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Esteemed Colleagues: Seven faculty honored with endowed chairs

Being named to an endowed professorship doesn’t just sound impressive, it is impressive, asserts Dean of the Faculty Phyllis Roth. "Not only is the individual occupant of an endowed chair accorded the visibility such an honor bestows, but through that individual the faculty as a whole receives additional regard," she says. Indeed comparing the number of endowed chairs is a common way of ranking faculty strength and reputation at American colleges and universities, especially among wealthy older institutions. A faculty chair at Skidmore currently requires an endowment of at least $1.5 million, which generates about $75,000 yearly toward salary and benefits as well as additional support–in the form of either release time or funding–for research, writing, or creative work.

Because of Skidmore’s modest origins and its history of change and financial challenge, the number of such plum posts at the College has been low–until recently. The first chair wasn’t established until 1981, and In the next 12 years only two more were added. But the Journey campaign of 1993-98 nearly quintupled the total, which now stands at 14. That’s still not enough "to do justice to the numbers of faculty members who are ready for such recognition," says Roth. (Of Skidmore’s 180 full-time faculty, 60 hold the rank of full professor.) "But at least," she adds, "the fact that these are rotating positions, with terms typically from three to five years, makes it possible to honor a greater number of deserving scholars."

This semester, five distinguished Skidmore faculty members began serving in newly established professorships and two more moved into existing chairs.

The Class of 1948 Chair for Excellence in Teaching celebrates Skidmore’s core mission. The Class of 1948 Professors are to be longtime, distinguished Skidmore faculty members who serve as mentors to new faculty and as models of faculty dedication to students. The inclusion of all disciplines in the chair’s description reflects the wide interests of its donors–nearly everybody in the Class of ’48, from music and art majors to nurses and educators.

"We saw this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

The chair was established with a collective gift in honor of the class’s 50th reunion in 1998. Early in the planning, when one ’48er offered a matching challenge to spur her classmates to aim for a gift as significant as a professorship, "at first we gulped," admits class president Elizabeth Van Ness Reid. But class fund leader (and trustee emerita) Jessica Weis Warren explains, "The challenge was a wonderful impetus, and we saw this as a historic, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity." Says Reid, "Not only does our class have a strong attachment to Skidmore, but we have a very special bond among ourselves, and that bond has never broken." (Class members attribute that bond to the hardships of World War II, when restricted travel and social outlets forced students to "stay on campus and make our own entertainment together.") Urged on by class officers Reid, Warren, Nancy D’Wolf, and Muriel Keema Flood, the group pulled together yet again and–after what Warren calls "a little friendly arm-twisting" at the very last minute–proudly presented the full gift at Reunion ’98.

"It was a remarkable endeavor," says Warren, "and a fun experience." And Reid reports the class is thrilled and honored "to have given something important that will bear our name for ever and ever."

Susan Kress, professor of English, was "utterly amazed" to be selected Class of 1948 Professor because "there are so many wonderful teachers here." She notes, "The fact that this is a class chair creates a link between their teachers and us. That the alumnae of 1948 wanted to recognize teaching is a real tribute to them and to Skidmore. Such a chair makes a statement on the meaningful quality of teaching, the commitment the teacher makes, and the interaction between students and teachers."

Kress enjoyed meeting with members of the Class of ‘48 last summer and says she felt a strong connection to these World War II—era students through her most recent book, an award-winning biography of Carolyn Heilbrun, a 1947 graduate of Wellesley College.

Even after 24 years of teaching at Skidmore, Kress says she’s still something of a student too. "Whenever I finish a course, I’m aware of what I might have done better. But with teaching, there is always a chance to begin again the next semester." Recently she has focused on how best to evaluate teaching and will deliver a paper on teacher evaluations later this year at the Modern Language Association annual meeting. She has become interested in the power and limitations of students’ evaluations of their teachers, and she wants to know more about what these evaluations can tell faculty members. Along with feeling "deeply honored" to be named to a chair for excellence in teaching, she confesses with a grin, "Now I feel scared–I wonder if I’ll live up to the title. What if I get a bad student evaluation?"

The Quadracci Chair in Social Responsibility supports faculty working in ethics and cultural study–for example, aspects of social responsibility and social movements; comparative analyses of policy, culture, or the role of art or education in civic projects; or similar explorations. The chair reflects the Quadracci family’s commitment to social ethics and community support.

Harry Quadracci is president of Quad/Graphics, a printing-industry giant that began in Wisconsin but has plants as far flung as Saratoga Springs; his wife, Betty, is president and publisher of Milwaukee magazine; and their son Joel ’91 is Quad’s vice president for sales.

