Professor, union leader remembered for 30-year Rider career

By Thomas Regan


Former emeritus professor of history James H. Povian passed away at the age of 96.
Former emeritus professor of history James H. Povian passed away at the age of 96.

James H. Poivan, emeritus professor of history and leader in the formation of Rider’s Chapter of the American Association of University Professors, died at the age of 96 earlier this month.

“When we were unionizing, Jim had the courage to confront the then-dean to tell him the faculty is united and is not backing down,” Professor of History Thomas Callahan Jr. said. “He is the one guy who instilled courage in all of us, and every faculty member loved him.”

Poivan, who died as a Pennington resident, was a native of Paterson and spent his early years in an orphanage and in foster homes, before he was forced to leave high school to work in factories during the Great Depression.

He served three years in the army during World War II, where he saw action in Europe from Normandy to the war’s end with a Tank Destroyer Battalion in General Patton’s Third Army.

Poivan was one of the returning veterans to benefit from the G.I. Bill, graduating from Rutgers University summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa. He pursued his post-graduate studies for a year at Columbia University before earning his M.A. and Ph. D. from Rutgers.

Then, Poivan began his teaching career, where he began as a lecturer at University College, Rutgers, and concluded with a more-than-30-year career as a professor of history at Rider.

Emeritus Professor of History Barry Seldes, who said he and Poivan used to play tennis together, recalled Poivan’s strength as a leader on Rider’s faculty.

“He protected the young faculty members against the older guys who wanted to run the show,” Seldes said. “When the faculty began to unionize, he was at the forefront. No one was more instrumental in keeping us all together than [Poivan].”

Poivan’s list of accomplishments include being a sometime-Visiting Fellow of Wolfson College, Cambridge University, a member of the American Association of University Professors, the American Historical Association and the American Civil Liberties Union.

There will be no funeral service.

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