Joe Duggan
Joe Duggan, 2007 (photo: Peg Skorpinski)

The Graduate Division received the sad news of the death of our colleague and friend on October 2, 2016.  Several memorial gatherings are planned by friends and colleagues.  

An updated tribute to his life is at

First published Spring 2011 — by staff writer Dick Cortén

Professor of French and Comparative Literature, renowned medieval scholar, and Associate Dean of the Graduate Division: these all, over multiple decades, have described Joseph J. Duggan. 

One more word applies at this juncture: retired.  On June 30, 2011, Duggan handed over the reins of his associate deanship, having previously retired in 2005 from his formal teaching duties in two departments.  (And indeed having tried to retire from the Graduate Division as well in 2005, only to be recalled for another half-dozen years.)

This page, hosted by the Graduate Division, celebrates his long and vital career, in words and pictures. 

Friends, colleagues, and students are warmly invited to contribute anecdotes, recollections, appreciations, and pictures from times with Joe over the years.  Please send them electronically to [email protected] or physically to Graduate Division Communications and Events, 421 Sproul Hall, Berkeley, CA 94720-5900. 

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JOE DUGGAN is his own time machine.  During his career at Berkeley, he has effortlessly (and elegantly) transported himself between the 12th-century world of medieval Europe via his internationally renowned scholarly work, and the 21st century, where, as of June 30, he has completed 24 years of brilliant academic administration as Associate Dean of the Graduate Division—the longest tenure period of any faculty member in that role.

When he first arrived at Berkeley as an assistant professor, at the age of 25 — younger than many of the graduate students he encountered here—he modeled his instruction of such subjects as “The Medieval Book: Editing Texts from Medieval Manuscripts” and “The Troubadours and the Troubadour Tradition,” after a guiding professor he had in graduate school at Ohio State, who “divided each class into discrete parts, sometimes minuscule parts, three minutes or 15 minutes each, and he told us exactly what we had to teach in each section of the hour.”

As Associate Dean of the Graduate Division, Joe Duggan has also been attentive to the passage of time.  He has helped advise the Graduate Council, which sets policy for matters pertaining to graduate study, on how to improve what is known in graduate education as “time to degree”—how long it takes graduate students to complete their degrees.  And when Joe Duggan began as Associate Dean for the Graduate Division, he had nearly 8,800 students (and recently, more than 10,000) whose progress to degree completion he would try to facilitate through policy and its implementation.

From the beginning, he embarked on what would be a virtuoso tenure the range of which may never again be repeated.  He oversaw all aspects of admissions, degree progress, student appointments (meaning jobs, such as GSI, GSR, and the like), the training of graduate student instructors, and early incarnations of data processing.  He also administered enrollment quotas for what were then 96 degree-granting units (now 101), requiring, as he said in his understated way, “considerable negotiating,” all the while balancing relative equity across programs and remaining mindful of resource constraints.

Not a habitual seeker of power over the fates of others, Duggan nevertheless found a lot of it in his hands: “about forty student files cross my desk every week, requiring decisions.”  (A total even he found difficult to believe — “but my administrative assistant keeps a log.”) If you needed an exception to regulations — “including those involving the appointment of Qualifying Examination and dissertation committees” — you had to get it from Associate Dean Joseph J. Duggan.  He ruled on all graduate student academic and appointment exceptions, and counseled students who brought him their varied and complex problems.

Those who have known him only as a ruler and decider might sometimes have perceived him as something of an academic cop.  But Duggan has always been quick to point out that the authority of the Graduate Division and its deans are grounded in academic policies and standards set by the Academic Senate’s Graduate Council. There, Dean Duggan progressively became an éminence grise, the de facto repository of institutional memory and a resident sage to many generations of chairs and members of that faculty governance body.

Those fortunate enough to have watched Joe’s work closely soon saw that fairness and compassion are some of the deepest veins in the Duggan Lode (as colleagues note in comments below this text).  He took extraordinary care to ensure and enforce fair-dealing in disputes between students and faculty or administrators that occasionally arise. Even in the push and pull over graduate student union contracts, Joe remained true to form.  After one such GSI contract round nearly a decade ago, his boss at the time, Dean Mary Ann Mason, said, “no one has put in more time at the table negotiating better conditions for GSIs.  Although he represented the university, he always had first in his mind the best interests of the GSIs.”

Duggan leaves a specific enduring legacy in the Graduate Division.  He was “the driving force” in establishing the GSI Teaching and Resource Center in 1989, says its current director, Linda von Hoene.  The center has been under his guidance and deanly wing since its humble beginnings as “a one-desk operation in the basement of California Hall.”  It is now a thriving necessity on the third floor of Sproul Hall (and beyond) that has received numerous awards and has been singled out by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges as “a model for GSI development programs everywhere.”  Its programs have been emulated across the U.S. and as far away as Japan and China.  (For more about the programs, see this feature on the GSI Center.)

“Joe Duggan understood earlier than most,” says von Hoene, “that learning to teach is an important component of graduate education and that undergraduates benefit from the intellectual engagement with graduate students.  He also understood that to teach well, GSIs need guidance, mentorship, and an environment in which they can flourish both as teachers and scholars.”  For a faculty member who never employed a GSI for one of his courses, because they were mainly seminar-sized, Joe showed deep appreciation of, and imaginative insight into, this aspect of graduate training.

