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University of Iowa News Release


June 25, 2007

Thomas Named New Director Of UI Center for Human Rights

Downing A. Thomas, University of Iowa International Programs associate dean and professor in the UI Department of French and Italian in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS), will become the new director of the UI Center for Human Rights (UICHR) on July 1.

Thomas succeeds Burns Weston, professor emeritus of law in the UI College of Law, who has served as the interim director for the past year and is the founding director of the UICHR. Weston, a senior scholar with the center, became interim director after the death of former director Ken Cmiel, professor in the UI Department of History in CLAS.

Initiated by a multidisciplinary group of faculty in 1998-99, the UICHR supports the promotion and protection of human rights at home and abroad by providing leadership in human rights research, education and public service to the UI, its surrounding community, the state of Iowa and beyond.

"With widespread support from faculty, staff and the community, the center has become an outstanding asset for the UI," said William Reisinger, associate provost and dean of International Programs. "Thomas has superb qualifications for this position, and I know he will provide excellent leadership as the center moves forward. And, like everyone affiliated with the UICHR, I am grateful to Burns Weston for his impassioned and energetic work as interim director this past year."

As associate dean, Thomas promotes international scholarship and education across campus and in the community and seeks enhanced support for faculty research and creative work. He currently supervises the academic centers, programs and grants offices within IP and oversees the IP curricula, including the international studies undergraduate major and the Master of Arts degree in interdisciplinary studies with an emphasis in international studies.

In February 2007, Thomas was elected to a one-year term as president of the Association of Departments of Foreign Languages, an organization including 1,000 schools in the United States and Canada. In addition to his current leadership positions, he served as chairman of the Department of French and Italian from 1999 to 2007. He has focused his scholarship on early-modern French studies from 1600 to 1800, especially in the areas of music and opera, theories of language, and aesthetics. Music and opera are central to his first two books, "Aesthetics of Opera in the Ancien Régime: 1647-1785," and "Music and the Origins of Language: Theories from the French Enlightenment."

Thomas received his doctorate in French literature from New York University in 1991 and joined the UI faculty that year. He has served on the Board of Regents, State of Iowa's International Studies Committee and as a UI International Programs representative to the Internationalization Laboratory of the American Council on Education, and has chaired the IP Strategic Planning Committee. In 2005, the French government honored him as Chevalier, or Knight, in the Order of Academic Palms. His salary as UICHR director will remain $78,500.

"The center staff have done a fabulous job to ensure a smooth transition," Thomas said. "I am eager to begin working with the executive board, and in particular, with senior scholar and founding director Burns Weston, to continue the center's strong record of human rights research and education at the UI, and its successes in outreach beyond the campus."

This year, activities of the UICHR will include the popular community reading program exploring vital human rights issues through literature, One Community One Book; the support and development of student internships for UI students with human rights organizations around the world; a series of events on climate change, environmental protection and human rights in partnership with the Pentacrest Museums; and forums to engage Iowans around the state in discussion about immigration as a worldwide human rights concern.

The UICHR is affiliated with UI International Programs, which enables UI students, faculty, staff and the public to learn from and about the world. Its offices, degree programs and events provide life-changing opportunities on campus and abroad, heighten intellectual and cultural diversity and give all university constituents access to vital international knowledge. For more information, visit or call 319-353-2700. International Programs is part of the UI Office of the Provost.

For more information on the UI Center for Human Rights, visit

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

PROGRAM CONTACTS: William Reisinger, 319-335-0373, or Downing A. Thomas, 319-335-0374,

MEDIA CONTACT: Kelli Andresen, 319-335-2026,