A ‘roast and toast’ for Dean of Humanities Nicolas Shumway

In celebration of Nicolas Shumway’s seven years as dean of humanities, members of the Rice community gathered in the Moody Center for the Arts’ Central Gallery April 20 for a “roast and toast” that ranged in tone from hilarious and irreverent to thoughtful and bittersweet. Shumway will officially step down as dean at the end of June and return to the faculty, where he will fully engage in scholarship and teaching.

Rice alumna and trustee emerita Janice Doty paid tribute to Shumway’s great skill and commitment in engaging with the School of Humanites’ alumni as well as supporters and donors. Photos by Jeff Fitlow

Emcee Lora Wildenthal, associate dean of humanities and professor of history, kicked the program off by serenading Shumway, who was seated in a throne-size chair. She performed the humorous song “I’ve Had Enough,” based on the church cantata “Ich habe genug” by one of Shumway’s favorite composers, Johann Sebastian Bach. “I’ve had enough of being an administrator,” Wildenthal sang. “Enough of the meetings.”

Wildenthal’s performance was not the only musical act. Shepherd School of Music graduate students Geoff Hahn and Chelsea Helm sang a version of Irving Berlin’s “Anything You Can Do,” from the Broadway musical “Annie Get Your Gun,” that poked fun at Shumway’s competitive spirit.

Farès el-Dahdah, professor of humanities, director of the Humanities Research Center and a native of Lebanon and Brazil, praised Shumway for his foreign-language skills. Shumway, who has been involved with foreign-language education and international studies throughout his 42-year career in academia, speaks Spanish and Portuguese. “Portuguese did shine a light on a friendship that has now lasted many, many years,” el-Dahdah said. “In a way, it is because of this language … that I became a faculty member in the School of Humanities all during Nick’s captaincy, Portuguese metaphor intended.”

Darrow Zeidenstein, vice president for development and alumni relations, and Rice alumna and trustee emerita Janice Doty ’60 paid tribute to Shumway’s great skill and commitment in engaging with the school’s alumni as well as supporters and donors. Zeidenstein recalled an incident where Shumway, on university business, tripped and broke his foot while walking to the gate for a flight from Houston to Dallas. “Nick, ever the trooper … he soldiered on, he met with alumni and friends up in Dallas and had dinner (with them) that night.”

John Hopkins, assistant professor of art history and classical studies, and Niki Clements, the Watt J. and Lilly G. Jackson Assistant Professor of Religion, spoke about Shumway’s support and mentorship of young faculty. “As a young gay professor who was told by several senior colleagues during doctoral and postdoctoral studies that I would need to be quiet about my personal life — not closeted, but not by any means open — I cannot tell you what it has meant to have arrived at my first job with a dean who modeled the behavior of an open, welcoming pillar of the LGBT community for me and everyone else to respect,” Hopkins said. “It gave me, and I have no doubt many students, faculty and members of the administration, a sense of freedom and pride.”

Members of the Rice community gathered in the Moody Center for the Arts’ Central Gallery to salute Shumway.

Rice President David Leebron stressed Shumway’s leadership and vision during a time when the humanities have faced challenges. He began his remarks by thanking the dean’s husband, Robert. “Robert plays the same role that (my wife) Ping plays … to create the illusion that you are actually charming,” Leebron joked.

“He (Shumway) has been an amazingly forceful advocate for not only the disciplines that he represents, but the faculty he represents,” Leebron said. “And I have to say an immensely positive force in that context, always from the sense of ‘We are important in this world and what we, with all diverse disciplines represented, contribute to that world.’ As a dean, he has truly been a developer of a vision for the school.”

Shumway himself expressed gratitude to and admiration for Rice and his colleagues. “When we think of our values, our dedication to scholarship, teaching, research, diversity, we are a remarkable university,” Shumway said. “I’m also overwhelmed with gratitude for my faculty. Their dedication to students, their dedication to research, their productivity, is truly a remarkable thing. I’m also extremely grateful to the students of Rice. We have remarkable students.”

Shumway came to Rice in July 2010 after having served as chair of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of Texas at Austin. His scholarship explores Latin American history and culture with particular emphasis on Argentina, Brazil and Mexico.

Provost Marie Lynn Miranda noted Shumway’s success in raising the School of Humanities’ international profile through stellar faculty recruits engaged globally, dual doctoral degree programs and enhanced focus on international education for undergraduates. “Dean Shumway is a tireless advocate for the school,” Miranda said. “He raised stipends for humanities graduate students and worked proactively to assure competitive salaries and a positive environment for faculty. His keen intellect and mischievous sense of humor make him an excellent fundraiser and a tremendous colleague.”

The university hopes to announce the successor to Shumway in the next few weeks.

About Jeff Falk

Jeff Falk is director of national media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.