Teaching: A Personal Association W&L Alumni Magazine: Summer 2011
WHEN WE SAID goodbye to the Class of 2011, we also said goodbye to 10 professors who guided those young scholars. This class of retirees exemplifies our highest ideals and underscores our faculty's commitment and dedication.
These 10 individuals-June Aprille (provost; biology), Ed Craun (English), Nancy Margand (psychology), Ron Reese (physics), Taylor Sanders (history), Lad Sessions (philosophy), Ken Van Ness (physics and engineering), Tom Whaley (computer science), Jack Wielgus (biology) and Tom Williams (provost; physics)-have left their marks as teachers, colleagues, mentors, department heads and deans. Their years at W&L total 314. (The last time such a distinguished group retired en masse was 2001, with 11 professors and an astonishing 375 years.)
Each of this year's retirees lived the words of this declaration, crafted in 1988, which we consider our statement of philosophy. "The University recognizes teaching as its central function," reads this statement. "It believes that the personal association of its students with a highly qualified and motivated faculty holds the greatest promise of inspiring in them a respect and thirst for knowledge that will continue throughout their lives."
We recently added to our faculty handbook a description of what we mean today by a teacher-scholar at W&L. "All of us share in common a deep commitment to our students," it reads. "We strive to discover their aptitudes and nurture their intellectual interest into a passion that will shape their lives. We take pride in our teaching; and we embrace the profession's timeless task of revealing to young minds the joy of learning and its challenges."
That statement also reads, "It is a hallmark of Washington and Lee that conversation about scholarship also takes place in our classes, in our offices or anywhere that finds us exchanging ideas with students."
That passage reminds me of all the conversations I've had with these people, who were my colleagues through much of my own career on this faculty. When I think of how I define the academic profession-its goals; its values; its finer aspirations; its animating purposes; its scholarly disposition; its desire to influence how others think; its devotion to mastering a single, important subject; its love of learning; its joy of helping others develop that same love of learning-I think of these individuals. And I realize the profound effect they had on me, on how I see the academic life, and on how I see the academic life at a place called Washington and Lee.
Not many individuals can go through life and their careers saying that they shaped the lives of others. Not many individuals can go through life knowing that they have shaped an institution that will continue to shape the lives of students for generations to come. These 10 retirees can say that, and they have our deepest gratitude. And our very best wishes.