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In Memory of Robert Jervis

Posted Dec 12 2021
Robert Jervis, 1940-2021

Professor Robert Jervis, a giant in the field of international relations who taught at SIPA and Columbia for more than four decades, died at his home in Manhattan on December 9 following a battle with lung cancer.

Jervis was the Adlai E. Stevenson Professor of International Politics in Columbia's Department of Political Science and at SIPA, where he was also a longtime member of the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies. His passing is mourned by generations of his mentees—countless Columbia students as well as hundreds of visiting international scholars—and by political science scholars across the globe.

“Professor Jervis was a member of the SIPA and Columbia University community for more than 40 years and by any estimation, one of the most consequential and groundbreaking scholars of international relations theory, security policy, and decision-making in the modern era,” said Dean Merit E. Janow of SIPA. “He was an incredibly generous teacher and mentor to generations of his students, and a treasured colleague, member of SIPA’s executive committee, and trusted and wise advisor to numerous deans, including myself.”

Jervis received his BA from Oberlin College in 1962, where he developed an interest in nuclear strategy and was influenced by Thomas Schelling’s Strategy of Conflict and Glenn Snyder’s Deterrence and Defense. He then earned his PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1968 before two stints teaching at Harvard and UCLA. Jervis began teaching at Columbia in 1980, where he became an integral part of the political science community and made an immeasurable impact at the Saltzman Institute.

Jervis’ published literature has been immensely influential in redefining the field of international relations and national security. Jervis’ scholarship continues to define the field to this day, and two of his seminal books, The Logic of Images in International Relations (1970) and Perceptions and Misperception in International Politics (1976), are as relevant and influential today as they were when they came out. Jervis’ writing received many awards and honors throughout his career in recognition of his immense contributions to the field. His System Effects: Complexity in Political Life (1997) was a co-winner of the American Political Science Association’s (APSA) Psychology Section Best Book Award, and The Meaning of the Nuclear Revolution (1989) won the Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order. 

Aside from his membership in the Saltzman Institute, Jervis was president of the American Political Science Association in 2000-01 and received the National Academy of Science’s award for behavioral sciences contributions to avoiding nuclear war. He was also a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and was a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the American Philosophical Society, the National Academy of Sciences, and the British Academy. Jervis chaired the Historical Review Panel for the Central Intelligence Agency for 10 years and served as an intelligence community associate.

Along with his vast scholarly influence, Jervis will be remembered for his power to convene, his kind heart, humorous personality, and dedication to and love for his students. He is survived by Kathe, his wife of 54 years, daughters Alexa (Greg Racz) and Lisa (Jay Schwartz), grandsons Daniel and Joshua Racz, step-grandson Ezra Schwartz, brother Steven (Susan Weltman),  brother-in-law of Zarine Weil and the late Richard Weil, sister-in-law Zarine Weil, nephews Aaron Weil (Linda Perry), Darius Weil, and niece Delna Weil.

Adapted, with gratitude, from content posted by the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies.