daughter and FFRF co-founder.

“We’re grateful to Brian Bolton for seeding secular studies at a University of Wisconsin system university, and for generously suggesting the professorship be in both his and Anne Nicol Gaylor’s name,” adds FFRF Co-President Dan Barker.

Two areas housed within the UW-Whitewater College of Letters and Sciences — the Philosophy and Religious Studies and Women’s and Gender Studies departments — will closely collaborate with the dean to leverage the funds in a manner that has the most impact.

“One of our university’s core values is learning and academic excellence, whereby all members of the campus community engage in learning, research, scholarship and creative endeavors in an environment that values academic freedom,” says Jason Janke, dean of College of Letters and Sciences.

The Madison-headquartered Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with 40,000 members across the country, including over 1,700 members in Wisconsin. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

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