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March 19, 2014

Two faculty named to endowed positions

Nigel Maister, artistic director of the International Theatre Program, was installed as the inaugural holder of the Russell and Ruth Peck Artistic Directorship.

Joan Shelley Rubin, a professor of American cultural history, is the inaugural holder of the Dexter Perkins Professorship in History.

The gifts support The Meliora Challenge: The Campaign for the University of Rochester, a fundraising campaign launched in October 2011 that runs through June 30, 2016.

Nigel Maister
Nigel Maister

Russell and Ruth Peck Artistic Directorship

Established with a lead gift by University Trustee Janice Willett ’78S (MBA) and Joseph Willett ’75S (MBA), the endowed position honors one of the University’s longest-serving active faculty members, Russell Peck, who is the John Hall Deane Professor of Rhetoric and Poetry, and his wife, Ruth. Contributions from 176 other University alumni and friends also helped endow this position.

“Nigel exemplifies the talent and ingenuity that Russell and Ruth Peck have brought to the University, enriching the lives of thousands of students over the past 53 years,” says President Joel Seligman. “Through the generosity of donors such as Janice and Joe Willett, we are able to attract talented students whose passions include theater.”

Born in South Africa, Maister has trained as an actor and director and has a master of fine arts from Carnegie Mellon University. His most recent and noteworthy productions include Joël Pommerat’s Cinderella, Peter Handke’s The Hour We Knew Nothing of Each Other, and Michael John Lachiusa’s Hello Again. He also is a founding member and resident theater director of the music group Alarm Will Sound and the New York Theatre Workshop “Usual Suspects.”

“To be named the Russell and Ruth Peck Artistic Director is an honor and the most wonderful tribute to a couple who share an unparalleled passion for the theater and who have inspired generations of students in their discovery of this performing art,” says Maister.

Pointing to his multimedia adaption of The Iliad, translation of Bernard-Marie Koltès’s Roberto Zucco, and world première of Andy Bragen’s The Hairy Dutchman, Peck says that Maister has a tremendous ability to identify interesting productions and bring them to life in unusual ways.

“I’ve never known a director who has such a powerful impact on students. He provides them with a greater sense of the possibilities of themselves and of theater,” he says.

Janice Willett agrees. “Nigel is tremendously talented, and his enthusiasm is boundless, but perhaps his greatest gift is his ability to let the students take ownership of their work,” says Willett. “This is a well-deserved honor for him.”

In addition to establishing the new directorship, the Willetts have created the Russell Peck Fellowship in English to support fellowships in the Department of English, with a preference for graduate students in medieval studies.

A prolific author and scholar of medieval studies, Peck has been the faculty director of the Medieval House (now the Medieval Society) and the Plutzik Poetry Series, as well as the Drama House and its theater program. He championed the Consortium for the Teaching of the Middle Ages project and its Middle English Text Series which, now in its 80th volume, has transformed the way medieval literature is studied on college campuses around the world. For 23 years, Peck and his wife directed the University’s Theatre in England program, which offers students a two-week intensive study of theater during winter break.

Joseph Willett is retired from Merrill Lynch and Co. Inc. where he served as CFO for six years and COO of Merrill’s European region for four years. Janice Willett, currently a freelance editor, most recently served as an editor for The Boston Consulting Group and has served as a senior lecturer in business communications at Simon. She is a member of the University Board of Trustees and the Simon Business School National Council and is chair of Simon’s portion of The Meliora Challenge.

Together, the Willetts are members of the Simon School Executive Advisory Committee, cochairs of the Northern New Jersey Regional Cabinet, and recipients of the inaugural Simon School Dean’s Medal in 2008, which recognizes extraordinary service, philanthropy, and leadership to the school and dedication and commitment that inspire others to take leadership roles at the University. They also are members of the George Eastman Circle. In addition to the Peck directorship, they have endowed the Janice M. and Joseph T. Willett Professorship for Teaching and Service at Simon.

Joan Shelley Rubin
Joan Shelley Rubin

Dexter Perkins Professorship

The endowed position was established through gifts from Robert Kirkwood ’56 (PhD), Francis Grebe ’54, and more than 50 other donors in honor of the late Dexter Perkins, a prominent American diplomatic historian.

