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The James B. and Grace J. Nelson Endowment for the Teaching of Philosophy was established in 1991, funded by a 1940 gift from James B. Nelson (LL.B., 1893) of Indianapolis, Indiana, and increased by subsequent bequests from Mr. and Mrs. Nelson and Mrs. Julia-Jean Nelson Stokes. The Department has had access to some income from the bequests since 1983.

The purpose of the bequests was to "establish a Chair or Professorship in the Philosophy" and to bring to the University "in temporary residence thereat or as occasional lecturers persons who are well known as able teachers and lectures in the field of Philosophy." The Endowment funds the Nelson Professorship, Nelson Philosophers-in-Residence, Michigan Nelson Seminars in Philosophy, an annual Spring Colloquium, and visiting faculty, as well as providing support for the teaching and research programs of the Department.

Nelson Professors have included Peter Railton, David Velleman, Kendall Walton, Crispin Wright, and Edwin Curley. Curley and Walton are now Emeritus Professors.

There have been forty Nelson Philosophers-in-Residence and more than twenty Spring Colloquia since the establishment of the endowment. The first Michigan Nelson Seminar in Philosophy was held during the Fall, 2011.