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Summer 2000

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Ciancio honored at retirement

     English professor Ralph Ciancio has retired after 35 years of service to the College. As a special honor, his colleagues have created the Ciancio Prize for Excellence in Teaching, to be awarded each year to an outstanding Skidmore professor.

     Ciancio received a B.A. from Duquesne University in 1957, an M.A. in 1958 from Penn State, and a Ph.D. in 1965 from the University of Pittsburgh. As a teacher at Carnegie Tech (now Carnegie Mellon University), he was recommended to Skidmore as being “extremely popular with his students, and for all the right reasons.” And since joining Skidmore in 1965, his popularity has never waned. One student wrote, “Professor Ciancio . . . is unrivaled as a lecturer, and his ability to spark enthusiasm in the entire class creates an intellectually charged atmosphere each meeting.” Another observed, “This is the first English course I’ve ever had where I left the classroom before my brain did!”

     In the words of a faculty colleague, “His classroom persona combines—perhaps uniquely—energy, theater, vibrant discussion, provocative illustration, informative lecture, rigor, and pleasure.” In fact, Ciancio’s first career was as a performer. He was an acrobat and juggler whose troupe appeared on Milton Berle’s TV show and toured nationally with Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy—until he was drafted in 1951. It was in the army that he took up reading, and after his discharge he used his veteran’s benefits and a number of odd jobs to work his way through college and graduate school.

     A scholar of 20th-century literature, Ciancio has published on Richard Wright, Eugene O’Neill, William Styron, Saul Bellow, William Faulkner, Sherwood Anderson, Nathaniel West, Albert Camus, and Vladimir Nabokov, who was the subject of his Moseley Faculty Research Lecture at Skidmore in 1997. Ciancio has said, “As a teacher of literature and language I have two basic commitments—to the integrity of my discipline and the text, on the one hand, and to furthering the capacity of undergraduates to grow in literacy, mind, and imagination, on the other. The challenge of doing justice to both commitments is my inspiration.”

     In addition to literature, Ciancio has taught expository writing. He was also involved in Liberal Studies from early on and has many times taught an interdisciplinary course titled “Fact, Fiction, and Reality.” He has served as a Liberal Studies faculty mentor as well. He has said, “If I manage to . . . make novels and poems live in a single student’s memory and thereby inspire a lifelong romance with the written word . . . that of course is my and every other teacher’s dream.”

     A key figure in faculty governance, Ciancio served twice as chair of the Committee on Appointment, Promotion, and Tenure and sat on committees governing curriculum, academic freedom, and educational policies. He chaired the English Department from 1980 to 1985. Beyond campus, he has been a featured guest at countless alumni clubs and other Skidmore gatherings around the country, most recently as a touring narrator for the multimedia program that celebrated the Journey campaign and honored outgoing Skidmore president David Porter.

     But it’s teaching that he clearly loves most. “I always enjoyed the classroom, so I know I’ll miss that,” he admits. Still, his plans include plenty of other joys, first among them “playing with my grandchildren” (the offspring of Claude ’87 and Paul ’91). Between European travels with wife Mimi (a longtime tutor and academic counselor at Skidmore), Ciancio also hopes to complete a book on visual representation in the works of Nabokov. And privately, he’s already pondering community service or other roles that would put him back in his element—at the front of a classroom full of rapt students. —SR

Ciancio prize growing fast

To honor their longtime colleague, members of the English Department and other faculty have started a fund to establish the Ralph Ciancio Prize for Excellence in Teaching. Some of Ciancio’s former students were invited to join the early contributors, and quickly some $12,500 was raised toward the $20,000 fund goal.

The Ciancio Prize will be awarded each spring to a faculty member who brings to the classroom the same vigorous, challenging, and inspiring quality of teaching that marked Ciancio’s career. Nominations will be solicited and winners chosen by the Faculty Development Committee.

To contribute or find out more, write to Skidmore’s Development Office or call 518-580-5660.


© 2000 Skidmore College