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In memoriam: Arnold Dunn, 85

Professor emeritus strove to ensure that students received a well-rounded education

by Susan Bell
Professor Emeritus Arnold Dunn
Arnold Dunn in 1987 (Photo/courtesy of USC University Archives)

Professor Emeritus of Biological Sciences Arnold Dunn, who taught at USC for 47 years and served as president of the USC Faculty Senate and as associate dean of the USC Graduate School, has died. He was 85.

Dunn died peacefully of natural causes on April 17 at the assisted living facility in Pasadena, Calif., where he had resided for the past 18 months, his son, Jonathan Dunn, said. He was surrounded by his family.

Arnold was a very special person … a gentle soul.

Robin Romans

“We are grateful for everything Arnold taught us about learning, music, art and the beauty of nature,” Dunn’s family wrote in a tribute. “We are especially proud of the legacy of joyful learning and energetic scholarship that he leaves to the USC community across all academic disciplines.”

Eastern roots

Born on Jan. 31, 1929, in Rochester, N.Y., Dunn was the son of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. His father, Alexander, was a tailor and rabbinical scholar. His mother, Dora Cohen, a labor and civil rights activist, was a strong supporter of women’s suffrage and workers’ rights.

Dunn earned his undergraduate degree in physiology from George Washington University in Washington, D.C., in 1950 and a PhD in biochemistry from the University of Pennsylvania in 1955. He then completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the New York University School of Medicine, where he was an assistant professor, before joining the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences in 1962.

From 1962 to 2009, Dunn was a professor of cellular and molecular biology. He was among the first to use the isotope tritium to study glucose metabolism, researching insulin and other hormones that regulate metabolism. He published more than 80 scientific articles and was a visiting professor at such distinguished institutions as the Weizmann Institute of Science and Hebrew University in Israel and a visiting fellow at Princeton University’s Department of History.

His many contributions to the USC community include service as president of the USC Faculty Senate and as associate dean of the USC Graduate School. Dunn also maintained a faculty presence in USC’s chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, where he served on the executive board.

A love of the arts

Associate Provost Robin Romans remembered Dunn as an inspirational teacher.

“Arnold was a very special person,” Romans said. “He was a gentle soul, an eager mentor to students and faculty, a Renaissance man who lived along the intersection of science and the humanities. He loved poetry, Latin, German, history, the worlds of the arts and sciences, and his many students.”

Douglas Capone, holder of the William and Julie Wrigley Chair in Environmental Studies and professor and chair of biological sciences, echoed those remarks.

“Arnie was an institution in biological sciences — a true scholar with a legendary breadth of interests, and highly respected by students and colleagues alike.”

During his long career, Dunn received many honors and awards, including the USC Associates Award for Excellence in Teaching, the USC Associates Award for Creativity in Research and the USC Raubenheimer Distinguished Faculty Award, as well as twice receiving the Faculty Excellence Award from Mortar Board, the national honor society for college seniors.

“Interaction with students was the most important thing to our father, and he offered fatherly support, opening not just his office but his heart to them,” David Dunn said. “One of the reasons why he twice won a student-voted award was not just the excellence of his teaching, but who he was as a human being. He touched many lives.”

In 1995, Dunn received an honorary degree from Hebrew Union College.

USC legacy continues

His family said it was heartened that his legacy will continue through the Arnold S. Dunn Renaissance Scholarship for the Sciences, Arts and Humanities, an award created in 2002 for students pursuing simultaneous studies in sciences and humanities.

In 2004, Dunn received a Faculty Lifetime Achievement Award from USC for his outstanding contributions as a scholar, teacher, mentor and colleague.

“An extraordinarily popular professor, Professor Dunn is known for his wit and what his colleagues describe as a ‘ferocious’ commitment to ensuring that students receive a challenging, well-rounded education,” read the citation from the convocation program at the academic awards ceremony in 2004. “Passionate about science and the humanities, he skillfully blends the technical qualities of the scientist with the aesthetic sensitivities of the artist in his teaching and in his scholarship.”

Dunn loved Renaissance and Baroque art, classical music and New Orleans jazz, making several trips to Preservation Hall in Louisiana. While visiting his son, David, in the Czech Republic, Dunn made a special journey to visit the birthplace of Gustav Mahler, one of his favorite composers.

In addition to his fondness for European travel, he was a nature lover and a lifelong hiker.

Dunn is survived by his wife, Doris, sons David and Jonathan, granddaughters Nuriyyeh Brett and Tajalli Dunn and great-grandson Caleb Brett.

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