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  • Provost Prose

    A provost examines the world on campus and in higher ed.

Every department should be a history department
April 18, 2010 - 10:49pm

Recently I was asked to sit for an oral history interview covering my years at Hofstra. Since my years at Hofstra go back more than half the time the University has been in existence, I enjoyed talking about and recounting key happenings. At the same time, I was asked to suggest names for special 75th anniversary awards to those key individuals who made a major difference in the development of Hofstra from 1935 to the present. Having been here so many years, I was able to suggest individuals who clearly made a difference but who are also mostly forgotten today. True, these individuals, if they were faculty members, will likely be remembered by their students. Or they could be remembered for their scholarship. But what if they were administrators, or faculty who championed or created key programs? Who would know? Who would remember?

Shortly after I arrived at Hofstra, I met a faculty member in our business school, who already had a national reputation, perhaps more so than any other faculty member in the school. When you mentioned Hofstra to any scholar in the field the person would instantly say “Isn’t that where so and so is on the faculty?” This person was all the more remarkable because business schools at the time were dominated by men and it was highly unusual to find a woman in such a lead role. Clearly a remarkable accomplishment and clearly a role model for many of our students. Today, with the exception of a few “old-timers” this person is forgotten on our campus. The same is no doubt true for some of the founding deans of schools and colleges here and across the country, or faculty members who were noteworthy scholars and/or who developed programs which now are highly regarded nationwide, or administrators who provided key guidance and support during some difficult times in the history of a college or university. And, in what is truly an irony, a person who was a disaster in terms of job performance may actually be remembered more visibly and for a longer period of time than the person who made a significant positive difference.

For a fortunate few individuals, their roles are sometimes immortalized via a building being named in the person’s honor or an award or a professorship or some other memorable recognition. But these individuals are clearly the exceptions. For the most part, some of the individuals who have done the most to benefit their institution or higher education are all but forgotten. For those of us who have been able to build on their significant accomplishments, it is important to have a complete history and give credit where credit is due.

All of us should make a commitment to help fill in the blanks so that the history is as complete as possible and the record is as accurate as possible. None of us would like to have our major accomplishments forgotten. We owe as much to the individuals who preceded us and to those who work with us.

 

 

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