Beloved Columbia Dean Dies of Injuries After Being Run Over

Police on Wednesday arrested the 24-year-old driver who hit and killed the former Columbia University professor and dean Peter Awn in January.
Police on Wednesday arrested the 24-year-old driver who hit and killed the former Columbia University professor and dean Peter Awn in January.

The former Columbia University professor and dean who was badly injured by a driver near the Morningside Heights campus last month died Sunday, the school announced today.

Peter Awn, most recently dean of the School of General Studies, had been in critical-but-stable condition in the neuro intensive care unit after he was run down by a driver on 116th Street on Jan. 25, the Columbia Spectator reported. Little else was known until Monday, when Columbia University President Lee Bollinger broke the news of his death to the entire community.

“Since his arrival on the Columbia campus more than four decades ago, no one has been a more beloved member of our community than Peter,” Bollinger said. “The grief we feel at his loss is overwhelming.

“This heartbreak is especially palpable for the General Studies community where, during his 20-year tenure as Dean, Peter came to personify the School’s character, its values, and its mission. In every way that mattered, he and the School were one. This unmatched legacy, in addition to his remarkable scholarship and teaching as Professor of Islamic and Comparative Religion, made Peter, without question, one of the essential leaders of Columbia University’s modern era.”

Bollinger spoke of Awn’s “rare gift” at making students feel that Columbia “was better for their presence.” Awn was dean of the General Studies school for 20 years before retiring in 2017.

He added “deepest condolences” to Awn’s surviving sisters Claudette Maraziti and Louise Crowley. The Spectator offered more details of Awn’s long career first as a religion professor and later as dean.

The NYPD did not release any information about the crash on the date of occurrence, which is typical of the agency when there is no death. A police spokesman did not have additional information on Monday night. No one has been charged in Awn’s death.

The area around Columbia University is a hotspot for crashes, likely owing to the high number of pedestrians at all hours of the day. Between January, 2017 and December, 2018, there were 61 total crashes in an area bounded by Cathedral Parkway, W. 120th Street, Amsterdam Avenue and Riverside Drive, resulting in injuries to 11 cyclists, 24 pedestrians and 33 motorists. There were 397 additional crashes that did not cause injuries to people.

  • nyc-cynic

    There are “automatic license plate reader” (“alpr”) and other cameras aplenty along that stretch of road. The cops should have been easily and quickly able to get the list of, say, 100 “cars of interest” during the time period he was struck.

    Yeah, it would take some shoe leather to figure out which of the ten cars that had the same blue paint (example made up) that scraped off on his clothing… was the right one. But that’s why they get the big bucks.

  • Marc Goodman

    The driver stayed at the scene.

  • nyc-cynic

    Thanks. None of the stories I read (Columbia Spectator, West Side Rag…) made that clear.

  • Daphna

    So sad. He deserved to live to enjoy his retirement. Wish this would result in demands for safer street designs.

    There was a plan by the DOT for a road diet of Riverside Drive that included road diets, pedestrian islands and more organized traffic flow on Riverside Drive, on West 116th Street and on West 120th Street. The Transportation and Uniformed Services Committee of Manhattan Community Board 9 chair watered down that plan. The leadership of the full Manhattan CB9 also fought the plan and watered it down. Result: West 120th Street got parking instead of the pedestrian islands; Riverside Drive did not get any of the pedestrian islands proposed and the road diet that was installed was for a shorter distance and affected fewer lanes than proposed. (I am not sure if the safety enhancements for West 116th Street were also eliminated by CB9 or not.) I wish that this death would result in outcry to stop re-appointing parking protectors and street safety opponents to CB9, or to at least stop letting those people be the chair and co-chair of the Transportation Committee for decades.

    There was also a plan from the DOT for safety improvements on Amsterdam Avenue from 110th Street to 155th Street that the chair of the Transportation Committee of CB9 watered down and that the full CB9 Board has successfully stalled implementation of for years. Tragic to deny the neighborhood these lifesaving street improvements. Result: continued danger, deaths and injuries on roads that could have received re-designs years ago.

  • JK

    The DOT installed pedestrian islands/physical medians on West 116th and at Broadway and Riverside and widened the sidewalk on the SE corner of 116th and RSD. No changes were made to Broadway or RSD proper, both of which continue to have speeding problems w vehicles exceeding 40mph. Agreed, when it comes to the well being of pedestrians, Manh CB 9 is a complete disgrace.

  • MatthewEH

    Weird thing here is that 116th Street anywhere near Columbia isn’t a high-speed road. It runs from Riverside to Broadway (and a T-intersection with Claremont halfway through), then stops at campus. Then east of campus it runs one block from Amsterdam to Morningside Drive. Drivers don’t usually have a chance to pick up much speed before they have to turn…

  • Knut Torkelson

    People go fast on Bway and Amsterdam though, and then turn. Can’t find any details but wouldn’t be surprised if the car was turning off of one of the avenues onto 116

  • Rider

    116th Street is excessively and unnecessarily wide both east and west of the main campus. If those blocks had been given proper road diets there’s a good chance this tragedy would never have happened. And the campus community would have benefited from the extra public space that would have been freed up from asphalt and car parking.

  • adb8999s

    Yeah, coverage of this death has been deeply unsettling. You would think that the dean fell down the stairs or something with how little focus there is on how the incident occurred.

    Construction worker died in a workplace accident? We need all the details now! But as long as the person who died was hit by a vehicle of some sort, all the ‘unfortunate accident’ language comes out instantly, regardless of whether the accident was indeed unfortunate or an accident at all.

  • HamTech87

    When will Columbia University take a leadership role in protecting people in Morningside Heights?

  • Daphna

    CB9 is a disgrace when it comes to pedestrians, cyclists, bus riders and mass transit riders. Their priority is maximizing curbside parking, and allowing for double parking. The few times I suggested daylighting at certain dangerous places, they fought against it immediately. They do not even want to hear that that is what the public in their neighborhood wants. They find ways to prevent the public from speaking at their meetings if they think it will be in favor of street safety.

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