College of Social Studies - Newsletter 1995Table of Contents:
- In the Beginning
- The Sophomore Year
- The CSS Today
- Then & Now
- Mr G. & Mother Witch
- Celebration in Honor of Anne Cresciamanno
- Upcoming Issues
- What Is To Be Done?
This newsletter aims to provide a last piece of institutional machinery in the construction of the CSS polity. Despite their good work, the founding fathers--Messrs Golob, Mink and Meier--over-looked one element in 1959. That element, apparent only after the attainment of enduring success, was some sort of provision for the "hereafter," linking CSS Present into a single community of affection with that much larger group of CSS Past.
This particular means of making that link came out of a conversation between Peter Kilby and Guy Baehr at the latter's 25th reunion in 1993. The upshot was an agreement between us, with the help of John Driscoll CSS '62, to co-edit a newsletter that would have certain distinctive features. It would come out once a year, probably in April so that, inter alia, it might contain alumni/ae signaling as to attendance at the upcoming June Reunion. Each issue would be devoted, apart from "news," to a single theme. And, we would promise never to taint the enterprise by asking for, or talking about, money; that worthy task is well attended to by others.
We aim to keep the goal of this undertaking simple: reconnecting to and celebrating a community forged during three precious years. For the CSS Present an operational corollary of that goal is the possibility of calling upon some 700 former members as an attentive constituency, both for advice as we pursue the ever-unfinished business of curriculum reform and, if need be, for "voice" with the President and Trustees in turbulent future times.
In the Beginning
John Driscoll 1959-1962
In the beginning there were Gene Golob, Louis Mink, Gerald Meir, Ken Underwood, Mort Tenzer. If it had been baseball, it would have been a "Murderers' Row" of faculty strength. Others who would have a formative impact later were around, including Bill Barber and Bob Benson. And behind them all was the creative and managerial spirit of Victor Butterfield. Ann Crescimanno was downstairs in the History Department, not quite yet the beloved "Mother Witch" she was to become, but already a part of us. In her place as Administrative Assistant to the new program was Elden Jacobsen, a divinity graduate student from Yale. In all, a high-powered team ready to embark on something very new. I think it says something that the enthusiasm and dedication that faculty showed in the first days of the fall were evident the day we graduated and, indeed, when we visited later as alumni. To a person we felt blessed.
Nor were the first, pioneering students "chopped liver." I have no idea how the selections were made then, or how many applicants to the first class were turned down and for what reasons. It has always seemed to me that I was the only truly "experimental" student in the first group: a jock, a Chi Psi and a decidedly average freshman student. The others were either smart or accomplished, and usually both.
In the beginning the CSS was the unstructured part of Wesleyan. The "normal" parts of Wesleyan were filled with requirements, grades and regular tests. That may seem odd today, but then we were looked on with a mixture of curiosity, envy and resentment because while others were sweating through the regular grind, we weren't. At least not in the same way. We were "free" of the superficial preoccupation with grades; we could focus on learning for its own sake. Well, some of us could; and for them the ability to focus on one tutorial for ten weeks along with a colloquium on epistemology each week was true liberation. For others of us the novelty of no grades soon wore off and we slipped into a shifting and ambiguous "gray" zone of no bearings. Lacking the regular extrinsic motivations, this group did a lot of floating.
The quarters of the CSS were in Harriman Hall above the PAC as they are today, but they were on the third floor. The south end of the hall was configured much as it is today: a large common room open to the library and wrapping around the kitchen. The hallway reached north for about a third of the building and contained three tutorial rooms, two on the east side and one on the west. A small office for the program's Executive Secretary and the program's secretary was also on the west side of the hall. A door separated the CSS quarters from the regular dorm rooms that extended down the rest of the hall. Most of these rooms were occupied by CSS students, though some of the latter had non-CSS roommates. The fourth floor was all dorm rooms and most were occupied by non-CSS men. The close proximity may have fostered a parochialism for some, but it was convenient and it certainly contributed to the esprit de corps among the first group. A CSS student was not required to live in Harriman, but it seemed to correlate with stronger program performance and identity.
