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Donald Rothchild


Donald Rothchild

Professor of Political Science, Emeritus

UC Davis

1928 - 2007



Donald Rothchild, Distinguished Professor of Political Science, died on January 30, 2007, of complications from Lymphoma. Rothchild was born in New York City in 1928 and was 78 at the time of death. He received his undergraduate degree at Kenyon College in 1949, entered the military for two years during the Korean War, received his master’s degree from UC Berkeley in 1954, and his doctorate from Johns Hopkins University in 1958. He had taught at Davis since 1965.


The largest part of Don’s voluminous research is on ethnic and civil strife with an emphasis on Africa. He was actively engaged in this research up to the end and his pace never slackened. Indeed, his research achievements over the last decade increased and just a few days before he entered the hospital for the last time he was finishing up an article and working on two book projects, one of which - On the Use of Incentives in Reaching Peace Settlements - was about ready to go to the publisher and will be coming out sometime in the near future. Donald was a wonder then, and the university community recognized it, naming him UCD Faculty Research Lecturer for 1996-7. To list only his major publications, awards, and activities would take much more room than we have here. As one of his friends in the department fondly recalled, his total bibliography is so extensive that it would probably do justice to at least three highly respectable careers at just about any place: a rough count of his publications comes to about two dozen books and more than 130 articles. The same energy led to extensive travel and various stints as a visiting professor and scholar in residence. To name just a few stops, he served on faculties in Africa at the University of Nairobi, the University of Ghana, Makerere University in Uganda, the University of Zambia and in this country at the School of Advanced International Studies of John Hopkins, the U.S. Institute of Peace, the Brookings Institute, and the University of California Washington Center.


For most of us, however, Don was a model in ways no formal bibliography or curriculum vita can express. He was a professor in the fullest sense possible, exemplifying all the positive things that the word entails. Humanity, generosity, dignity, all the words applied to Don. And we all appreciated it. It was telling in this respect that two of his best and oldest friends in the department, without any prior consultation, mentioned the same sort of things in their opening comments about him at a memorial service. One said that for Don “the pursuit of knowledge was never the joyless business of strategic positioning for professional advancement, but was rather a passion involving application of a lively intelligence” to problems of vital importance. The second complemented this by speaking of how for Don being a professor “was not a job, it was a calling and self-realization.” Don was proud to be a professor and proudly defended the values he associated with the position.


As a teacher, Don joined his other qualities to exceeding fairness. And he loved teaching. As his wife Edith puts it, he loved equally learning new things and the excitement of his students learning new things. Beyond that, he took genuine pleasure in his students’ accomplishments. When he heard that one of them had published something of note, he would rush to tell us, all the while never mentioning the many things he had been up to. His students saw all this very quickly and invariably responded in kind, especially his graduate students, to whom he was very close. Beyond inheriting scholarly meticulousness, which he demanded without equivocation, they also inherited his general approach to the world. As he, they tend not to trivialize or caricature the world, but rather to see it in is complexity, variety, and subtlety. Where there is an apparently intractable or obstinate problem that seems beyond political solution, they will not dismiss it or steer their research away from it. They will confront it. Don did not pick and he did not teach his students to pick easy topics upon which to work. His way was to struggle with what he understood to be important. It followed that his most critical work addresses both academics and policy makers, and crosses the line that sometimes divides them. This gratified him. Talking to him you soon understood his pleasure in the sense that his work was meaningful and stood to make the world a better place. That is why he addressed topics like ethnic intolerance and civil conflict. Moreover, he was one of that select group of scholars whose work might actually have made a difference.


Finally, as befitted a man who was born and raised on the East Coast, was educated in the middle of the country and on both coasts, worked for so long on the West Coast, and traveled so extensively, Don was a person of exquisite tastes. To visit his home was to be overwhelmed by collections of African art and contemporary art. If you accepted an invitation to join him and Edith for a night out, you were likely, depending on your own predilections, to be in for an evening of terrific music or equally terrific food. At work, if you joined him for coffee, you were expected to accept a cookie from the best bakery in town. It was always a delight to spend time with Don. He will not be replaced.


Larry Peterman