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The foundation is faculty
At Februarys meeting of the Skidmore trustees, our liveliest session showcased the facultyalways cited by students and alumni as the hallmark, the soul, of a Skidmore education. Five faculty members discussed both broad issues of educational philosophy and also the texture of daily faculty life: How do we integrate cross-cultural understanding throughout our curriculum? Why are small classes and independent study so important? How can we provide the very best, most personal liberal-arts education in the face of rising costs?
What brought the discussion alive were a handful of vignettes, stories from all corners of Skidmore, that capture the faculty-student relationship:
- Chemistry professor Ray Giguere engaged Patrick Harran 90 in important, hands-on research, urged him to consider graduate work rather than pro golf, and helped launch him on a career that recently yielded a ground-breaking discovery in anticancer research (a profile of Harran will appear in an upcoming Scope)
- Sociology professor David Karp is working with students to reconceive the campus judicial process using a community justice model
- English professor (and soon to be associate dean of the faculty) Sarah Goodwin has joined with the Skidmore News staff, advising them on reporting, writing, and journalism ethics
- Math professor Una Bray keeps fruit on her desk especially for a student who is battling an eating disorder
What is it about the Skidmore environment that attracts and sustains such dedicated teacher-scholars? (Is it something in the water? one trustee asked.) First, Skidmore has always been unambiguous about the centrality of teaching. Beyond that, the answer lies in leadership: generations of Skidmore faculty set the standards for hiring, mentored new members, put in long hours of teaching and advising while producing their own scholarly work, and participated actively in shaping the colleges direction and the life of the community.
There are few who better exemplify such dedication than Erwin Levine, professor emeritus of government. Erwin taught at Skidmore from 1961 to 1988, and he remained involved in the Skidmore and Saratoga Springs communities right up until his death this past January (see In Memoriam in this issue).
Erwin modeled every day what it means to be a teacher. His faculty colleagues remember his mentoring and his commitment to service and college governance. His students remember his high expectations, his wide knowledge, and his personal affection. They all remember his sense of humor.
I was fortunate to meet Erwin on one of my first visits to Skidmore, and Ive been an Erwin fan ever since. One of my favorite Erwin stories concerns a student hed nurtured and helped to gain admission to his own alma mater, Brown University, for grad school. During a phone conversation Erwin recognized that she was anxious and uncomfortable in her new situation, so he traveled to Brown and showed up on her doorstep to reassure and encourage her. (She later honored him by creating a Student Opportunity Fund in his name.)
Another classic Erwin story involves a recent reunion questionnaire. The twenty-fifth-reunion alumni were asked, If you could take a class from a Skidmore faculty member, who would it be and why? One replied: Erwin Levine, so I could prove to him I dont have a D mind.
For Erwin, there were hundreds of students like these, who valued his dedication to high standards, who strived to justify his confidence, who learned from him and loved him. Throughout our history, Skidmores culture of teaching and scholarship and service, of high standards and individual attention, has been built on the contributions of our faculty.