Yale Medievalist Turns Down Tenure; Harvard Temporarily Delays Search

Robinson Cites Personal Factors

A Yale University professor has turned down a Harvard tenure offer, getting back the English Department's search for a medieval scholar.

Fred C. Robinson, widely considered one of the world's foremost authorities on Old English, said yesterday that he communicated his decision to Harvard officials last week.

Matters of Real Estate

The decision "certainly had nothing to do with anything I found wrong about Harvard," said Robinson, who spent the last semester in Cambridge as a visiting professor in the English Department.

Speaking from his New Haven home, Robinson cited personal difficulties--"matters of real estate, moving, and that sort of thing"--as the primary reasons for staying where he is. "As I got closer and closer to looking at the concrete specifies of moving, it became impossible," he explained.


Dreaded Decision

Harvard English Department chairman Larry D. Benson described Robinson's decision as "dreadful." "We're very, very sorry he turned us down. We think he's splendid," he said.

Benson acknowledged that Robinson's decision, coupled with the retirement of one of Harvard's prominent scholars in the field, Porter Professor of English Morton W. Bloomfield, would leave the Department a little "shorthanded" in medievalists.

In addition to seeking a medievalist, the Department is engaged in a "desultory search" for a Victorian literary specialist, Benson said.

No Plans

"We have no plans to do anything in the immediate future." Benson said of the department's search for a medievalist. "We're going to have to sit down and think," he added.

Bloomfield and another Harvard medievalist, Lowell Professor of the Humanities William Alfred, yesterday joined Benson in expressing regret about Robinson's decision to stay at Yale. Both said there was a wide pool of possible candidates for the position, but that Harvard had not yet focused on any particular scholars.

"There are other good people, but we would have preferred him," Bloomfield said. "We know his methods and we like his methods," he said of Robinson, whom he called" a very fine candidate perhaps the best."

Citing Robinson's personal commitments in New Haven, Bloomfield said, "Benson and I, we both had our doubts he would leave Yale."

Money Not a Factor

Robinson said that money had nothing to do with his decision. He acknowledged that Yale had returned with a counter-offer to Harvard's offer of tenure, but he noted. "It didn't really make a great deal of difference. Both places more or less made it clear that they didn't want it to be a question of money."

He termed his decision final.

Yale English Department chairman Thomas Whitaker refused to comment yesterday.

Robinson lived in Mather House last semester during his stay at Harvard. Before that, he taught for a decade at Yale, in addition to stints at Cornell and Stanford. A graduate of the University of North Carolina, he is the author of a textbook on Anglo-Saxon, two bibliographies of writings on Old English, and more than 50 articles on various topics concerning the English language.

Robinson's decision is the second personnel move in the English Department announced in the last week. On Friday, Columbia Puritan specialist Sacvan Bercovich said that he had accept a Harvard tenure offer.