In addition to all the above, and more, Duggan aided and assisted in the transitions of 24 Graduate Councils and three Deans of the Graduate Division (to whom, with characteristic and sincere modesty, he always deferred as “my boss”):  Joseph Cerny (1985-2000), Mary Ann Mason (2000-2007), and Andrew Szeri (2007-present).  During the sabbaticals of Cerny and Mason, Joe served as Acting Dean, maintaining a calm and steady grip on all policy, budget, and administration matters.


IN 2008, nearly three years after retiring from the faculty in two departments –– assuming the emeritus faculty title of Professor of the Graduate School and remaining in thrall to the habit of research –– Duggan became Berkeley’s first recipient of the University of California systemwide Edward A. Dickson Emeriti Professorship, a one-year appointment that came with a generous financial award, to be used to support teaching, research, public service, or as a salary stipend.  It gave Duggan the opportunity to focus on and edit Garin le Loherain, another medieval chanson de geste replete with “fierce and sanguinary” battles, heathens and the faithful, and treachery most foul.

The Song of Roland set
Magnum opus: La Chanson de Roland, 2006, J. J. Duggan (ed.)

Duggan’s method involves transcribing line by line from the source.  A manuscript of Garin de Loherain has been available in the Bancroft Library since 1968.  The poem is 16,000 lines long.  Duggan copied the ancient writing from microfilm, adding punctuation, quotation marks, and capitals, all of which are missing in the original text.  Then the work requiring real thought begins, analyzing the language and adding annotations to explain aspects that might baffle modern scholars.

Here Duggan’s time machine turns on at full power, allowing him to leave the present day and become totally immersed in the tumult of medieval Europe.  “I can walk away from the modern world into a library,” he says, “and I’m back in the 13th century dealing with the problems of that period.  It’s tremendous fun.”

Joe is one of the world’s experts on the period, and in particular he devoted 21 years to a multivolume edition of The Song of Roland, the first great epic poem in French literature.  Roland was Charlemagne’s nephew (and son; it’s complicated), and such were his travails that — giving away the ending — when his thousands of loyal troops were slaughtered by a pagan horde 20 times their number, he blew his head apart sounding a warning by elephant-tusk horn to his faraway emperor uncle, who rode with his army to obliterate the enemy.  Not a story for the squeamish.

Nor, for that matter, are the demands of two dozen years in the Graduate Division.  Joe’s humanistic breadth of vision and depth of scholarship have advanced the problem-solving missions of graduate education at the end of the 20th and beginning of the 21st centuries as well as resolving the intricacies of medieval manuscripts.   His Graduate Division colleagues feel honored to have worked with him and wish him well as he turns full-time to scholarly endeavors.

Joe, you will be greatly missed and we thank you!

Comments/Guest Book:

Andrew Szeri says:

Dear Joe,

It has been my great fortune to work closely with you for nearly a decade, since I joined the Graduate Council. In my days as a member of that council, and later chair, and later still as an associate dean and dean, I have always been deeply impressed by your instinctive feel for what is right. This character trait has served you — and the university — well, as you have often faced the balancing of many priorities. Through it all, you never have forgotten that the welfare of students, or graduate programs, is often at stake. These are the traits of insightful and beneficent leadership. I wish you and Annalee the very best, and hope that I can rely on your counsel for many years to come.

Andrew J. Szeri
Professor of Mechanical Engineering
Dean of the Graduate Division, 2007-2014

Mary Ann Mason says:

The end of a long era!  It was my privilege to work with Joe.  Joe was a fierce protector of the rights of graduate students for many decades, and also a warm and compassionate man.  We were lucky to have him for so long. And we had fun!  I particularly remember the Graduate Division holiday party when his wife Annalee, a talented dancer, taught us how to hula.  (The guys rolled up their long pants and Andrew Szeri played the ukelele.)

Mary Ann Mason
Professor of Law and Co-director of the Center for Economics and Family Security
Dean of the Graduate Division, 2002-2007

Joseph Cerny says:

Joseph Duggan was the first Associate Dean that I appointed rather than inherited.  We became known as “The Two Joes” and worked extremely well together for 13 years.  Joe was a staunch supporter of graduate student interests and advancement.  Together we had a great time attending many, many Graduate Dean meetings – at all of our sister UC campuses over a three-year cycle, and annually at the meetings of the two national associations of graduate school Deans and with the “Dwarf Deans” (you will have to ask).

Joe and I particularly enjoyed making “formal” Graduate Division visits to two or three departments a semester – armed with the GD’s outstanding data on time to PhD completion and attrition rates, as well as with our PhD exit questionnaire data.  We met first with the Chair and the Graduate Advisors over a lunch, which was then followed immediately by a private meeting with 15-20 of the department’s graduate students at different stages of their PhD program.  This was an interesting and effective way of taking the temperature of graduate student life in the department!

Joseph Cerny
Professor of Chemistry
Dean of the Graduate Division, 1985-2000