The CSS quarters bordered on the opulent. This was, after all, the Wesleyan of Xerox wealth and the French provincial chairs and marble coffee tables flavored by a copy of the Bayeux Tapestry on the west wall all told us that somebody cared. If somehow the quarters and the furnishings didn't tell you how special you were, the weekly luncheons, monthly banquets and speakers at both should have gotten the message across. Even in those days of 6:1 student-faculty ratios it was way beyond the ordinary for faculty to eat lunch with students every week. I thought the food was good and they certainly didn't skimp on the portions which often meant more than one bobbing head once the speaker got well into his or her talk. But often the speaker was so good that dozing wasn't a problem. There were Wesleyan faculty (I remember a spanking new Willie Kerr sitting in front of the Bayeux Tapestry in one of the French chairs giving a talk on medieval notions of "virtue"...ver-TOO...); and other faculty (Prof. Abraham Kaplan a philosopher from Boston University, I think, gave a marvelous talk on the Tales of the Hasidim. After that I knew that if somebody as warm, witty and wise as Abraham Kaplan believed in the same God I did, I couldn't be all wrong); and such an array of outsiders: politicians, reporters, activists. Of course, at one monthly banquet, we all had dinner and conversation with Martin Luther King, Jr. who was a friend of religion professor John Maguire.
But as enriching as the outside visitors were, the real treasure lay in our own faculty and the commitment they made to the program. Ask any of the earliest students and they will have countless anecdotes about faculty concern and attention. If there were real issues between the students and the faculty in those early days, I can't recall them. What we saw that first year were prestigious teachers who became friends. They pushed ideas; they tried to stretch frames of reference; they tried to draw us into the things they knew how to think about. However successful they were, they were attentive. There was a lot of intelligence; a lot of patience; and a lot of humor.
We saw Golob, Meier and Mink as a kind of triumvirate with Tenzer and Underwood close to that stature and part of the ruling structure. Foremost was Golob; as much as any other person, his spirit drove the program's early days. All cast formative shadows, but Golob, his ideas, his "dicta" and his counsel, were everywhere. Short in stature, Gene Golob was a big person. While he was a person of unquestioned integrity, you could not always trust him. Invariably, he seemed to have greater confidence in your abilities than you dared believe true. He also believed in the program and seemed immune from any pessimism people might have in the short term. Gene took the long view and could always find a scenario in which "all things ultimately worked to the good of he who had faith."
The Sophomore Year
Tav Nyong'o 1992-1995
"You know," a friend of mine observed to me recently, "we've all become a lot more like Professor Miller this year."
In many ways Professor Cecilia Miller's European History tutorial was the quintessential CSS experience. This is not to diminish the others who taught; Don Moon in Social Theory, Peter Kilby in Economics and Tony Daley in Government all inspired and challenged us. But Miller's class was a sort of microcosm of all the joys and outrages of sophomore year.
As a scholar, Miller exemplifies the interdisciplinary spirit in the CSS; she was educated in both economics and intellectual history, and when she returns next fall, will be teaching the Social Theory philosophy course. As a teacher, she was an unrepentant taskmaster, assigning more weekly readings than anyone else, and, unlike the others, actually showing signs that she wanted us to read it all. She was addicted to precision and qualification in all things, from our writing style to the pronunciation of German names in class, and she beat into us a very old-fashioned (albeit very useful) three point/counterpoint structure for our essays, each point containing a quote which was to be analyzed, as I eventually caught on to, for its literary qualities. Her ur-text was Introduction to Contemporary Civilization in the West, a collection of primary documents, reference to which was next to godliness in her classes.
Sophomore year in the CSS is often accused of being Eurocentric and traditionalist, which is an incomplete assessment, to say the least. Miller brought in strong perspectives on class and gender issues in Europe, and even a tantalizing hint of postmodernism in the form of Joan Scott's critique of E.P. Thompson (Miller taught a class on Foucault in the previous year). Daley relied heavily on relative new (and primarily left) scholarship in political science. Only Kilby and Moon, whose mandates were to cover the particular histories of their disciplines, taught from texts old and unfashionable enough to be included on 'Great Books' lists everywhere.
The students in the program were not, by any estimation, the cream of the Wesleyan crop we are sometimes painted to be. The CSS's attempt to portray itself as a selective institution is less dismissable than its rival, the College of Letters, but not by much. We are known to the unkind as the College of Suicidal Sophomores, and are seen as unreasonably rigorous and overly structured. While the CSS may start earlier than most other majors, and while it may be very ego-enhancing to boast of the supreme difficulty of our program, the truth is somewhat less impressive.
Ethnic and racial diversity in the program is painfully absent (undoubtedly, many unwisely exclude themselves because of the absence of ethnic and racial diversity in the curriculum) and the presence of women is only slightly better. Ironically, at Wesleyan choosing a fairly tried and true education in relatively solid disciplines is deemed a risk by many; CSS is the equivalent here of 'going mainstream,' which is only slightly different from 'selling out.' But if the aim of sophomore year was truly an indoctrination in the intrinsic superiority of dead white European males, then it failed miserably.
