Retro Mason: Clarence J. Robinson Professors 1984

black and white photo of a group of professor in front of bookcases

When people think of Clarence J. Robinson and his legacy at George Mason University, they often think of his $5 million bequest to the university on his death in 1983, the largest gift the young university had ever received, and the things the university was able to do with that money. But Robinson’s true legacy goes far beyond a monetary contribution and hinges on a conversation and a single piece of advice: “If you get the people first, the bricks and mortar will follow.”

George Johnson, Mason president from 1978 to 1996, took that conversation to heart and used those words to build not only the well-regarded Robinson Professors program, but also a university of national stature.

“He was adamant that if you concentrated on just building, you would end up with empty halls,” says Johnson of the late Northern Virginia businessman. “He felt it was more important to get quality people first.”

Created in 1984, the Clarence J. Robinson Professors Program embodies Mason's commitment to making high-quality education accessible to undergraduate students. Established through a bequest from the late Clarence J. Robinson, the program attracts preeminent academics and award-winning scholars dedicated to teaching undergraduates.

A 1985 article in George Mason magazine has it took Johnson and a review committee seven months to find the first three Robinson Professor, which they hired from a pool of 250. They were: philosophy professor Thelma Lavine, Latin American scholar Roberto Márquez, and Middle East historian Shaul Bakhash.

Pictured here is many of the Robinson Professors with Johnson in 1995.

Photo credit: University Libraries' Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University Photograph Collection, 1950s-1999.

Read more about the Robinson Professor Program.