New residence hall being named for the late Robert Knoll
Released on 08/28/2009, at 3:00 PM
Office of University Communications
University of Nebraska–Lincoln
During his 40-year career at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Robert Knoll taught generations of students to enjoy the rich beauty of English language and literature, pioneered a number of innovative teaching initiatives, and was an exemplary academic citizen and first-rate scholar.
It's fitting, then, that a new residence hall under construction at UNL carry Knoll's name, Chancellor Harvey Perlman said. He announced today that the new suite-style student residence nearing completion at 17th and R streets will be named the Robert E. Knoll Residential Center. The University of Nebraska Board of Regents will consider approval of the recommendation at its Sept. 4 meeting.
Knoll, emeritus professor of English and formerly a Paula and Woody Varner Professor of English and a George Holmes Distinguished Professor, died Jan. 8, 2009, at age 86.
His widow Virginia said she and her children Elizabeth Knoll, Sarah German and Benjamin Knoll and her six grandchildren are excited and pleased with the proposal to name the facility for Knoll. But, she added, Knoll himself would have been outwardly perturbed but inwardly quite honored and taken aback.
"He told the children once, after receiving an honor, that 'did you ever see anybody get more pay for slight labor than I have...?'" Virginia Knoll said, laughing. "He just loved what he was doing. He would be floored (by this). He'd be greatly honored but not proud. Pride just wasn't his nature."
Virginia Knoll said it is fitting that a student residence carry her late husband's name, because he believed strongly that students should be gathered in groups to exchange ideas as much as possible. "The way the building is planned with residential suites, it really does reflect one of his favorite ideas," she said. He was a founding member of UNL's Centennial College, an innovative undergraduate teaching initiative in 1968, that featured a residential component.
Knoll was a specialist in Shakespeare, but he also taught courses in Plains literature, English Renaissance literature, English history, American and British literature between 1922 and 1950, and composition. He was an adviser to the NU Student Council, a precursor the current UNL student government, served on the faculty senate, chaired the Willa Cather centennial festival in 1973 and the Wright Morris centennial festival in 1976. In 1988, he was named Nebraska's Professor of the Year by the national Council for the Advancement and Support of Education. He was a Fulbright lecturer in Graz, Austria; a Woods fellow; and served a fellowship at Yale University, appointed by the National Endowment for the Humanities. He was a founding member and fellow in UNL's Center for Great Plains Studies, and in 1997, the UNL Alumni Association gave Knoll its "Doc" Elliott Award, conferred on emeritus faculty members in honor of their
Knoll, a 1943 Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Nebraska, joined the faculty in 1950 as an assistant professor of English; he was tenured and promoted to associate professor in 1957, and promoted to full professor in 1961. He earned his M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota in 1947 and 1950 respectively. He served in the U.S. Army from 1943-1946.
Knoll wrote dozens of critical essays, books, television treatments and other scholarly works. He was a scholar of artist-writer Weldon Kees, publishing several books about Kees work and life. He also published works on writers Ben Jonson, Christopher Marlowe and Robert McAlmon. In 1995, he published what has become known as the definitive history of the university, "Prairie University: A History of the University of Nebraska." Knoll was particularly suited for the task, as both his parents and many members of his family were NU graduates and he was personally acquainted with early NU luminaries such as Louise Pound.
"Robert Knoll was one of those unique individuals whose contributions to UNL were ubiquitous," Perlman said. "His ideas for a residential learning center, first implemented through Centennial College in the 1970s and now through our learning communities, makes it particularly appropriate that we name our new residence hall for him. We are honored that his family has allowed us to recognize his contributions in this way.
Virginia Knoll remarked that today's students, most born in late 1980s and 1990s as Knoll was finishing his "Prairie University," will not have known or heard of him, but his legacy will be apparent to them when they live in a building carrying his name.
"My children and I have talked about this: how we as students always have wondered who the people were whose building we were in, and we stopped and looked at the pictures, to learn more about the people. Someday these students may wonder and want to learn more about him. It's a wonderful tribute, I feel, that has long-lingering honor."
The facility, upon completion for the fall semester 2010, will house 566 students, including some freshmen, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Juan Franco said. "It will have the amenities today's students are looking for, including study lounges and laundry facilities," Franco said. "The building common area will include a lounge and living room, vending space, conference room, convenience store, kitchen, entry lobby and a mail room." The rooms will be two double bedroom and four single-bedroom suites. Each suite shares a living area and bathroom.
"Robert Knoll cared deeply about students and they, in turn, cherished him. This is a most fitting way to honor the memory of one of the university's great professors," University of Nebraska President James B. Milliken said.