Two UB professors pledge $1 million to creative and performing arts

SUNY distinguished professors hope to inspire others


UB English professors and husband and wife Bruce Jackson and Diane Christian said if there’s one thing they have in common, it’s their love for the creative arts.

Christian and Jackson, who have been teaching at UB since 1970 and 1967, respectively, recently pledged a $1 million bequest to support creative and performing arts students at the university.

“We’ve gotten a lot from our students over the years, and this was a way to sort of pay back our students for the great life they’ve given us,” Jackson said.

The pledge is in support of UB’s new Creative Arts Initiative (CAI), which brings creative and performing artists to UB for on-campus residencies. Jackson is co-director of CAI with music professor David Felder.

Christian and Jackson said their retirement plan has grown considerably under their New York State Tier One Retirement System, so they decided to donate their money back to the university.

“The donation is generous and demonstrates great foresight in targeting money where it can do the most good – to support students’ journeys through the UB arts curricula at both the undergraduate and graduate levels,” said Ariel Nereson, assistant professor of dance studies, in an email.

Christian and Jackson said they have contributed to the University Honors College before, but this is their biggest donation to the school yet.

The couple said creative arts students get minimal support, so they hope the scholarships will give students the help they need in their development. Once realized, the pledge will create scholarships and a fellowship fund for undergraduate and graduate students in the creative arts. Christian and Jackson hope their donation will inspire others to also donate.

“We both think you cannot be a complete human being without art in your life,” Jackson said. “Without art in your life, it’s like there are lights out in some major portions of your brain and your soul.”

The grants were named the Julia Jackson Scholarship in the Creative and Performing Arts and the Ruth Christian Graduate Fellowship in the Arts, after the two professors’ mothers.

“We wanted to honor them because we felt that both of them were so important to us. Both of them loved the arts and both of them loved students and both of them were huge in our lives,” Christian said. “Often, women don’t get the naming, we really felt they were extraordinary and wanted to honor them.”

Christian and Jackson said when they came to UB, the English department was “famous.” Christian said she even turned down a job at the University of California, Berkeley to work at UB.

Although some students say the university is now more recognized for its science programs, they are glad the arts is receiving appreciation.

“At a school that’s very science based, it’s nice to see the arts being recognized,” said Carly Kleinman, a freshman dance major. “I believe very strongly in the idea that students need to be creative. Everything doesn’t need to have an answer.”

Kleinman said by giving students these creative outlets, it helps them figure out ways to think outside of the box.

Before she came to UB, Christian was a nun for approximately eight years at St. Joseph’s in Rochester.

“Being a nun really helped me,” Christian said. “There were no women ahead of me and people took me seriously. Even though they thought I was odd, it helped. I’m really grateful for those years.”

Christian said there was a lot of prejudice against women at the time, and it gave her time to grow up and find a clear sense of her identity.

Jackson had served in the U.S. Marines and attended Indiana University and was a junior fellow at Harvard University.

Christian’s first met Jackson at the sandwich machine on South Campus during her first day at UB. She said they instantly connected and have been together ever since.

They established UB Film Seminars together 16 years ago. The seminars show a wide variety of films, from silent and old films to more recent films. They talk about the film beforehand and a discussion also follows.

“[It is] that energy – that sense that the arts themselves are really important and necessary and you should support the people who do it, who make the art, who write the poems, who dance the dances, who make the music, and we really love to encourage that attitude because we think the arts are so critical to life,” Christian said.

Hannah Stein is the assistant news editor and can be reached at