Rutgers University-Newark Mourns Loss of Longtime Professor and Proponent of Portuguese Studies

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Rutgers University-Newark (RU-N) students and scholars have lost a scholar and mentor with the death of Elpidio Laguna Diaz, Emeritus Professor of Spanish and former chair of the Department of Classical & Modern Languages in the Newark College of Arts and Sciences.  He passed away Jan. 25 at his home in South Carolina. He would have been 71 in February.

His widow, Dr. Asela Rodriguez de Laguna, retired from RU-N last year.

Laguna, who joined the RU-N faculty in 1972, served as chair from 1992-1998.  During his term as chair he helped to initiate the first academic agreement between RU-N and the Instituto Camões in Portugal, which paved the way for RU-N’s current Portuguese & Lusophone Studies Program by providing support for Portuguese studies as well as cultural programming on Portuguese, Luso-American and Brazilian topics.

During his long Rutgers career, Laguna served on numerous committees, helped establish student organizations such as the Portuguese American Club in the late 1980s, and served as advisor to many others. He also was a respected mentor to generations of students, even accompanying the first group of RU-N students to participate in the Organization of American States Model Assembly (1988) in Washington, DC. 

Laguna also twice directed the Summer Study Abroad Program in Salamanca, was co-director of the Azores Archaeological Project in 2000, and supported, participated or co-directed the First International Conference on the Dominican Republic, the 30th Annual Meeting of the International Society for the Comparative Study of Civilizations, and many other conferences.

In 1979 he developed an interdisciplinary Spanish concentration, the Hispanic Civilization and Language Studies Program, later renamed the Iberian and Ibero American major. From 1980 to 1994 he worked with students in the Honors Program.  But above all, he distinguished himself for his dedication to teaching literature: Spanish Medieval, Golden Age, and 19th and 20th century Spanish Peninsular  literatures.  

Laguna was vice president of the International Society for the Comparative Study of Civilizations (1998-2004), and a member of the New Jersey Council for the Humanities, the Real  Academia Norteamericana de la Lengua (NY), and the Historia a Debate group in Santiago, Spain.

He received a B.A. from the University of Puerto Rico with a degree in philosophy and French, an M.A from St. John’s University, and a Ph. D from the Graduate Center, City University of New York, in Hispanic Studies. 

In addition to his widow, Laguna is survived by three daughters, Asela Maria, Maria Eugenia and Alexandra Maria; their spouses, Emilio Mourao, Mark Graham and Richard Del Rio; seven grandchildren; a sister, Maria Laguna; and a brother, Arturo Laguna Diaz, from Puerto Rico.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be sent to the Department of Spanish and Portuguese Studies, Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, Conklin Hall, Newark, NJ 07102, toward creation of a “Laguna Study Abroad Award.” 

 Media contact: Carla Capizzi,