Wittenberg professors are known for their approachability and ease with forming meaningful relationships with students. But the bond between Eric Runsak, ’00, and professor Jerry Pankhurst has lasted longer than four years. This past Saturday, Runsak organized an honorary dinner for the sociology professor, in which he highlighted not only the fond relationship between the two, but Pankhurst’s overall dedication to Wittenberg in the 31 years he has served at the university.
Pankhurst has always dedicated his life to academic studies from a young age. He was among the first group of American college students permitted inside the Soviet Union in 1966, during the height of the Cold War when Americans were not permitted to travel freely; they were heavily monitored by the KGB. Pankhurst studied Russian language, religion and culture over the years, and helped build a unique Russian studies program at Wittenberg. He also has developed a teaching and research specialization on Islam and Islamic societies, with special interest in Egypt. He has helped co-edit two books of articles, and contributed to many scholarly articles and journals. He has received many research grants throughout his life, which led him to carry out research at Leningrad and Moscow State Universities; the University of Sofia, Bulgaria; Keston Institute in the United Kingdom; American University of Cairo (Egypt); the Library of Congress and more. Pankhurst received his B.A. degree from Justin Morrill College of Michigan State University, and was awarded his M.A. and Ph.D. from The University of Michigan. He also completed additional graduate studies at Leningrad State University and Harvard University. He then joined the Wittenberg faculty in 1984.
Dedicating his life to studying and researching across the country and world, Pankhurst continues to reside in Columbus, where he has driven a staggering 595,000 miles to and from Wittenberg, enough miles to drive around the Earth 24 times. However, his contributions to the Wittenberg community extend far beyond his extensive academic background. Pankhurst has been involved with professor and provost searches and hiring boards, as well as being an instrumental voice in many Wittenberg programs, ranging from being a mentor for high school programs at Witt to attending almost every forum Witt has held during his time at the university. Pankhurst is responsible for over 31 years of excellence in education and his dedication in and out of the classroom. Teaching hundreds of classes, advising more than 1,000 students, Pankhurst has never taken his job lightly.
A Witt colleague referred to Pankhurst as one of the best proponents of the Witt motto, “having the light we pass it onto others.” Professor Matt Smith agreed with this statement by adding that “not only is Dr. Pankhurst an outstanding scholar, he is a gentleman, raising the profile of the university intellectually while being such a welcoming person.” Specifically in the sociology department, he is referred to the “happy medium.” Professor Lila Zaharkov says Pankhurst is best described as “kind and impartial, always willing to listen to concerns in the department.”
Not only is Pankhurst respected by the Witt faculty and staff, there is high respect and appreciation amongst the student body.
“Dr. Pankhurst’s insight he provided me was incalculable; I’m sad to see him go,” said Kaylie Taylor, ’17, as she reflected on her freshman year advisor, Pankhurst.
Throughout the 31 years and 595,000 miles, Pankhurst will be deeply missed by the Wittenberg community.