Human rights program named in honor of Forsythe family

David Forsythe stands next to a Denmark waterway during his time as a Fulbright scholar in 2008.
David Forsythe stands next to a Denmark waterway during his time as a Fulbright scholar in 2008.

The human rights and humanitarian affairs program at UNL has been named in honor of professor emeritus David P. Forsythe and his family for their longtime commitment to the program and generous financial support.

The Forsythe Family Program on Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs is a joint program of the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Law at UNL. Founded in 1997, its mission is to examine issues related to human rights from an international and interdisciplinary perspective in the classroom through teaching, research and service, as well as bringing these discussions to the wider community.

Forsythe, who holds the Charles J. Mach Distinguished Professorship, has been a part of UNL for 37 years and helped found its human rights program. He said he wants to see the program develop and encourage more students and faculty to give attention to important human rights and humanitarian issues.

He said it's an especially important time to consider support for these programs, because human rights and humanitarian law are under stress due to the rising power of states not supportive of human rights and also because of the prevalence of terrorism and tough counterterrorism policies.

"I want to make sure there is continued education, research and teaching during this time when human rights are under attack and are being weakened by various state and terrorist policies," Forsythe said.

The program's co-director, Ari Kohen, associate professor of political science and the Schlesinger Professor for Social Justice, said Forsythe has helped mark Nebraska with an international reputation for human rights.

"Human rights at Nebraska are synonymous with Dave Forsythe," Kohen said. "Nebraska has an international reputation with regard to human rights because of this program and his work throughout the years."

Kohen said Forsythe's financial support of the program is crucial.

"It is the difference-maker for this program," he said. "His support has really catapulted the program back into the prominence that it had when it first began. It totally changes everything for us. It means we can do the kind of work that the program initially did but hasn't been able to do for years because of lack of private support and the end of funding."

Forsythe and his family have provided a $120,000 challenge grant to the University of Nebraska Foundation for support of the program and to encourage additional donations of $120,000 from others. In addition, Forsythe established a bequest in his estate plans to provide future support to the program. According to the NU Foundation, these gifts, totaling $500,000 when completed, will provide immediate expendable support for the program and a permanent endowment to provide annual support forever.

The funds will be used to support scholarships, fellowships, student stipends, student internships, guest speakers, workshops, conferences, student and faculty travel and faculty stipends. The contributions will also support initiatives such as summer institutes, visiting experts on campus, and support for graduate and undergraduate students to study abroad and participate in work for human rights organizations.

Gifts to the Forsythe Family Program on Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs will be matched dollar-for-dollar by the Forsythe family challenge grant. To give or to learn more, contact Josh Egley at the University of Nebraska Foundation at (402) 458-1202 or

"We're at the very beginning of a very exciting process," Kohen said. "The fact that we have support from the Forsythes and other donors who are committed to this program means we can amplify it and do the things we've been dreaming of doing. We can do bigger things, and in five to 10 years become one of the most prominent human rights programs in the country."

The University of Nebraska Foundation is an independent, nonprofit organization that has connected donors to the mission of the university for the past 75 years. For more information, visit

- Blair Euteneuer, NU Foundation