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2 distinguished professors reflect on President’s Medal for Excellence


Only 57 of these awards given




One left Cambridge University in 1962 to enlighten Hoosiers with knowledge of Eurasian culture. The other, a tuba virtuoso, became the first brass musician inducted into the American Classical Music Hall of fame in June.

Aside from each holding the title of distinguished professor emeritus at IU, Denis Sinor and Harvey Phillips have little in common. But now, both are getting used to being recipients of one of the University’s highest honors.

Less than a month ago, IU President Michael McRobbie presented each with the President’s Medal for Excellence.

“President McRobbie awarded the medals because he wanted to call attention to the remarkable achievements of the two recipients,” IU spokesman Larry MacIntyre said.

“Both faculty members have had a major positive impact on the quality of our academic programs.”

The medals do not include monetary rewards, but MacIntyre said they represent one of the highest honors that McRobbie could bestow. The president distributes each award at his sole discretion.

Officials at the Office of University Ceremonies have recorded 57 recipients in total, including the Beaux Arts Trio and His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama.

Sinor and Phillips received the honor, a silver reproduction of the medal donned by the IU president at ceremonial occasions, at the IU Auditorium with family and friends present.

“I was very pleased,” Sinor said. “You’re always pleased when you get recognized, and I felt McRobbie really recognized what I was doing.”

In his 46 years of teaching, studying and working at IU, he founded the Denis Sinor Institute for Inner Asian Studies, created the department of Central Eurasian studies and established the Inner Asian and Uralic National Resource Center – the only one of its kind in the United States.

“I fell in love with the place when I got here,” Sinor said. “I sensed that you could do anything here. I still feel it.”

Phillips said he also found IU’s atmosphere appealing upon arriving in 1971.

“(I was able to) renew personal and professional contacts with many respected associates with whom I had worked, taught and performed over a busy career of serving music performance and music education,” Phillips said.

He received the title of distinguished professor after his seventh year working in the school of music.

“I loved teaching gifted students and being witness to their personal and musical growth,” Phillips said. 

“I saw my students successfully enter and experience success in the very demanding professions of music.”

Receiving the President’s Medal was “such an honor,” Phillips said.

He enjoyed the musical aspect of the ceremony, which included performances by Dan Perantoni, Jeffrey Nelsen, Charles Webb and Alec Wilder.

Sinor and Phillips currently reside in Bloomington. Sinor considers his tree-surrounded home a “refuge” and his favorite part of living in the United States. Phillips lives with his family on “Tuba Ranch” – a site of music festivals and horseback riding.

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