Hello, Dr. Chips, continued

C.G. Child elegantly dwells
on “the life and growth of this living, this complex thing”—i.e., the English department—but
fondly recalls when there were “just the six of us” at the
turn of the century.

Over the century, a great deal more has been written about than by faculty members—news items and brief pieces like those in today’s “Gazetteer” section triggered by a specific event: the publication of a book, say, or the receiving of an award. There were profiles, labeled and unlabeled. For a couple of years (1956-1958), under more than one editor, a feature called “Faculty Profiles” appeared. Using two columns of the conventional three-column page, these consisted of a large photograph of the subject and a single paragraph about his work, his career, and maybe a sentence on his non-academic life; the first of these mini-bios tells us that Norman Brown (Engineering) “was 135-pound intramural boxing champion at M.I.T.” A few years later (1964), a new editor, Robert M. Rhodes, published a feature, “Pennsylvania’s Faculty: George W. Taylor,” which was identified as “First in a Series.”

With or without that rubric, the faculty profile as Gazette readers now know it developed under Rhodes. Take as an example Mary Ann Meyers’ article (1967) on Marvin E. Wolfgang (Sociology). It opens with a discussion of The Subculture of Violence, by Wolfgang and Franco Ferracuti, and its place in the larger context of Wolfgang’s work, segues into a biographical section, and comes back at the end to reconsider his ideas. The subject’s words are present here, too, but arranged by the interviewer to fit the shape and thrust of the article. This is a pattern that was pretty much followed in other articles and by other Gazette writers. Occasionally, physical descriptions creep in as when Meyers calls “tall, shaggy-haired” Digby Baltzell “ruggedly handsome” (1965) or Derek Davis says that Robert H. Koch (Astronomy) has “the broadly-smiling countenance of a genial troll” (1981). Openings sometimes become a tad cute, as when Patricia McLaughlin backs into a discussion of Lawrence R. Klein (Economics) and Wharton Econometric Forecasting Associates (1975) by way of a long anecdote about another writer dropping Klein’s name to conceal his own ignorance of econometrics (“‘Well, as a matter of fact, when I was at Penn I took a course from in econometrics with Klein.’ A small silence will fall over the group and the person who had been pretending to authority will discreetly change the subject.”) A whole article can be suffused with too much gem¸tlichkeit, as when a former student of Daniel Hoffman (English) visits “Penn’s resident bard” (1971).

The profiles tended to grow in length depending on the complexity of the ideas being discussed or the eccentricities or the celebrity of the subject. The wordage prize probably goes to Marshall Ledger, who in 1984 did a two-part piece on George Gerbner, longtime dean of the Annenberg School—an exercise that gives color to a throwaway remark: “Some observers suggest that he is an adept self-promoter.”

The articles mentioned above concentrate on the individual faculty member, but they only incidentally touch on the changing image of the Penn professor. That can be seen in other pieces. In 1930, the editor instituted a series “designed to acquaint the Alumni with the organization and scope of the various departments.” Since the articles were written by senior professors with long years of service in the University, they tended to describe the “now,” often proudly, and call up the “then,” often nostalgically. Edward Potts Cheyney underlines the changes in the history department by emphasizing that it is now “a department of the University, not two or three or four teachers of History,” and C. G. Child elegantly dwells on “the life and growth of this living, this complex thing”—i.e., the English department—but fondly recalls when there were “just six of us” at the turn of the century. Edwin S. Crawley (Mathematics) dutifully comments on the undergraduate program, thinking that that is what the alumni want to hear, but his main thrust is the growth in graduate studies, mathematics beyond the conventional courses.

One result of these changes—although it was not immediately apparent—is that the old identification of the professor with the University was weakened, as academic stars, like free-agent athletes, moved from institution to institution, a practice commonplace today. A Gazette article (2000) on the exotic globe-trotting of Robert F. Giegengack (Earth and Environmental Science, once known as Geology) opens with an exuberant account of a celebration marking his 25th year at Penn, an occasion that is retrospectively upstaged by a less rambunctious report (1926) on a gathering honoring four professors who had taught in the College for more than 40 years: Crawley, Cheyney, Felix E. Schelling (English) and Hugo Albert Rennert (Romance Languages). In 1934, when the Gazette printed a speech that Cheyney delivered to the Alumni Dinner, he had been teaching for 50 years, and it would be six more years before his History of the University of Pennsylvania would be published. I do not want to suggest that Giegengack is an anomaly. There were plenty of us who stayed with Penn; even I, although I took early retirement, did not depart until just before my 30th year.

previous page | continued

Mar/Apr Contents | Gazette Home

Copyright 2002 The Pennsylvania Gazette Last modified 2/28/02