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After four years as director of the National Endowment for the Humanities, former University President Sheldon Hackney will return to Penn's History Department this fall. In a letter to President Clinton yesterday, Hackney announced that he will resign from the NEH when his term ends in August. Hackney, who served as University president for 12 years, left Penn in 1993, when Clinton nominated him to head the agency, which funds research and projects in history, cultural studies and other humanities disciplines. "It's been an exceedingly interesting experience," Hackney said last night of his time in Washington, D.C. "I'm delighted that I did it, and I appreciate the president giving me the opportunity to serve." Hackney said he had wanted to return to teaching -- and to the University -- and decided that the timing was best right now. He plans to begin in the fall, though he has not yet worked out specifics. "We're absolutely delighted to welcome Sheldon back to Penn and Philadelphia after four years of exemplary service," University President Judith Rodin said in a prepared statement yesterday. Hackney presided over the NEH at a time when the agency faced frequent crises. Shortly after his arrival in the capital, the new Republican majorities in Congress targeted the NEH and its counterpart, the National Endowment for the Arts, for elimination. The NEH weathered the attacks in 1995, though it did suffer cuts in funding. But it still has not entirely escaped possible elimination, as both Democrats and Republicans in Washington are striving to trim the size of the federal budget. "I came at an extraordinary time in the life of the NEH, since the 'culture wars' were raging," Hackney said. "So I spent more time than I would have liked to have spent telling the NEH story to Congress and the public." The White House had not yet released Hackney's letter to Clinton last night, but an NEH statement yesterday praised his tenure, saying he "moved the agency forward in a number of areas." Hackney noted that he was particularly proud of his work on the "National Conversation on American Pluralism and Identity," a three-year project that gathered thousands of Americans to discuss questions of identity and America's future. The agency recently wrapped up the project, awarding the last grant and airing a film on PBS. But he said he is excited to come back to Philadelphia. "Penn is a place I love," he said. "Being part of the University community again is actually thrilling." History Chairperson Lynn Lees said Hackney will likely teach a History 200 seminar, open primarily to majors and upperclassmen. He may also team-teach a course on gender in the American South during the Civil War with History Professor Drew Faust, coordinator of the Women's Studies Program. Lees praised Hackney's skills as a teacher and a scholar, and said the History faculty looks forward to his return. A specialist in the American South, Hackney's long experience has given him expertise in higher education as well, Lees noted. Last night, Hackney said he hopes to teach a class on American identity, building on his work in Washington. The timing of Hackney's announcement complicates matters slightly for the fall, Lees said. Advance registration is already over, and the University will soon send out materials to incoming freshman so they can register over the summer. If Hackney is assigned to the two courses, the department will publicize information on both when students return in September, Lees said. When he left Penn in 1993, most observers looked back favorably over his 12-year term as president. But even Hackney noted -- before Rodin was chosen as his successor -- that the next administration would face financial and organizational challenges, foreseeing cuts in government funding.

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