“The generosity of Robert Kirkwood and Francis Grebe is greatly appreciated,” says President Joel Seligman. “They have joined together to create an enduring tribute—one that will help to inspire new scholars for generations to come.”

“I cannot think of anyone more deserving of the Perkins chair than Joan Rubin,” says Matthew Lenoe, chair of the history department. “Her remarkable record of scholarship, teaching, and professional leadership epitomizes the legacy of Dexter Perkins, who was a beloved teacher, the one-time president of the American Historical Association, and founder of Rochester’s graduate program in history.”

Rubin ranks among the nation’s most highly regarded scholars of American culture, an area of research that has blossomed in recent decades. She is the author and editor of several critically acclaimed books and essay collections, including the recent Cultural Considerations, which explores how literary critics and musicians influenced public culture after World War II. 

Her second book, The Making of Middlebrow Culture, is recognized as a “must-read” in American cultural studies, notes Lenoe. Rubin’s cultural history, Songs of Ourselves: The Uses of Poetry in America, was lauded by one reviewer as “a major contribution to 20th-centuryAmerican cultural history.”

Rubin also is coeditor in chief of the Oxford Encyclopedia of American Cultural and Intellectual History and has been published widely in peer-reviewed journals. She has served on the editorial boards of many of those journals and on the boards of the New York Council for the Humanities and the Organization of American Historians. Among her numerous awards and fellowships, she was elected to the Society of American Historians, a selective group of 250 professional historians who are noted for their literary distinction.

Rubin joined the Rochester faculty in 1995 and has served on the steering committees of the Susan B. Anthony Institute, the Faculty Senate, and the Digital Humanities working group, among others. In the history department, she was director of undergraduate studies and is currently director of graduate studies, as well as director of the American studies program, which she helped to launch in 2011.
A Rochester native, Rubin received her bachelor’s degree in American history and literature from Harvard University in 1969 and a doctorate in American studies from Yale University in 1974.

A recognized authority on the Monroe Doctrine, Dexter Perkins was the first scholar to hold Cambridge University’s Chair of American History and Institutions and served as the official U.S. historian at the 1945 San Francisco Security Conference that preceded the organization of the United Nations. At Rochester, Perkins helped found the graduate program in history in 1947 and chaired the Department of History for 29 years. After his retirement from the University in 1953, he was named the John L. Senior Professor of American Civilization at Cornell University. Respected as well for his community involvement, Perkins served as historian of the City of Rochester from 1936 to 1948 and was the first president of the Rochester Association for the United Nations. He died in 1984 at the age of 94.

A graduate of Rutgers University, Robert Kirkwood met his wife, Mary (Corky) Moore Kirkwood ’48 (now deceased), in one of Perkins’s classes during his doctoral studies at Rochester. Kirkwood began his academic career as a professor at Clarkson College from 1950 to 1959 and subsequently held several administrative positions in higher education throughout his career, including dean of Washington College in Maryland. He retired in 1987 after serving 15 years as executive director of the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. Kirkwood serves on the University’s History Alumni Advisory Committee and lives in Media, Pa.

Kirkwood said he chose to endow this position because Dexter Perkins believed that “the greatest challenge confronting historians is the challenge of the classroom.”

After graduating with honors from Rochester in 1954, Francis Grebe earned a law degree from the University of Michigan. For more than 50 years, he devoted his career to estate and financial planning with major trust companies in Chicago, Rochester, New York City, and Philadelphia. He retired from his position as senior vice president of Pennsylvania Trust in 2009 and is currently a fiduciary consultant for the same company.

“My gift was motivated specifically by Bob Kirkwood and his enthusiastic regard for Dexter Perkins, who I came to know later in life,” says Grebe. “Making the gift was easy to do because I have always cared for the University, which had done so much for me.  Not only did I receive financial aid as a student, but every day of those four years was personally rewarding. So this is a small payback with much gratitude.”

In addition to his support for this professorship, Grebe is a member of the George Eastman Circle, the University’s leadership annual giving society. He lives in Devon, Pa., where he serves on several boards, including the Athenaeum of Philadelphia, the Associated Services for the Blind, and the Guthrie Healthcare System, among others.

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