Robert Ferguson

Wednesday, July 5, 2017



Dear Colleagues,

It grieves me to share the news that our dear colleague and friend, Robert Ferguson, died on Saturday, following a lengthy battle with cancer. Robert was a distinguished and trailblazing scholar, a master teacher, a deeply engaged faculty citizen, and a devoted member of the Columbia Law School community. The George Edward Woodberry Professor of Law, Literature, and Criticism until his retirement in 2016, Robert joined Columbia University in 1989, holding a joint faculty appointment at both the Law School and in the English department for much of his tenure. He graduated from Harvard College in 1964, having already begun his writing career as a sports reporter for The Harvard Crimson. After spending a year at the London School of Economics on a Fulbright Scholarship, Robert returned to Harvard to earn a J.D. and a Ph.D. in American civilization. Before coming to Columbia, he was a member of the University of Chicago’s English department for 14 years.  

Robert was a prolific scholar, authoring more than half a dozen books and dozens of articles. He helped to pioneer the modern law and literature movement, with much of his scholarship finding its basis in a mixture of legal, philosophical, and literary sources. Robert received many honors for his work, including being recognized as a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Humanities Center, and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. He was also a prize winning teacher, awarded both the Law School’s Willis L.M. Reese Prize for Excellence in Teaching in 2003, and the Columbia University Presidential Award for Outstanding Teaching in 1998. 

Robert is survived by his wife, Priscilla Parkhurst Ferguson, a professor emerita in Columbia’s Sociology department. We extend the sincere condolences of our community to Priscilla and all of Robert’s loved ones. For those who would like to reach out to Priscilla (no flowers, please), her address is Box 747, Gloversville, NY 12078, or 460 Riverside Dr., Apt. 81, New York, NY, 10027. Robert’s family will have a private memorial service this week. In due course, I will announce a fall date on which the Law School community may pay tribute to Robert.

Gillian Lester