The University of Chicago News Office
June 26, 2002 Press Contact: Julia Morse
(773) 702-8359

Robert Streeter, former Dean of the College and Dean of Humanities

Robert Streeter, a former Dean and Professor of English at the University of Chicago, died of complications following surgery on Saturday, June 22 in Danville, Pa. He was 85.

Streeter served as Dean of the undergraduate College during the mid-1950s, a contentious period when its curriculum and organization were undergoing substantial changes. "Bob Streeter was given a challenging task, and he did it in an enviably successful way," said John Boyer, current Dean of the College.

As Dean of the Division of the Humanities during the 1960s, Streeter oversaw the addition of several new academic disciplines outside the Western tradition. In a 1964 lecture, he noted that one of the main challenges for the humanities was "to develop ways of incorporating the insights of non-Western humanists–of India, Islam, and the Far East–into the mainstream of American education."

Born in 1916 in Williamsport, Pa., Streeter earned a bachelor’s degree at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa. in 1938. He earned a master’s degree in 1940 and a Ph.D. in 1943, both at Northwestern University.

Streeter taught briefly at Bucknell University and Seoul National University in Korea, then was appointed Assistant Professor of English at the University of Chicago in 1947. A specialist in American cultural and literary history, he was named Associate Professor in 1953 and Professor of English in 1958. Streeter was an authority on rhetorical theory and practice. Along with William R. Keast, he co-edited The Province of Prose (1956), an anthology for college composition courses.

After serving for a year as Associate Dean, Streeter was appointed Dean of the College in 1954, three years after Robert Maynard Hutchins, the University’s charismatic president, had left. During his tenure, Hutchins had transformed the undergraduate college so that it focused entirely on general education. The dismantling of the "Hutchins College" in favor of a system that would allow room for majors was deeply controversial. Streeter worked hard to soothe tensions among the faculty members and to ensure a smooth transition to the new curriculum. After just one term as Dean of the College, Streeter returned to teaching, now as a full professor.

Streeter was appointed Dean of the Division of the Humanities in 1963 and re-appointed in 1968, a time when the University was focusing more attention on non-Western scholarship. As Dean of the Humanities, Streeter oversaw the addition or expansion of several new departments, including Linguistics and South Asian Languages and Civilizations.

"He was an administrator at two very difficult points in University history," said Karl Weintraub, Thomas E. Donnelley Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in History. "Bob was a beloved teacher with a rich, open mind. He was always trying to make things better for the faculty and for the students."

In the University community, Streeter was known for his sharp wit and sense of the absurd. During the 1950s, he collaborated with another young English professor, Ned Rosenheim (now David B. and Clara E. Stern Professor Emeritus) on scripts and lyrics for the University of Chicago Revels, humorous musical plays starring faculty members.

With Streeter and Rosenheim as the lead creative team, the Revels, a tradition dating back to 1904, had their heyday in the 1950s and early 1960s. Some years, shows were performed for one night in the private Quadrangle Club; other years, they ran for several weekends in the 1000-seat Mandel Hall. Streeter claimed his most notable lyric–a spoof on the 1955 phonics book Why Johnny Can’t Read–was "Why Johnny Reads Kant." The Revels tradition died out in the 1960s, but was revived at the Quadrangle Club last year.

In 1973, Streeter was named Edward L. Ryerson Distinguished Service Professor. After his retirement in 1986, he was a visiting professor at Colorado College and a Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar.

Survivors include two children, Frear Streeter Simons, an editor for LexisNexis, and Allyn Streeter, a contracting director for the federal government, as well as four grandchildren. Streeter’s wife, Ruth Streeter (nee Parker), a former primary school teacher in Tennessee and children’s literacy volunteer in Chicago, died in 1998.

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Last modified at 01:55 PM CST on Friday, September 12, 2003.

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