Remembering a Special Professor

An endowment in honor of the late Professor Peter Juviler

By Melissa Phipps

Jane Shahmanesh ’80, chose to attend Barnard for one reason: to study with Peter Juviler. A dedicated political science professor, Juviler had been a faculty member at Barnard since 1964, and established himself in the Cold-War era as a champion of individual human rights and freedoms. After a boyfriend at Columbia raved about a Modern Political Movements class he had taken with Juviler and co-professor Dennis Dalton, Shahmanesh knew she had to take the class as well. Although previously dreaming of leaving her hometown of Brooklyn for some far-off campus, she reconsidered: The opportunity to study with Juviler convinced her to stay in New York and attend Barnard. “I wanted to know him,” says Shahmanesh.

In his blazers and sporting a cropped beard, Juviler looked the part of an old school professor conjured up by central casting. His manners, too, seemed of another time. “He was a gentleman, he was genteel,” recalls Shahmanesh, adding that Juviler was respectful to everyone, and took a real interest in his students. “No matter what dumb things probably came out of your mouth, he made you feel like you were the most interesting person in the world.” She took every course that Juviler taught at the time, and he was her advisor from day one. When she had a falling out with her family that threatened her Barnard tuition money, Juviler helped her to line up loans.

Shahmanesh kept in touch with the professor for more than 30 years after graduation, thinking of him as a mentor and a friend—one who was supportive and non-judgmental even when Shahmanesh eventually embarked upon what became a successful career in corporate law. He later helped her find a way to make more of a contribution to human rights and to get re-involved in the Barnard community.

When Professor Emeritus Juviler passed away in May of this year, she felt a profound loss and determined to do something appropriate to honor his memory. Together with Juviler’s family, she established the Peter Juviler Fund, a scholarship to help future generations of Barnard students study human rights at home and abroad.

It was study abroad that helped form Juviler’s work. After completing his graduate studies at Columbia, he conducted post-graduate research at Moscow State University from 1959 to 1960, and would travel there regularly throughout his career. In 1983, he became the first U.S. scholar to give human rights lectures to the USSR Academy of Sciences and Moscow State University Faculty of Law. In the post-Cold-War period, Juviler analyzed human rights achievements, closely watching as issues of minority rights and ethnic tolerance arose in the post-Cold-War states. During his career he co-edited several books and was the author of two, Freedom’s Ordeal: The Struggle for Human Rights and Democracy in Post-Soviet States, and Revolutionary Law and Order: Politics and Social Change in the USSR. He also wrote a great many articles, commentaries, and book reviews. Shahmanesh notes his writings on human rights issues remain relevant. “Every single one of Peter’s works still holds up. It’s remarkable. He was so ahead of his time.”

Just as accomplished was his work at Barnard, where he helped grow the human rights major. He eventually co-founded and became director of the program at Barnard. He was also co-director of the Center for the Study of Human Rights and co-chair of the University Seminar on Human Rights at Columbia.

What was truly remarkable, however, was his work with students. In fact, while Juviler’s bond with Shahmanesh was real, it was not unique. She recalls long lines outside his office during the hours he scheduled for student consultations that often went on into the evening. On a memorial board at, friends, colleagues, and students shared memories of Juviler, with several people referring to him as a role model, mentor, or inspiration.

In researching donor opportunities for the Peter Juviler Fund, Shahmanesh was granted access to the professor’s records, where she found information on more than 3,000 students going back to the mid-’60s. There were papers, exams, and letters of recommendation. With a good deal of research on Google and LinkedIn, she was able to make contact with a portion of these former students. A large percentage of them had gone on to have careers in public service, public affairs, nonprofits, non-governmental organizations, and law. “These are people who are well known, who have made a major impact. If you looked at this list, you’d fall off your chair,” she says. “I think it’s because of the way this man touched them.”

With an initial endowment goal of $100,000, Shahmanesh continues to try to reach alumnae on the list to seek support for the fund. She believes many of the professor’s former students will jump at the chance to contribute in order to give something back to Juviler’s memory and support the continuation of his work.

“He taught seminars where the vast majority of students were women, and he made every single person there feel confident enough to stand up and say what she believed,” Shahmanesh recalls. “He made me never afraid to ask a question. He changed my life.”

To read tributes or learn how to support the fund:

To learn more about Peter Juviler:

Latest IssueSpring 2021