Judy Dunbar Retires
Our doubts are traitors,
And make us lose the good we oft might win,
By fearing to attempt.”
—Lucio in Measure for Measure
This past June saw the retirement of a beloved and long-term professor of the English Department, Judy Dunbar, a scholar and teacher and friend to countless colleagues and students through the years. A celebration was held in her honor, packing the Adobe Lodge on campus with those fans of hers who could attend, with many more sending their good wishes via cards and email throughout the spring. Alumna Kristin Kusanovich, (now Senior Lecturer in Theatre & Dance) moderated the program, beginning with this invitation to all, referring to Lucio’s caution: “Let us attempt to pay tribute to our dear colleague and friend Judith Dunbar, and her 38 year career at SCU and other institutions here and abroad, even though the task might seem daunting.” Indeed, the celebration included beautiful ‘attempts’ that were heartfelt and arresting in their beauty and depth. Tributes were given through speech, music, video and dramatic performances by Andre Delbecq, Maureen McDonnell, Portia Diwa, Aldo Billingslea, Timothy Fullerton, Ann-Therese Ortiz, Eileen Elrod and Phyllis Brown.
Judy’s faith in the importance of bridging the close, patient, textual analyses of Shakespeare’s plays with the embodied praxis of the discoveries inherent in theatrical production process was a theme throughout the evening. So was her spiritually grounded companionship, deep listening skills and contagious love for literature of all kinds, but especially of transformative authors who worked within the realms of social justice, spirituality and poetry. We celebrated her brave insistence on taking time to go in depth and provide a centered approach in the midst of a context for students that has only grown more distracting and accelerated since she began as a faculty member in 1978. And this celebration with live music, live theatre and lively shared sentiments helped us gather our thoughts about one of our most treasured teachers of all time. As one colleague put it, “Oh, Judy. She’s one of those rock star professors that people speak in hushed tones about.”
Judy Dunbar received her Ph.D. in English and Humanities from Stanford University with Distinction in 1977 and in that year was also Visiting Assistant Professor of Literature at Claremont McKenna College. She had taught at the University of London for twelve years prior. She came to Santa Clara University as an Assistant Professor in 1978 and in 1984 was made an Associate Professor. She has been a prolific scholar, observer, collaborator and progressive voice in the academy that had previously privileged sedentary textual analysis over performance practice. Judy built a bridge between the Theatre & Dance and the English Departments, helping to connect two previously disparate worlds. Judy always created space for discernment and connection, no matter how small or large the problem presented. Her book-lined office on the third floor of St. Joseph’s hall and massive desk was the site of thousands of office hours and countless epiphanies for all of us who had the fortune to be among her students. It occurs to anyone in Judy’s office that the stacks and rows therein represent books she has read and scrutinized in her own way that is as systematic as it is poetic. A fringe of post-its fluttering out of the chapter breaks in closed volumes betray the loving encounter of master teacher and world of ideas that would inform her teaching and scholarship.
Her latest book, A Winter’s Tale, came out in 2010 as a part of the Shakespeare in Performance Series, Manchester University Press. This work exemplifies the argument that spoken, embodied understandings of Shakespeare’s plays situated in specific cultures, time periods, and ever-evolving contemporary concerns give us insights that deserve to be understood and valued. Her access to the Royal Shakespeare Company rehearsal process and involvement as dramaturg throughout multiple decades of productions of The Winter’s Tale allowed her to share the perspectives learned from readying live performance as a site of many intellectually subtle gifts and revelations.
In 2010, Judy was honored for outstanding scholarly achievement by the College of Arts and Sciences, and in 2012, just four years ago, received the highly prestigious Excellence in Teaching Award from Phi Beta Kappa, Northern California Association.
We have no doubts about the impact and imprint Judy has had on all of our lives at Santa Clara University, and we are all going to miss Judy Dunbar’s serene, exquisite thinking and delightful way of proceeding that has been inclusive, life-affirming and so generous to all of us. We look forward to her writings and other pursuits that are facilitated by this transition into retirement. With blessings of peace and an abundance of gratitude, I hope I speak for all of Judy’s students and colleagues in saying “We love you and will miss you!”