About a week ago one of my earliest students was appointed superintendent of a very important neighboring school district. He was a very smart student more than 35 years ago and he is still smart today. The students will benefit greatly from his leadership and my sense of pride is enormous in recognition of his accomplishments. I have stayed in touch with this particular alum over the years. We even played tennis a number of times but I am a better educator and economist than I am a tennis player so the tennis matches were few and far between.
There are also some former students I have lost track of, and then fortunately we are able to reconnect. A few years ago, a personnel folder crossed my desk for a new hire in the education area. The person was an experienced high school teacher who was now beginning a new career in higher education. The name was familiar, though hardly unusual. And this person’s undergraduate degree was from the institution where I began first teaching as an adjunct while completing my doctorate. Sure enough when I looked further, he was my former student. He has been a tremendous asset to Hofstra in the decades since he first began teaching on our campus. Interestingly enough, when this person was an undergraduate and my student, he complained that I wasn’t liberal enough for his political positions. Decades have passed and he is still complaining. Middle of the road economists have trouble gaining appropriate respect from either the left or the right.
As I think back to the students I taught in my early years in teaching, I can easily identify a now university president, a professor of English, a number of psychologists, lawyers, successful business people, all individuals I have stayed in touch with. One of my former students is even a university trustee and a number of years ago, there were actually two of my former students on the trustees. There are other former students that I am not in touch with or have lost contact with and I am sure within this group are many successful individuals. I hope my economics courses made a difference in their education and their lives and I am humbled by the thought that I have had a positive impact. I want every Hofstra graduate to succeed but I do care even more about those I know and have worked with personally.
It’s interesting that as a dean and as a provost, I have hopefully impacted positively the education of tens of thousands of students. Knowing that I have been able to play a leadership role for decades and have made a difference on many key issues, brings a great sense of satisfaction. But in a University, it is ultimately the relationship between students and faculty, or students and advisers, or students and their coaches that make the greatest difference. That personal touch can help inspire and there is no substitute especially for an undergraduate. As we look to make the best decisions in a time of constraint, we should all strongly advocate for keeping as much of a personal touch in education as we can.