Indiana University President Michael A. McRobbie confers the President’s Medal for Excellence on professor Alvin Rosenfeld. Photos by Liz Kaye, Indiana University


In early April, Alvin Rosenfeld, 81, a distinguished scholar of Jewish literature and Holocaust studies at Indiana University, commented that he was “surprised and delighted” that Indiana University had plans to honor him for his 50 years of service to the university. However, when the April 28 event took place, it turned out to be a bigger surprise than he had anticipated.

In a special ceremony, IU President Michael A. McRobbie bestowed upon Rosenfeld the IU President’s Medal for Excellence, the highest honor an IU president can confer.

“That was a total surprise,” says Rosenfeld. “And whoever did know was good at keeping secrets, because I didn’t have a clue.”

Rosenfeld says he was “thrilled” by the honor.

The event, held in the Grand Hall at historic Union Station in Indianapolis, included some 150 people, among them Rosenfeld’s daughter and two of his grandchildren, who came from Israel for the celebration.

“Also, my older brother from Philadelphia, almost 85 and still practicing medicine,” Rosenfeld says. “The Rosenfelds don’t retire.” 

Rosenfeld is the Irving M. Glazer Chair in Jewish Studies and a professor of English in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences. In 1973, he established the Robert A. and Sandra S. Borns Jewish Studies Program and served as its director for 30 years. The Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism was established in 2009; Rosenfeld serves as its founding director. In March, the institute held its fourth global conference on contemporary anti-Semitism, hosting more than 50 scholars from 15 countries.

At the conference, President McRobbie announced that Rosenfeld had endowed the Erna B. Rosenfeld Professorship in the Borns Jewish Studies Program in memory of his late wife. Erna Rosenfeld worked for IU for more than 35 years; she was born in Romania in 1939 and died in September 2016. The Rosenfelds were married for 50 years. They have two children and five grandchildren.

“Like me, Erna took anti-Semitism very seriously,” Rosenfeld says. “The professorship I established is to memorialize her in perpetuity. And, along with that, I’ve also established a scholarship in her name that encourages students to do research in anti-Semitism.”