Dr. Richard Kroll, a professor in the English Department, passed away early Feb. 5 due to complications from pneumonia. He leaves behind a legacy of respect and acclaim in literary studies as well as generations of former students.
Richard Wilhelm Francis Kroll was born in Kenya on Jan. 14, 1953 and moved to England to enroll in Christ’s Hospital Independent Boarding School, the alma mater of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Charles Lamb. He then went to Cambridge University and attended Downing College. Kroll received his Ph.D. from UC Los Angeles in Literature. After teaching at Princeton University and Hofstra University, Kroll came to UC Irvine in 1992, teaching literature and rhetoric and specializing in the Restoration and 18th century periods.
“He was an eminent critic and intellectual historian, a talented and committed teacher, a colleague of great integrity and a dear friend to faculty, students and staff members,” said Vice Chair of the Department of English Ann Van Sant.
Kroll became ill in the fall while teaching two classes: English 100: The History of Theory and Criticism and English 102B: The Literature of Fact.
“[English 100] was a course that many, many English majors experienced with Professor Kroll over the years. He had his own unique and idiosyncratic but very effective way of teaching that course. He [had been] teaching it off and on for almost a decade,” said Chair of the Department of English Brook Thomas.
Prior to becoming ill, Kroll was scheduled to teach an English 102B course in the winter. He had also planned to teach a course on Alexander Pope and Jonathan Swift in the spring for undergraduates and a graduate course of Restoration drama.
Kroll received many fellowships and awards, including a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship and a UC President’s Research Fellowship in the Humanities. In 1999, the senior class designated Kroll as UCI Outstanding Professor in the Humanities.
In addition to teaching, Kroll was the director of the summer master’s program, which is designed around educating small 20-person groups of mainly teachers for a degree equivalent to the M.A. earned by full-time graduate students, while only taking 10 weeks for two consecutive summers followed by a third for the M.A. thesis.
“He’s going to be missed as a scholar whose interest and intellect transcended departments,” Thomas said. “No one will fill the gap left by Richard.”
English Professor at UCI Jayne Lewis studied under Kroll while at Princeton and credits him with much of her development as a writer.
“As a graduate student, I don’t think I would have been able to write and think without his teaching,” Lewis said. “He’s been [like] that my entire career. As a colleague, there is no one I have admired more. And as a former student of his, I was very grateful of the respect he accorded to me as a colleague.”
Lewis taught at UCLA from 1988 to 2004 and came to UCI in 2004.
“It was tough to leave UCLA, but one of the clear gains was having him here as a colleague,” Lewis said. “He remained my most fastidious, encouraging and inspiring readers. He continued to read all of my work with generosity and rigor and an appropriate amount of skepticism.”
Megan Becker-Leckrone is currently a professor in the department of English at University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She received her M.A. and Ph.D in English from UCI in 1992 and 1996, respectively, and held the late professor in high regard.
“I remember Richard Kroll with great fondness and admiration. He was warm, full of vitality, never less than enthusiastic about his intellectual pursuits and always generous and encouraging toward those of others,” Becker-Leckrone said. “I especially appreciate that one did not have to agree with Richard about anything to earn his respect. He respected rigorous thought, good writing, promising scholarship and even a good-natured dispute … what a tremendous loss for so many,” Becker-Leckrone said.
Adding on to his legacy, Kroll also wrote two books, “The Material Word: Literate Culture in the Restoration and Early Eighteenth Century” and “Restoration Drama and the ‘Circle of Commerce’ ” and edited four others, including the ground-breaking “Philosophy, Science and Religion in England, 1640-1700,” of which the introduction has become a staple in 17th century studies.
Sam Arkin, a fifth-year graduate student in the English Department, who worked with Kroll since Arkin’s first year at UCI recalled working with Kroll.
“As I got to know him more we became friends and … he took an interest in me that was …. involved in academics, but it extended beyond academics. He wanted to meet my parents when they were here and he was that kind of person. When he took an interest in you, he really took an interest in your whole life,” Arkin said.
Arkin further noted that while in his opinion Kroll was among the leading minds in his area of study, he never favored his own interests, above the interests of his students.
“You always knew with Richard that he wasn’t going to sacrifice his duties as a teacher to whatever pleasure he got in doing his own work … I think that’s important to remember as an example for what a university professor can be,” Arkin said.
Although Kroll began his teaching career at Princeton University, according to Thomas his heart was always with UCI’s student body.
“He frequently said he had taught at Princeton in the Ivy Leagues, [and] he frequently said that he thought the students here at UCI were much more interesting students [and] preferred teaching the students at UCI tmore han he did the students at Princeton,” Thomas said.
Some UCI student responses to Kroll’s classes ranged from “I believe Professor Kroll’s E100 class is one of the rare courses that forces students to get their butt into shape” to “He knows the material, is passionate confident, humorous, frank” to “Kroll is the most amazing teacher in the history of literature. Seriously.”
Professor Lewis kept her mentor as an ideal to aspire to as a teacher.
“He was the real thing, and the best of us are just pretending to match his authenticity and depth,” Lewis said.
Thomas noted that Kroll was a tough teacher and an individual who was not always agreeable. However, his character was a memorable one.
“Richard was someone … he didn’t please everyone every time he spoke, when he spoke his mind … but when he spoke, what a mind it was. He was just dedicated to the life of humanistic education and a rigorous intellect as I’m sure almost all of his students can verify,” Thomas said.
“Anyone who met Richard couldn’t forget him. He had a presence that unfortunately for the department will never really be able to be filled,” Thomas said.
Professor Richard Kroll is survived by his wife Allison and son Theo.