AWN--Peter J. Peter Awn, Professor of Religion and Dean Emeritus of the School of General Studies at Columbia University, died in Washington Heights on February 17, 2019. For more than 40 years, Peter was a cherished fixture on Columbia's campus who dazzled with his wit, warmth, and deep love of the study of religion and the classics. Peter was best known as Dean of the School of General Studies, and throughout his 20-year decanal tenure (1997-2017), he championed the School's unique role as Columbia's unrivaled liberal arts college for returning and non-traditional students. For Peter and for the entire University community, General Studies represented the very best of what an undergraduate education at an elite institution should be: a student body made up largely of student veterans, first- generation students, and international students, whose age and life experiences brought invaluable richness to the classroom. As Dean, Peter grew and nurtured General Studies in countless ways. For instance, he embraced its oldest and largest pre-medical school certificate program in the country for individuals already holding an undergraduate degree and its long-held relationship with the Jewish Theological Seminary. He created joint BA programs with Sciences Po in Paris, the City University of Hong Kong, and Trinity College Dublin. In his letter to the Columbia community announcing Peter's death, University President Lee C. Bollinger called him "one of the essential leaders of Columbia University's modern era." Peter was born in Brooklyn, New York to Isabel and Elias Awn, Lebanese Christian immigrants. He received his BA in Philosophy and Classical Languages from Fordham University and an MDiv in Christian Theology from Woodstock College. He was ordained a Catholic priest before earning his PhD in Islamic religion and comparative religion from Harvard University. Peter first arrived at Columbia University in 1978 as a scholar of religion and Islamic studies, and he delighted his students with his boundless enthusiasm, incisive intellect, deep compassion for their well-being, and expressive socks. He stepped down as Dean of the School of General Studies in 2017 to return to his first love, teaching. His loss leaves a void that will never be filled. Peter was the cherished brother of Claudette Maraziti, Louise Crowley, and the late Richard Awn. He was a loving uncle to Jackie, Michele, Jerry, Jennifer, Sarah, John, Richard, Susan, and Peter, and a grand uncle to 12 nieces and nephews. He was the close, lifelong friend of Norman Laurila and Rob Westerberg. A private memorial service for his family will take place in the coming days. Donations in his name may be made to the Peter J. Awn Scholarship Fund at Columbia University's School of General Studies. Lee C. Bollinger and the Columbia University Board of Trustees
Published in New York Times on Feb. 24, 2019.