UMass Amherst English Professor Joseph Skerrett Receives Honorary Degree

AMHERST, Mass. - University of Massachusetts English professor Joseph Skerrett has been awarded an honorary Doctor of Literature degree from Saint Francis College, Brooklyn, N.Y. The award was bestowed at the college’s commencement ceremony June 9.

An alumnus of St. Francis, Skerrett was honored for his "outstanding commitment and dedication to education and for being a caring and beloved teacher to scores of men and women," according to St. Francis president Frank J. Macchiarola. Macchiarola added: "He is a distinguished and loyal alumnus of St. Francis College who represents the ideals of a liberal education with a strong Franciscan spirit of giving and caring."

While a student at St. Francis, Skerrett served as editor of the campus literary magazine, and was also active in the school newspaper. He received his bachelor of arts degree in English from St. Francis in 1964, then attended the creative writing program at Johns Hopkins University where he received his masters of arts degree in 1965. In 1975, Skerrett was awarded his Ph.D. in English from Yale University, where he specialized in 20th century African-American literature.

Skerrett joined the UMass English department in 1973. Among his numerous scholarly achievements, he has helped edit the "Encyclopedia of English Studies and Language Arts," and has served as past president of the academic society MELUS (Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States). Since 1987, Skerrett has also been the editor of the journal MELUS, and has helped promote and create opportunities for scholarship on ethnicity worldwide.

In 1996, Skerrett received the UMass Chancellor’s Award for Multiculturalism. Established in 1993, this annual award recognizes members of the UMass community who have distinguished themselves by increasing awareness of multicultural issues on campus.

In honoring Skerrett at the time, English department chair Stephen Clingman said: "He doesn’t make a big fuss about himself. He does the work and he’s been doing the work and he would be doing it even if there wasn’t an award. It’s due recognition for the quiet, but inspirational, work that Joe has done for many years."