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Jane Chaplin and Ray Coish

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College establishes two new professorships

December 16, 2010

MIDDLEBURY, Vt. — Middlebury College has established the Robert R. Churchill Professorship in Geosciences and the James I. Armstrong Professorship in Classical Studies, and has named Professor of Geology Ray Coish and Professor of Classics Jane Chaplin, respectively, to the new chairs. The two endowed professorships were made possible by a gift from longtime Middlebury supporters Carolyn and Milton “Milt” Peterson, both members of the Middlebury class of 1958, and their family.

“The Peterson family’s generous gift helps strengthen the core of what the college offers — excellent faculty devoted to undergraduate teaching,” said Middlebury College President Ron Liebowitz. “It’s remarkable that these endowed chairs represent just one of the many contributions the family has made to Middlebury over the years, including two generations of service on our board of trustees and support for athletics.”

Coish’s chair in geosciences was created in honor of the late Bob Churchill, who was the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Geography at Middlebury at the time of his death in 2004. Coish joined the Middlebury faculty in 1979, one year after Churchill himself arrived at the college. A graduate of the Memorial University of Newfoundland, where he received his bachelor’s degree, and the University of Western Ontario, where he earned his doctorate, Coish has taught geology courses at all levels. Most of his publications focus on research on local geology, with a recent leave devoted to a project on the origin of granites in the Northeast Kingdom.

Chaplin’s professorship in classical studies was established in honor of Jim Armstrong, president of Middlebury from 1963-1975, and an administrator and a professor of classics at his alma mater Princeton before his arrival at the college. A member of the Middlebury faculty since 1992, Chaplin teaches a wide range of courses in Greek and Roman language, history and law. She is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Brown and received her doctorate from Princeton. Chaplin is the author of numerous books and articles on the Roman historian Livy, including “Livy’s Exemplary History” (Oxford University Press, 2001) and most recently, “Livy” (Oxford Readings in Classical Studies, Oxford University Press, 2009), co-edited with Christina Kraus.

“Our family is honored to support Middlebury’s academic mission since the college has been a major factor and influence in all of our lives,” said Milt Peterson. All three of Milt and Carolyn’s sons are alumni of the college as well as two of their daughters-in-law: William “Rick” graduated in 1984 and his wife Phoebe Twichell Peterson in 1986; Jon in 1986 and his wife Anne Davis Peterson in 1985; and Steven in 1988.

Milt is the founder and chairman of The Peterson Companies, a real estate development and property management company in northern Virginia, where both he and his sons work. A Middlebury College trustee emeritus, he served as a member of the board from 1984-1998 and as chair from 1989-1993. Milt contributed his experience as a developer to some of the college’s most important building projects, including the Peterson Family Athletics Complex, the Mahaney Center for the Arts and McCardell Bicentennial Hall.

Steven currently serves on the Middlebury board, and is the head of the building and grounds trustee committee as his father once was. As a student at Middlebury, Steven was a geography major and Churchill was his thesis advisor.

Hired as an instructor in geography in 1978, Churchill was the major force behind the shaping of a department that had been in danger of elimination in the early 1980s. In his cumulative 15 years of service as chair of geography, he built a strong faculty and a curriculum known for its rigorous standards and substantial contributions to several of the college’s interdisciplinary programs. Churchill established the college’s program in geographic information systems (GIS), which now supports the geography curriculum, the environmental studies program and other departments on campus.

“Bob was a remarkable and gifted teacher,” said Liebowitz. “He was able to teach with great effectiveness courses in both physical and human geography, in lecture, lab, or seminar format, and to geography majors or non-majors. He was one of the most rigorous and demanding of professors, and also among the most admired and appreciated by his many devoted students.  He was also an exemplary colleague — always willing to spend time with faculty to help them improve their teaching and scholarly work.”

Churchill received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Northern Illinois University, and his doctorate from the University of Iowa.

Jim Armstrong, the inspiration for the creation of Chaplin’s new professorship, had a profound and lasting impact on the college as its president from 1963-1975. He led the college’s largest fundraising effort up until that time — a capital campaign with a $6.6 million goal that raised $8.3 million. During his tenure as president, the college built Sunderland Language Center, Johnson Memorial Building, and the Science Center that was located where the Davis Family Library now stands. Four residence halls — Kelly, Hadley, Lang and Milliken — as well as three dining halls — Cook, Freeman and Hamlin — were also constructed.

Armstrong also oversaw an increase in the size of the student body, which grew from 1,300 to 1,800 between 1963 and 1972, and instituted several changes that affected the faculty, including higher salaries, the availability of research funds, and paid leaves. While he was president, January or winter term was created and separate admissions offices for men and women were combined into a single office. In addition, the Chinese and Japanese Language Schools were founded and the Schools Abroad also expanded.

“Jim Armstrong’s greatest accomplishment was the building of a faculty of excellence, committed to both superb teaching, and scholarly and artistic achievement,” said Liebowitz.  “It was under President Armstrong that Middlebury’s faculty became one of distinction, and, thanks to the high bar that he established, the excellence of our faculty has become a distinguishing and central characteristic of the college.”

According to “The Strength of the Hills,” a history of Middlebury College from 1915-1990, “Armstrong’s greatest achievements . . . were moving Middlebury solidly into the ranks of the country’s first-rate liberal arts colleges.”