A philosophy major, Joel says his art, business, and science courses also contributed to his strong preparation for the world of commerce. To return the favor, "I wanted to make a gift during President David Porter’s tenure," he says. "He arrived at Skidmore the same year I did, and he meant a lot to me." The Quadraccis chose to endow a faculty chair, says Joel, "because it would have a direct impact on students’ learning."

As for the focus of the professorship, social responsibility is Quad/Graphics’ middle name. The firm won a 1998 Diamond Award from Wisonsin Governor Tommy Thompson for its family-friendly employee benefits and fairness to women and minorities. Harry Quadracci has said that businesses have both a moral and an economic imperative to support their communities; after all, only a thriving community can afford to buy businesses’ products. And "that goes for our cultural infrastructure. We build it so kids can have a better education, so they can buy a book rather than buy a beer." For Joel, the chair "adds something new to Skidmore. It’s nice to give something a bit different."

Thomas Lewis, professor of English, was "stunned, delighted, and humbled" to be named Skidmore’s first Quadracci Professor. Endowed chairs, he says, are "wonderful" for the chairholders, but also for the donors, "because it gives them a special chance to affect the future of the school." Lewis considers the most noteworthy aspect of this chair to be the connections the Quadraccis are making "between what we are doing inside the academy and how we translate that into a better understanding of how society works."

"The relationship between what we create and how we act is very important to me."

Lewis points out, "We have had rapid advances in technological change, which is bringing about a revolution in the way we communicate and conduct our lives. It’s important to talk about how that change can be for the better." For example, "Radio enhances communication, but at the same time it enables people with orrible views to promulgate them." Similarly, he says, "Not much thought was given to the pollution or the devastated cities and neighborhoods brought about by highway construction, yet those highways brought significant progress as well."

Lewis says, "As the first holder of this chair, I feel it’s important to set a standard." Among the options he’s considering is giving a public lecture on social responsibility.

Throughout his 31-year career at Skidmore, Lewis –a writer and filmmaker as well as an English professor–has pursued eclectic research about a host of topics in American history and culture, from President Ulysses S. Grant and the Shakers to the Brooklyn Bridge, the development of broadcast radio, and the interstate highway system. In 1998 he won Emmy and Peabody awards for the PBS documentary he based on his book Divided Highways. Says Lewis, "The relationship between what we create and how we act is very important to me."

The Douglas Chair in American Culture, History, Literary and Interdisciplinary Studies recognizes excellent Skidmore faculty in all areas of American studies.

Gordon and Ann Moses Douglas ’56, P ’88, say they gave the Douglas Chair to express their commitment to education, to give thanks for two Skidmore degrees in the family (Ann majored in English, daughter Catherine ’88 in American studies), to salute the late Skidmore president Joseph Palamountain and honor their ongoing friendship with his wife, Anne Palamountain, and to celebrate the "Skidmore success story" carried forward by outgoing president David Porter. Says Gordon Douglas, "We’ve been so impressed with Skidmore," including its "heroic move to the new campus" led by Joe Palamountain, as well as its recent advances under Porter, "a champion of scholarly achievement."

Before becoming senior vice president at the Merck pharmaceutical firm, Gordon was professor and chair of medicine at New York Hospital—Cornell Medical Center; Kitty was a school teacher for 10 years and is now in films; and Ann earned a master’s in elementary education and taught school as well. As Ann says, "We’ve all worked in education; it’s extremely important to us. That’s why supporting a professorship seemed so right." In addition, Gordon and Ann have been involved with Princeton Project ’55 (led by Gordon’s Princeton classmate Ralph Nader), which engages undergraduates in community agencies around the country.

Joanna Schneider Zangrando, professor of American studies, was coordinator of Skidmore’s Liberal Studies program at its inception in 1985 and became program director again last year. A faculty member since 1976, she specializes in American material culture and social history, including issues of race, gender, class, and ethnicity, as well as women’s history, especially women and work.

Zangrando says, "Skidmore has many faculty deserving of mention for being good teachers and scholars. To be recognized as being among them is an honor." She’s especially pleased that the Douglas Chair "recognizes interdisciplinary pursuits. I feel it validates so much of what I do in my teaching and research." She’s also pleased because she taught Kitty Douglas, "a delightful student–lively and engaged, creative and imaginative–the kind of student you love having in class. Seeing alums invest in the faculty by establishing an endowed chair speaks to a fondness and regard for faculty they’ve known. There’s clearly a strong personal connection to the College that’s lovely."

