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Teaching is a gift, in more ways than one
When David Porter first came to campus in 1987 to interview for the position of Skidmore president, his lively, playful intelligence won him a standing ovation. Now the president emeritus—who is both a classicist and a musician—has returned to campus to inaugurate the Tisch Family Distinguished Professorship. While his twelve-year presidency was filled with accomplishments, it never eclipsed his core passion for teaching, and for the next five years he will be fully engaged in one of the (several) things he loves best: instructing undergraduates.
The new professorship also honors another Skidmore legend: benefactor and trustee Wilma “Billie” Stein Tisch ’48, whom Porter has known for more than twenty years and considers “a wonderful, wise friend.” The endowed chair was a surprise from her sons, presented to her (in the form of a miniature wooden chair) at the family’s celebration of her eightieth birthday. Established with a gift to Skidmore of $3 million from Andrew, Daniel, James, and Thomas Tisch, the professorship provides salary, benefits, and an allowance for travel, research, books, and other scholarly and pedagogical needs. With that one gift, says Andrew Tisch, “we are thrilled to be able to honor Billie, Dr. Porter, and Skidmore.” Adds Susan Kress, VP for academic affairs, “The generous inclusion of Skidmore in the celebration of their remarkable mother is tremendously moving and makes us feel part of the extended Tisch family.”
As Tisch Professor, Porter will be based in Skidmore’s classics department, teaching literature in translation as well as in Latin and Greek. This semester he starts with Euripides’ Bacchae (in the original Greek) for the department’s advanced poetry seminar; next may be a course on the Roman poet Horace and courses in the introductory and intermediate language sequences. “David seems to have energy to burn, in addition to being a superb scholar and a talented and generous instructor,” observes department chair Dan Curley. “Our students will reap the benefits of his knowledge—and even of his truly atrocious puns,” for which he became notorious as president. Porter may also teach a course in the English department; his newest book is On the Divide: The Many Lives of Willa Cather.
Since retiring from Skidmore in 1999, Porter has been the Harry C. Payne Visiting Professor of Liberal Arts at Williams College, enjoying what he calls the “leisure” to “prepare for classes, to do research and to write, and to play the piano.” Last semester he taught at Indiana University in Bloomington, in the latest in a line of appointments as a Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar and sought-after lecturer. He has published seven books as well as numerous articles in academic and popular publications. And he has presented piano concerts around the country, including a 2008 Skidmore performance of the Charles Ives Concord Sonata, a challenging work that took him two years to master. Fortunately, Porter believes both in “the sheer delight of using one’s mind well” (he calls it “serious play”) and in the crucial importance of “learning to do something difficult well.”
Right now Porter is looking forward to his second stint at Skidmore, when “teaching will occupy the great majority of my time.” That was good news to the Skidmore faculty, reports Kress; at the meeting where she announced that Porter would be the inaugural Tisch Professor, the faculty once again “rose as one for a spontaneous standing ovation.” —BAM
Editor’s note: Click here for more about Porter’s first tenure at Skidmore.