What it was trying to do was not always evident, and confusion as to the purpose of the non-stop regimen of reading, thinking and writing was probably a main source of discontent and departure (our attrition rate was nearly 30%). The tutorials, of necessity, covered their topics at blinding speed, and there were frequent crises of faith in the students, who were not quite sure where this careening car chase of a major was going; we could not help but wonder whether a more staid vehicle in say the Economics or Government department wouldn't be more suited to our stomachs. Many of us voiced the distinct suspicion that CSS was teaching us how to argue forcefully about books we had only partially read and inadequately digested, and on themes we were insufficiently schooled on. In other words, we feared we were being taught how to bullshit. I myself held these doubts at times. But, whether through determination or just plain momentum, most of us propelled ourselves through the year and arrived, quite sooner than we had expected, at Comps time.
The comprehensive exams at the end of the year confirmed that CSS is doing its best to live up to Camille Paglia's dictum that "The classroom should be heaven, the exam room hell." A classmate of mine, with only slight hyperbole, complains of being exhausted for life. The four one-day essay exams were hard, but we are, after all, at a learning institution that brags about how much it will challenge us. Apparently, not everyone expected to find that challenge in the exam room, but dare I claim that we are the better for it all? In the final analysis, sophomore year was a very successful attempt to produce students who emerge from it saying: "After this, I can do anything."
As is evident from the student memoirs, the CSS program has changed over the years. Especially for those of you who graduated prior to 1980, the following brief narrative will be helpful.
The original curriculum structure--amply supplied with faculty time and beautifully integrated, but with little flexibility--went unaltered until 1969. In that year, two changes were introduced: a free choice was offered for one of the three tutorial disciplines in the Junior Year, and the "Marx and Marxism" Sophomore colloquium was changed to "Social Theory" (Hobbes to Freud).
The next major change--and it was a big one--was primarily a response to Wesleyan's fiscal crisis of the 1970s. Thus from 1979 to 1981 the following alterations transpired: (i) all three Junior tutorials were deleted, (ii) two one-semester graded colloquia were substituted in their stead, (iii) a first-semester Junior year abroad was permitted [still exploited by about half of the Juniors], (iv) the Junior & Senior External Comprehensive Exams were deleted, and (v) Sophomore Comps administered by the Sophomore tutors were substituted for (iv).
About six years ago another set of changes occurred. Junior tutorials were re-introduced, on a graded basis, but only for the second semester. The Senior Colloquium in the second semester was deleted. And course relief for chairing the CSS was halved.
It is our hope that future curriculum alterations will be informed by feed-back from the readership of this Newsletter, now that we are equipped with the means to quickly sample alumni opinion.
Then and Now
Guy Baehr 1965-1968
Institutions always test the allegiance of their alumni in the same way that partners in marriage, business or politics test each other: by changing and evolving over time. The CSS, along with the rest of Wesleyan, has changed and evolved since 1968. Like many alumni, I have had only sporadic contact with both Wesleyan and the CSS over the years, mostly limited to attending reunions and saying hello to a few former professors, classmates and, of course, Anne Crescimanno.
I remember one reunion in the late 1970s when I attended Friday afternoon "Beer & Bull" and found not only male but female students engaged in a lively and serious discussion. When I was a student, the CSS was an exclusively male institution and the only women at "Beer & Bull" were dates. Dates could be clever and interesting, but were not to be taken entirely seriously as intellectual equals. Certainly the switch to coeducation has been a change for the better if it has disabused current students of both genders of such a dumb idea.
But at my last reunion I was disturbed to learn the CSS has also changed in some other less positive ways since my graduation in 1968. A number of what I thought were CSS's most distinctive features have fallen away: comprehensive exams by outside examiners, some of the tutorials and "Beer & Bull." And in moving from Butterfield back to the PAC, it has lost the tradition of having students live and study in the same building.
To tell the truth the changes were almost enough for me to conclude that the CSS I enjoyed no longer exists and to simply mourn the loss of what I always thought was a brave but widely misunderstood experiment. Instead, I have decided that good things are worth fighting for even if they are not perfect and that change is necessary to survival.
Much, perhaps most, of what made the CSS valuable to me remains today. It is still a place where students and teachers engage each other in serious, sustained, small-group discussions. It is still a place where students are expected to learn from each other as well as from their teachers. It is still a place where learning is more important than grades. It is still a place where students are required to dig deeply into the distinctive conceptual tool kits of three or more broad disciplines. It is still a place where inquiry is free of any formal ideological bias. It is still a place where reading and writing are the core activities. It is still a place that encourages not only broadness and versatility, but rigor and clarity of expression.
