Berkeley College master steps down

Berkeley College Master John Rogers ’84 GRD ’89, who is on sabbatical this year, announced on Thursday that he will not resume his duties at Berkeley next year but will return to teaching full-time in the English department.

In an announcement made at lunch in the Berkeley Dining Hall, which was followed by a farewell letter sent to Berkeley students, Rogers said that after serving a five-year term as master, he will return to the classroom next year to concentrate on his teaching and writing. Students, many of whom said they were surprised by the announcement, said Rogers will be sorely missed in the community but were not immediately concerned about welcoming a new master, citing the smooth transition to Interim Master Norma Thompson this academic year.

University President Richard Levin said the reception Rogers received in the dining hall Thursday afternoon was indicative of his especially close relationship with Berkeley students.

“[Rogers has] done an absolutely terrific job as master at Berkeley,” Levin said. “He’s a person of great warmth, enthusiasm and energy and is devoted to his students.”

Rogers, a scholar of 17th-century literature and John Milton, helped to guide the rollout of the Sustainable Food Project, an effort his wife, Associate Master and Smith College professor Cornelia Pearsall ’84 GRD ’91, also helped to lead. Rogers also managed to bring a range of A-list guests to Berkeley for Master’s Teas, including Joan Didion, Stephen King and Meryl Streep.

Both Rogers and his wife graduated from Yale College, and they found it especially rewarding to return to live in a residential college among students and to be part of the tight-knit community, Rogers said Thursday.

“To be reimmersed into Yale College life at this very different stage in our lives and in our careers was a real thrill,” he said. “There’s no question that it’s the best job in higher education.”

In an e-mail to Berkeley students on Thursday afternoon, Levin praised Rogers and Pearsall for what they brought to the Berkeley community and said a search committee will soon be established to find the college a new master.

During Rogers’ term as master, Berkeley was renowned for its Sustainable Food Project-directed dining hall, which was rated the best in the country and nearly always filled to capacity. At the project’s start, Rogers and Pearsall vied to bring organic food to Berkeley, even though it was uncertain how students would respond to such a change in dining hall fare, said George Levesque, who served as Berkeley dean with Rogers before becoming dean of freshman affairs last year.

“The two of them together made a dynamic duo,” Levesque said. “I think he did a very good job of rolling it out to the students because I think it’s fair to say there was some apprehension. ‘What does it mean we’re not going to have tomatoes except for a couple months of the year?’”

Levesque said Rogers made an effort to get to know every student and be out and about in the community. And despite his reputation as a foremost Milton scholar and writer, Rogers’ quirky, self-effacing sense of humor made him approachable and endearing to students, Levesque said.

At dinner in Berkeley on Thursday night, students said Rogers’ announcement in the midst of the spring semester’s first week came as a surprise. Rogers, Pearsall and their two daughters Lily and Adeline were fixtures around Berkeley, and students gravitated toward them, several Berkeleyites said.

“Everybody loved him,” said Adam Clark-Joseph ’07. “He was always everywhere all at once. You saw him constantly — he was always here with his family. Everyone loved his kids and his wife.”

Heather Butler ’09 and Kledia Myrtolli ’09 said they were sad they would only get to have Rogers as master for one year. But while the announcement may mean Berkeley will have three masters in as many years, Myrtolli said the timing shouldn’t be held against Rogers.

“It’s unfortunate, but I feel he knows his personal life best,” she said. “If it works better for him, then good luck to him.”

Rogers’ departure from Berkeley will be effective June 30, 2007.

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