1988 Metcalf Cup & Prize

Roger Manvell, UNI/COM

roger-manvellEarlier this year, a faculty member of the College of Communication wrote to the Metcalf Committee in support of Professor Manvell’s nomination for the Metcalf Cup and Prize. Roger Manvell, she wrote, “was a teacher to his colleagues as much as he was to his students. He showed us by example how to be better teachers…he was in his…special way a teacher of teachers, and as such, his influence has been felt many times over at the College of Communication.”

Before Professor Manvell died on November 30, 1987, he had already been nominated for the Metcalf Prize and received persuasive support. After his death—as untimely as any death can be at 78—that support swelled in volume and persuasiveness. While there is no precedent for a posthumous Metcalf award, there was also no precedent for Roger Manvell. This award is made not from sentiment but in fulfillment of the purpose of the Metcalf awards: to recognize great teachers.

Professor Manvell’s mastery was internationally recognized. He had grown up with the motion picture. As one of his students put it, he “had the advantage of not merely knowing about the history and development of film art, but of having witnessed it, and to a large extent, having been a part of it.”

Roger Manvell came to Boston University after a full and successful career, at an age when many men retire. While for many years he had lectured and held occasional university appointments, it was at Boston University that he found a new vocation, richly documented in the memories of his students.

His students are unanimous about the learning and grace of his lectures and his exceptional availability outside class. It is one measure of the profoundly ethical quality of his vocation that when, inevitably, he assigned his own magisterial books as texts, he rebated the royalties to his students.

Indeed, many students who never enrolled in his classes have written about him. Residents of the Towers dormitory, where for a decade he and his wife, Francoise lived, remember how the Manvells opened their home to students, organized poetry and play readings, and made of the Towers an extension of the formal academic program. One of these students said of Roger Manvell, “he never stopped teaching.”

This judgment can be applied with special poignancy to the last weeks of Professor Manvell’s life. On October 9, he suffered a fall while returning to his office from class. Despite his pain, he insisted on completing his day’s appointments with his students. Hospitalized the next day, he began recording his lectures so that his course could continue. He spent the evening before major surgery recording a full week’s lectures. He meticulously supervised the grading of midterm papers so that they were returned to their authors as if nothing had happened to him.

Truly, he has never stopped teaching.