Reims students will now study in the Dean Awn Library

Reims students will now study in the Dean Awn Library

A Tribute to the Late Dean Emeritus of Columbia University’s School of General Studies
  • The Reims campus library, renamed in honor of Peter J. Awn ©Martin ArgyrogloThe Reims campus library, renamed in honor of Peter J. Awn ©Martin Argyroglo

Energetic. Supportive. Eccentric. Intellectual. Non-traditional. Witty. Brilliant. Passionate. When colleagues and alumni are asked to describe the late Dean Emeritus Peter J. Awn of the Columbia University School of General Studies, adjectives begin to flow. As of September 2019, his name will adorn the state-of-the-art library of our Reims campus.

On September 4th, 2019, current Dean of General Studies of Columbia University, Lisa Rosen-Metsch, the President of Sciences Po, Frédéric Mion, former Vice-President of International Affairs, Francis Verillaud, the Dean of the Undergraduate College, Stéphanie Balme, campus director, Tilman Turpin, family, friends, alumni and current students, gathered on the Reims campus for a dedication ceremony that would name the campus library after the late Dean Awn.

Dean of the School of General Studies from 1997 to 2017, Peter Awn, together with Francis Verrillaud, was the co-founder of the dual BA program between Columbia University and Sciences Po. Their shared vision of a world-class, international and multicultural education resulted in the creation of a program that would allow students to study two years at Sciences Po (in Reims, Le Havre or Menton), and two years at Columbia University in the city of New York.

According to students and colleagues, both past and present, Peter J. Awn was more than just a professor or a Dean - he was an inimitable institution of the Morningside campus. His fame was not limited to Columbia, however, as he was well-loved and respected by all who had the privilege of meeting him. He possessed an inexhaustible desire to improve the lives of students, and it was this shared desire that helped Columbia University and Sciences Po make the dual BA program between Columbia University and Sciences Po the success it is today. But his role did not end there: Dean Awn visited the three participating campuses twice a year, meeting students from the incoming cohorts and ensuring that they already felt part of Columbia University. President Mion described him as a francophile, and Vice-Dean Curtis Rodgers recounted how much he cherished meeting students during his bi-annual visits to France.

Dean Awn was part of the School of General Studies for four decades, and it is not difficult to understand why he became almost synonymous with the institution. “GS” (as it is informally known) was created in 1947 with the purpose of allowing WWII veterans to return to university and rebuild their lives. A former Jesuit priest-turned-scholar of Islam, Dean Awn believed in second chances, and so he took this vision and expanded it to all 'non-traditional' students (be it veterans, performers, entrepreneurs, career-changers, or clergymen) who had had to interrupt their higher education or start at a later age due to various circumstances. The dual BA, launched in 2010, was perhaps the most innovative extension of these values.

Awn, who had since retired from the position of Dean but continued to teach at Columbia University, kept a close relationship with students and alumni of the dual BA until his death in February 2019. Sciences Po chose to honour its colleague and friend through the naming of the recently created Reims campus library, a place of intellectual reflection and curiosity.

The dedication ceremony was conducted in the former refectory, where campus director Tilman Turpin, President Mion, Vice-Dean Curtis Rodgers, Francis Verillaud, Dean Rosen-Metsch, Elif Naz Coker, an alumna of the program, as well as Norman Laurila, a lifelong friend of Dean Awn, addressed the gathering. In a poignant series of tributes, speakers recounted memories, told anecdotes, and paid their respects to a figure who dedicated his life to the pursuit of excellence in education, but most importantly, to education that is accessible to all. To close the ceremony, President Mion and Dean Rosen-Metsch unveiled the plaque honouring Dean Awn that will henceforth adorn the entrance of the bibliothèque, a sacred space that symbolizes knowledge and education and where students spend countless hours during their studies.

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