June 11, 2009
Vol. 28 No. 18

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    Ashenhurst, Yu receive Maclean Faculty awards

    Two emeritus professors at the University received the Norman Maclean Faculty Award, given by the Alumni Association, at the annual Alumni Convocation on Saturday, June 6 during Alumni Weekend. Robert Ashenhurst, Professor Emeritus at Chicago Booth, and Anthony Yu (Ph.D.,’69), the Carl Darling Buck Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in the Humanities, were this year’s recipients.

    The awards were first given in 1997 and are named for Norman Maclean (Ph.D.,’40), who taught English at the University for 40 years. The Maclean Faculty Awards recognize emeritus or very senior faculty members who have made outstanding contributions to teaching and student life on campus.

    Ashenhurst retired in 2000 after 43 years on the Chicago faculty, but his impact on technology at the University, as well as its ceremonial and musical life, are profound.

    When Ashenhurst arrived at the University in 1957, computer use was generally limited to advanced graduate students in the sciences or business. A former student recalled, “When computers were considered the realm of a narrow elite, he boldly and carefully enabled Chicago undergraduates to learn more,” teaching the fundamentals of computer science in the College.

    In 1965 the University founded the Committee on Information Systems, a predecessor of today’s Department of Computer Science. Ashenhurst chaired the committee until it became part of the Department of Mathematics in 1972. In his tenure, the CIS built the Minicomputer Interface Support System—the first computer network on campus—in 1969.

    In 1968 Ashenhurst became University Marshal—a position he held for 32 years, the longest-serving marshal at the University. In the past 50 years, he also has worked with University Theater and the Blackfriars, has written original songs for the Faculty Revels and Alumni Weekend and has directed the annual productions of the Gilbert & Sullivan Opera Company, which he cofounded in 1960.

    Yu’s intellectual reach is evident in the range of his faculty appointments: In addition to his distinguished professorship, he is Professor Emeritus of Religion and Literature in the Divinity School, as well as in the Comparative Literature, East Asian Languages and Civilizations; English Language and Literature; and the Committee on Social Thought.

    An acclaimed scholar in the comparative study of literature and religion, Yu joined the University faculty in 1968. His research and teaching cross a broad range of humanistic disciplines. Best known for his four-volume translation of the Ming novel Journey to the West, he has published influential works on Western literary and religious traditions, classical Chinese narratives, theory and criticism, and cross-cultural comparative studies. With the support of a Mellon Emeriti Fellowship, Yu is currently working on a revised edition of the translation for the University Press.

    Four decades of students have cited Yu’s example and encouragement as critical to their professional and personal development. They recall his warmth and generosity as a mentor and his passion as a professor. “He is one of the most challenging teachers I had as an undergraduate,” recalled another, “as well as one of the kindest.”

    Professor Yu advised 59 completed dissertations at Chicago and served as a reader for many more. A number of his former students have pursued distinguished academic careers and remained lifelong friends. According to one, who is now a colleague: “The yoking of the highest standards of evidence and argument with a readiness to accord a student’s ideas their own independent provenance is the hallmark of Tony’s work … and a standard all of us cherish and aspire to perpetuate.”