"I find that I love being in the classroom to teach. It’s what I am."

Support for research is important to the new Douglas Professor. For several years she has been studying Helen Campbell, a Victorian-era social and domestic reformer "who was both far ahead of her time and very much a product of mid-19th-century societal expectations for women." Zangrando hopes to write a biography of Campbell–and her challenge will be balancing her goals as a researcher and writer with her ongoing responsibilities as a teacher. It’s not always an easy call, she explains, for "as I get older, I find that I love being in the classroom to teach. It’s what I am and I enjoy doing it."

The Courtney and Steven Ross Chair in Interdisciplinary Studies recognizes Skidmore’s emphasis on interdisciplinary study. Ross Professors are to be faculty whose work at the borders–perhaps between the arts and sciences, between preprofessional programs and the liberal arts, or within the Liberal Studies program–informs and inspires the College community.

The professorship is the gift of Courtney Sale Ross ’70; her late husband, Steven Ross, was chair and CEO of Time Warner Inc. Courtney Ross has opened art galleries, run an interior-design firm, and led her own documentary-film company. Among her projects, she made the acclaimed 1980 PBS television series Strokes of Genius, about five eminent abstract expressionist painters, and later produced a multimedia and film portrait of musician Quincy Jones. She currently runs the Ross School, which she founded in 1991 in East Hampton, N.Y., as an innovative, multicultural academy for integrative learning. The Ross Chair at Skidmore, she says, is an extension of "my dedication to interdisciplinary learning at all levels–it’s what I’m involved in day in and day out."

"My own vision was shaped by key teachers."

In accepting an honorary Skidmore doctorate in 1991, Ross thanked one of her favorite professors, artist John Cunningham, for urging her to reach for her goals and to fight "complacency, the mortal enemy of all creativity." In giving the Ross Chair, she underscores her belief that "teachers are our greatest resource." Says Ross, "My own vision was shaped by key teachers. Endowing a professorship goes right to that strength, supporting that source of inspiration for future students."

When Terence Diggory learned he had been selected as the first Ross Professor, he says, "I got the call at home on my speaker phone, so the whole family shared the moment."

Diggory, a 22-year member of Skidmore’s English faculty, believes that his commitment to interdisciplinary teaching and the Liberal Studies program (which he directs this year) is reinforced by his new title. "I feel more ‘honest’ now," he says with a smile. "Simply calling myself a professor of English doesn’t quite coincide with what I do. My work in Liberal Studies has been more than half of my teaching in recent years. My Liberal Studies and English teaching are both enhanced by this designation."

And so is his ability to balance teaching and research, thanks to the chair’s course-reduction option. "I find that often when I’m teaching, it is so absorbing a commitment that research goes on hold. But that affects my teaching: if there’s no time for scholarship, I can’t incorporate new research into my teaching."

For a number of years, Diggory has studied the group of 1950s artists and writers known as the New York School. One of his courses, in Liberal Studies 2, is "The New York School: Painting, Poetry, and Criticism." Diggory notes that it’s "a neat coincidence to be named the Ross Professor, because I know that Courtney Sale Ross has been friends with some of artists about whom I’ve written." Diggory and fellow editor Stephen Paul Miller of St. John’s University will soon publish the book The Scene of My Selves: New Work on New York School Poets. Among his other recent work is a piece on the role of the poets as mediators between the painters and the urban environment in New York, for an anthology due next fall.

The Robert Davidson Chair in Art honors distinguished artist-teachers who have a profound impact on their students, as did sculptor Robert Davidson, a Skidmore art professor from 1933 to 1971. While artists in a range of media are eligible for the Davidson Chair, special attention is given to faculty sharing the honoree’s interests in sculpture, life drawing, anatomy, and basic composition.

Robert Davidson and his wife, Maryetta–the couple shared a faculty appointment in fine and applied art–were not just teachers but also lifelong friends to the donors, Jean-Ellen Burns Ash ’37 and her husband, William J. Ash. "The Davidsons and I arrived at Skidmore the same year," recalls Jean-Ellen Ash. "He became perhaps the most positive influence in my art education, and in that of many of my classmates." She says she was especially proud of her Skidmore training when she went on to study sculpture at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and her instructor told her, "You haven’t got surface technique, but you sure have got the fundamentals!"

At the end of her senior year, Jean-Ellen Burns married Bill Ash, a Lehigh University senior. Today she is a retired journalist, longtime amateur artist, and avid gardener; he was president of New England Lime Company and retired early to go into investing. Although she disapproved of Skidmore’s growth, new campus, and switch to coeducation, she says he