Peter Murphy

You find meaning in such unexpected ways.

You’ve started classes by asking if students hated the reading, because it’s as informative to know why someone hates something as why they love it. You once claimed not to have read much poetry, then wrote a fascinating book about a single poem. You’re a specialist in 19th-century literature who has taught graphic novels. You don’t even play golf normally.

In five years as Dean of the College you largely invented Williams’ philosophy of student support despite being early in your career and as yet inexperienced in administration. As a somewhat more seasoned Dean of the Faculty you expanded mentoring for junior faculty and advocacy for all your colleagues.

You’ve been called a “pessimistic optimist”: someone who finds the best in people by looking past their worst. A fellow dean remembers you telling her: “When you’re stuck on a decision and don’t know which way to go, always lean toward generosity.” Your own generosity and searching nature have made you a beloved teacher. One past student recalls, “I never felt that he had all of the answers but was just waiting for us to catch up before confusing us again.” Your courses on Romantic Poetry and Modernism and your Winter Studies on comic books or the history of Williams have been equally sought after for their intimacy and generative spirit: “tranquil muse upon tranquility,” to quote one of your Romantics.

Maybe your orthogonal nature also explains the golf. You’ve been known to play a whole round with just two clubs, just to learn what happens. You’re both scientist and literary scholar, insider and outsider, someone who studies the inner workings of things while staying fresh to their oddity and wonder.

Whether poring over prose or doting over grandchildren, you bring a sense of wonder and gently arch humor to everything you do. A disposition which, contrary to form, is most gratefully to be expected.

I hereby affirm you as John Hawley Roberts Professor of English, Emeritus, entitled to all the rights, honors and privileges appertaining thereto.

July 23, 2022