Ohmann is remembered for transforming university life and culture

Richard Ohmann. (Photos courtesy of Special Collections & Archives)

Richard Ohmann, Professor Emeritus of English Benjamin Waite, died on October 8 at the age of 90.

Ohmann holds a BA from Oberlin College and an MA and PhD from Harvard University. He came to Wesleyan in 1961 and, until his retirement in 1996, held many positions and helped shape Wesleyan’s future.

Joel Pfister, English teacher at Olin, outlined Ohmann’s career: “He was quickly promoted to full professor; was appointed vice-president and provost; protested on national television against the Vietnam War; was elected vice president of the Modern Language Association (MLA) on an anti-war platform; founded with other leading leftists the fabulous newspaper Radical teacher; completely panicked English departments everywhere with his powerful and extremely influential Marxist critique of the reigning constructions of the field in English in America (1976); and went on to write several other books in the field (including one with his friend Noam Chomsky), including Letters policy (1987) and Sell ​​culture (1996). ”

Henry Abelove, Willbur Fisk Osborne Professor Emeritus of English, commented: “No one did more than him to guide Wesleyan in absorbing the best lessons from the social movements of the 1960s.”

“Dick was a master at making the appearance of effortless,” noted anthropology professor Elizabeth Traube. “As director of the Center for the Humanities, he always pursued special projects such as forming a planning group to incorporate cultural studies into the curriculum, calling on Coca Cola to fund a seminar on Make and sell culture, then making sure we produce a volume of it. He had a wicked sense of humor and a stable moral compass.

“It is very difficult to briefly describe what Dick Ohmann meant to my generation of academics and to the development of American universities in general,” said Richard Slotkin, professor of English emeritus at Olin. “In the late 1970s he taught an American studies course called Towards a socialist America—A radical innovation then, an essential subject now. He was a leader in the movement that transformed college life and culture, making college faculties and bodies, and college programs more inclusive by race, ethnicity, class, gender, and sexuality. His books and articles have analyzed the links between post-war academic development, corporate capitalism, and the Cold War. What was most remarkable and characteristic of his work was the way in which it integrated theory and practice, scholarly analysis and political action. His personal example has given courage and focus to generations of young colleagues, and he will be sorely missed. “

The English Department renamed the English Lecture Series as the Ohmann-Crosby English Lecture Series in honor of Dick Ohmann and his mentee Christina Crosby.

Ohmann is survived by his daughter, Sarah Ohmann; his daughter-in-law, Nicole Polier; and her stepdaughter, Alison Polier. Commemorative contributions can be made on Dick’s behalf at resist.org, Planned parenthood, Where trainingforchange.org.




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