The Wabash College community was dealt a tremendous blow when Bill Placher '70 died in December 2008. A celebrated student, master teacher, and accomplished scholar, Dr. Placher was everything Wabash wants in its students and alumni: a critical thinker, thoughtful leader, and selfless servant.
In the months that followed his passing, the Wabash community was at a loss for how to fill the void created in campus leadership and for how to memorialize the most outstanding teacher of Christian theology in America.
In early February 2011, Chairman of the Board Stephen Bowen '68 and Wabash President Patrick White announced the creation of the William C. Placher Fund for Faculty Support. The fund honors Dr. Placher's memory and his excellence as an alumnus, teacher, scholar, and community leader.
When Bill died, he left Wabash the majority of his estate, which amounted to a little more than $1.4 million. As the Challenge of Excellence capital campaign marches toward the finish line, the Trustees have designated $5 million for the Placher Fund, including the $1.4 million leadership gift from Professor Placher's estate, and seeks to raise another $5 million in gifts from alumni, faculty, staff, and friends during the campaign.
"The Board has long recognized the vital importance of the faculty in shaping the life-changing excellence of a Wabash education, and all of us on the Board have experienced the quality of the faculty directly," said Bowen. "The Placher Fund demonstrates our particular commitment to the special role faculty play in the excellence of the College and the greatness of a Wabash education."
A summa cum laude graduate of Wabash in 1970, William "Bill" Placher was elected into Phi Beta Kappa and Eta Sigma Phi. He earned his master's degree and PhD from Yale University. When he died, he was in his 34th year as one of Wabash's most popular teachers. In 1999, Placher was named the LaFollette Distinguished Professor in the Humanities, and in 2002, the American Academy of Religion named him the best teacher in the country, honoring him with the Excellence in Teaching Award.
He was the author of 13 books, including the well-regarded "A History of Christian Theology", "Unapologetic Theology", "Narratives of a Vulnerable God", "The Domestication of Transcendence", "Jesus the Savior", and "The Triune God." He also edited the textbook, "Essentials of Christian Theology," which was honored by both Christian Century and Christianity Today. His commentary on "The Gospel of Mark" was published posthumously.
"The core purpose of the College is the teaching work that takes place inside and outside of the classroom," said Dean of the College Gary A. Phillips. 'If the lifeblood of a good liberal arts college is the ideas, issues, and questions put into circulation throughout the campus, the central organ that enlivens the body is the faculty, a faculty committed to the highest ideals of the scholar/ teacher. The Wabash faculty emulates this ideal and aspiration to excellence, and it is therefore proper and right that the Trustees have created the Placher Fund to sustain and nurture their work."