What role can and should the alumni of an academic program like the CSS play in keeping that program alive and vital for the students and professors who come after them? I am not sure.
General support for Wesleyan is important since tight times threaten even the best of programs. But specific support for the CSS is also important. By this I don't mean sending money, but something that is more difficult and perhaps more meaningful. If we believe that the CSS gave us something that future Wesleyan students should continue to have available, we should be making that known. To each other, to President Bennett, to the Trustees, to the pertinent Department Chairs, and indeed to current CSS faculty and students.
It was in June 1985 that Anne Cresciamanno and Gene Golob retired. Both still reside in Middletown, living alone, and both have made it known they would greatly enjoy hearing from you. Here are their particulars:
Eugene O. Golob
38 Boston Road
Middletown, CT 06457
445 High Street
Middletown, CT 06457
tel. (860) 374-0344
We want donations. Specifically, for those of you who have dabbled, we want a copy of each and every book you have written for our special display collection in the CSS Library of books authored by our graduates.
Some of you have already generously contributed. Since 23 want to avoid double-taxation, here follows a list of what we already have, by author and date of publication:
|David Boeri, 1976, 1983||William Everett, 1979|
|Dean O'Donnell, 1979||John Stremlau, 1977|
|Charles Bosk, 1979||Robert Hunter, 1972, '77, '82|
|Matthew Rees, 1991||John Sommer, 1977|
|Richard Cavanaugh, 1985||Steven Lansing, 1974|
|Steven Sheffrin, 1983||Mark Wallach, 1976|
|David Garrow, 1978, 1981, '86||Arthur Vanderbilt, 1976, 1978, 1979, 1989!|
|T. Spragens, 1973 & 1973||(Plus article off-prints by Andrew Kleinfield,
Nicholas Puner and Brian Schoor.)
So please, send us your donations. Forget about your reverse vanity, make the sacrifice for the greater glory of the College of Social Studies.
Those of you in classes '62 through '87 will have received John Driscoll's note about Anne's most recent health challenge. A group of Anne's friends have begun to plan a project and an event (probably in March, in Middletown) to express appreciation for what Anne has meant to all of us.
You will soon be receiving a letter with more details. But in the meantime if you would like more information or are willing to help with the undertaking, please contact David Boeri '71 at PO Box 136, Petersham, MA 01366. His home tel. is (508) 724-0205.
The special topic of this inaugural issue is "Student Recollections," with pieces by John Driscoll '62, Guy Baehr '68 and Tav Nyong'o '95.
Because this issue should have come out over a year ago (Kilby did not follow his corollary!}, the second issue will come out this upcoming April. That abbreviated issue will cover readership response to this venture and alumni/ae signaling to friends about contingent attendance at the June Reunion. But it will only appear if you sit down and write us! (U.S. mail only, please).
Topics planned for future issues include the Changing Structure of the CSS Curriculum, the Faculty, the CSS Experience for Women and Minority Students, CSS Graduates in the Law, ... in the teaching profession, ... in the Business World, How the CSS came to Be. Suggestions are welcome.
We are hopeful that volunteers from the readership, as in this inaugural issue, will provide much of what goes into each edition.
While we do not want to put any constraints on how you might respond to this new venture, here are five possible actions you might take.
1. A general response to the usefulness and worth of such an alumni newsletter as this, not excluding "yet another piece of junk mail," might be sent to Perth Amboy.
You should also send to Guy specific announcements that you would like to have appear in the April Newsletter -- e.g. "Bob Knox will be attending the June Reunion if and only if he hears that Jan de Wilde and Griff Lesher have made a similar decision." We will need these by March 1st.
125 Rector St
Perth Amboy, NJ 08861
Tel. (908) 826-2687
2. Please send the Book Donations to Middletown.
3. You might volunteer to help Guy plan, edit and commission others to write specially designated pieces for this newsletter. Or if you are willing to help put CSS Alumni on the Internet, please write to either Guy or Peter.
4. Last year John Fenner '69 gave a marvelous Monday Luncheon talk about what it meant to be a practicing attorney and inter alia, what the CSS training contributed and failed to contribute to that undertaking. Witty and insightful, it was both a vocational and an intellectual triumph. Anyone willing to follow in John's footsteps for other professions, please contact the Middletown co-editor.
5. If you are planning to come to the next reunion, would you be interested in planning some type of CSS Alumni/ae get-together other than the