New A&S professorship honors Walter LaFeber

A professorship has been established in the College of Arts and Sciences (A&S) to honor Walter LaFeber, the Andrew H. and James S. Tisch Distinguished University Professor Emeritus in the Department of History, who died March 9 at the age of 87.

Tom Pepinsky

Tom Pepinsky, a Tisch University Professor in government, will be the inaugural Walter F. LaFeber Professor.

“I am humbled and honored to be named LaFeber Professor,” Pepinsky said. “Walter LaFeber was an inspirational scholar and teacher here at Cornell who embodied the best of this institution, and it is my privilege to follow his example.”

Pepinsky, a scholar of Southeast Asian studies and comparative politics, has expertise in local, national and global political economy; religion, ethnicity and identity; Southeast Asian area studies; and research methodology.

The professorship was created thanks to a gift from Andrew H. Tisch ’71 and Ann Rubenstein Tisch.

“Walt was one of my heroes, just an exceptional person who became a friend over the years,“ said Andrew Tisch, who audited many of LaFeber’s lectures as a student, though not officially enrolled in his classes. “I developed a lifelong passion for government, diplomacy and international affairs. Those classes expanded my horizons and gave me much more depth. That’s what the university is all about.”

A hotel major, Tisch said he would do the readings for LaFeber’s classes – which students referred to as “Walt” – and would sometimes attend sections, pretending to be an enrolled student. The world was “going to hell” in 1970-71, Tisch said, between the Vietnam war, racial tensions and struggles for women’s and gay rights.

But “two consistencies you had at Cornell that everybody could agree on,” Tisch said, “were ‘Walt’ and Cornell hockey.”

A testimony to LaFeber’s impact, Tisch said, was that two of his former students served as national security advisers: Steven Hadley ’69, to President George W. Bush from 2005-09; and Sandy Berger ’67, to President Bill Clinton from 1997-2001. “He was training people on both sides of the aisle,” Tisch said.

One A&S professor at a time will hold the title of LaFeber Professor, with a professor having the option of retaining the title as an emeritus professor.

“Honoring Walt LaFeber with the naming of a professorship is a fitting tribute to one of the university’s great teachers,” said Provost Michael Kotlikoff. “The Tisch family has been so generous in their support of Cornell’s finest scholars, and we are so grateful for their creative and ongoing help as we seek to retain and recruit the most talented faculty.”

Pepinsky is a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and a faculty fellow at the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability. He sits on the editorial board for the journal World Politics and serves on the steering committee for the International Political Economy Society.

Kathy Hovis is a writer for the College of Arts and Sciences.

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