Charles’s influence at the University of Minnesota lives on through an
undergraduate scholarship established in his name in 2003. Tax-deductible
contributions to the Charles H. Backstrom Scholarship for Undergraduate Studies
in Political Science may be sent to:
College of Liberal Arts
Office of External Relations
University of Minnesota
225 Johnston Hall
101 Pleasant Street, SE
Minneapolis, MN 55455
Please make checks payable to the University of Minnesota
Foundation, and note that the donation is for the Charles H. Backstrom
The Scholarship: A Colleague’s Initiative
Leonard Robins, Charles’s colleague and co-author, conceived
and initially endowed the scholarship in thanks for the friendship and
assistance Charles provided to him. On the reverse of a photograph of Leonard in
his graduation gown at his Ph.D. ceremony, Leonard wrote: “To Charles Backstrom:
Thanks for not only taking this picture, but for all your friendship and help
that made the taking of the picture possible. Len Robins.” But Charles thought
Leonard had it backwards:
I told him, “You don’t understand scholarships – you don’t
give it to someone else. It’s having my voice coming across instead of
yours.” Yet, I was tremendously honored, of course.
At the May 2003 ceremony held to honor the creation of that
scholarship, speakers highlighted the different effects of Charles and his work.
Ted Kolderie talked of the unique insight and detail that Backstrom polling
always seemed to hold; Dennis Goldenson spoke of the personal and emotional
generosity shown to him by Charles as a graduate student and colleague, and
Charles’s son Brian spoke of growing up in an environment of constant learning.
As the honoree, Charles had the last word. He brought the
focus back to the generosity of Leonard Robins, and of the potential this new
scholarship program holds:
It is ironic that this scholarship is named for me rather
than for Leonard. He was a kid from a working class family in north
Minneapolis who didn’t think he had any special talents, but here was the
University, reaching out to him and affordable.
Leonard’s gift allows the University to reach out and
become more affordable for more students like him. I am deeply moved by
Leonard’s action here, and am further honored that friends of Leonard and me
have made it possible for another Leonard Robins to grow here like the one
we already know.
• 2003: Elizabeth Dunbar was the first recipient of the
Charles Backstrom scholarship. Her research focused on the media’s role in Latin
American democracies, including discovering relationships between watchdog
journalism and democratic accountability.
• 2005: Matthew Painschab undertook research examining
feudalism’s role in the debate and policies over stem cell research funding.