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A Sea Change on the Hill

By Phyllis Hanlon

Left to right: John Anderson ’57, Charles Baker,Robert Brandfon,James FlynnTogether, they have over 500 years of teaching experience. They have influenced countless students and helped guide the College through monumental changes. So when these longtime Holy Cross faculty members opted to retire, the decision signaled a sea change on Mount Saint James.

“If you add their years of teaching experience together,” says Stephen Ainlay, vice president for academic affairs and dean of the College, “it dates back to the birth of Columbus.”

He’s referring to the 22 faculty members who have retired recently after longtime, illustrious careers at Holy Cross.

“We’re talking about people here who are literally storied,” continues Ainlay, “in the sense of the depth of their commitment to this institution. When I go out on the road and talk to alumni groups, people ask, ‘Is so and so still teaching?’ And these are the professors they’re asking about—these legendary teachers.”

Ainlay explains what prompted this wave of faculty retirements. “It started with a recommendation from the committee on the economic status of the faculty,” he says. “That committee writes a report every year and addresses a number of issues related to faculty compensation. They argued that there was a cohort of faculty who had not been able to amass adequate resources for retirement.” They recommended that a special one-time program should be developed that would make retirement a viable option.

“I credit John Anderson, the speaker of the faculty at the time,” says Ainlay, “and Charlie Baker, the faculty co-chair of the academic affairs council, with addressing this issue. They worked very closely with me for the two years that this idea developed and was put into place. In the end, the College created a package designed to deal with the very unusual economic circumstances of this particular group of people. We came up with a special program that was put in place for this special group.”

Virtually all of the faculty who were eligible for the retirement package took advantage of it. Ainlay feels that, as a result, there is the sense on campus of the end of an era at Holy Cross.

“These are remarkable individuals,” he says. “These are people with whom the mission of the school genuinely resonated. That fact is evident in their careers, in the numbers of students whose hearts and minds they touched. We owe them all our gratitude.”

Holy Cross Magazine recently sat down with some of these departing professors to listen to their reflections on their days at the College and their plans for the future.

John Anderson ’57, Charles Baker, Robert Brandfon and James Flynn

John Anderson ’57

Four years after graduation, John Anderson ’57 returned to Holy Cross to begin a 40-year teaching career in the school’s history department. From 1991-99, Anderson served as department chair and also assumed the role of director of Special Studies when that program was launched. Anderson was instrumental in the creation of the Fenwick Scholar Program, in which a fourth-year student engages in extensive independent research in conjunction with a major project.

Anderson compared the current school curriculum favorably with the one in effect during his undergraduate days. “I think it has many dimensions now,” he says. As a student, Anderson carried a six-course load with a definite emphasis on classical learning, while current undergraduates take only four classes with a more liberal slant. “Today’s curriculum has expanded to include anthropology, visual arts and theatre,” he says.

In the late 1960s and early ’70s the campus was electrically charged, according to Anderson. “Like all other colleges at the time, Holy Cross was subject to turmoil,” he says. He remembers in particular the Cambodian incursion, which brought an early end to the semester that year. Rather than creating culture shock, the beginning of coeducation resembled a slow and methodical continuum instead of a single event, Anderson says. “It’s hard now to imagine Holy Cross without women,” he notes.

The presence of several notables on campus through the years has made an indelible mark on Anderson. The visit of Martin Luther King, Jr. in the early ’60s was especially captivating. “At the time it was moving and impressive,” he says. “Looking back, it’s even more so now.” He also recalls appearances by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and then-President Lyndon Baines Johnson, both of whom received honorary degrees. Michael Harrington’s Earth Day speech on the war on poverty stands out clearly for Anderson. “I’ve heard lots of speeches, but his was most extraordinary,” he says.

Retirement for Anderson won’t consist of a front porch equipped with rocking chair. He’ll return in the fall to teach a class and will continue to advise students. Other retirement activities will include overseeing a newly created project at nearby WPI. As coordinator of the Worcester Community Project Center, Anderson will work together with WPI students and local agencies to develop and execute community projects as part of their school curriculum. A former mayor of Worcester and 22-year veteran of the city council, he has the know-how and the contacts to be a successful liaison between the school and the city. In between all of his academic endeavors, he hopes to squeeze in some travel time.

Charles Baker

Since September 1958, Charles Baker, associate professor in the modern languages and literatures department, has watched Holy Cross shift from a rigid, structured curriculum in the 1960s to a more open, liberal one in the ’70s and then back again to a more ordered form. He notes, too, that the transition from an all-male academic institution to coeducation, as well as a rise in the number of African-American students enrolled at Holy Cross, has increased diversity.

One of the most significant memories for Baker, however, involves his directorship of an artistic film series. In 1963, Holy Cross began showing two different films three times each week on campus. “These films were serious and geared toward the cinema class,” Baker says. He eventually assumed leadership of the program and continued to present eclectic movies to a sold-out audience. “These showings were well-attended, depending on the film,” he says. “This type of film was not seen in Worcester and filled a cultural void for the students.”

As Baker retires from his teaching position at Holy Cross, he has a laundry list of activities to keep him active. For Baker, retirement means catching up on “all those unread books.” In addition to tackling the volumes in his bookshelf, he plans to spend considerable time at his home in Vermont. “I’ll be hiking, chopping wood, cross-country skiing, shoveling snow—all those Vermont-type things,” he says. Baker will put pen to paper also as he engages in some writing projects, long sitting on the back burner.

All will not be fun and games in retirement for Baker though. He plans to continue his longtime involvement in the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), an organization founded in 1911 and dedicated to protecting academic freedom and tenure of faculty in the nation’s colleges and universities. A local and regional officer in the past, Baker will assume the role of executive director of this year’s Massachusetts Conference. A member since 1958—he joined the group while in graduate school—he feels that the AAUP is the “conscience of the profession.” Even though he’ll no longer be an active presence in the classroom, Baker plans to continue exerting his influence for his colleagues in the academic world.

Robert Brandfon

Retiring history Professor Robert Brandfon leaves Holy Cross with an astounding accomplishment—in 35 years he has “never crossed swords with a student.” Since 1965, Brandfon has enjoyed and grown close to his students—even attending their weddings—as he has experienced an exciting career at Holy Cross.

In 1969, he was a member of the team charged with determining the feasibility of admitting women to the school. “I am proud to have been a part of that committee,” he says. “This was a very good thing for Holy Cross.” In addition to providing a healthy environment for the College and the students, Brandfon says the move broadened the faculty’s outlook.

With the onset of coeducation, the school also expanded its sports programs, Brandfon notes. “In the early days, Holy Cross had men’s football, baseball, basketball and hockey,” he says. “With diversity, both men and women became involved in sports. Suddenly, we had lacrosse, soccer, volleyball, badminton and tennis teams.” According to Brandfon, this focus on sports led to a de-emphasis of academics, which sometimes resulted in class-scheduling problems.

Brandfon remarks that as the student body grew, so, too, did the size of the administration. “Three Jesuits and one lay person ran the school at first. Father Swords would come into the offices to talk to faculty and students,” he says.

Brandfon, who admits that he will miss teaching, may return part time in the spring. Currently, he is writing a book on the Harvard Business School, taking walks and generally enjoying life. With grandchildren in California, he and his wife plan to spend six months in Berkeley and six months in their Belmont, Mass., home.

James Flynn

After spending 43 years teaching in Holy Cross’ history department—twice as department chair—James Flynn has amassed thousands of memories which he will take with him as he prepares to enter retirement.

Beginning as a part-time professor in 1958, Flynn has watched the school grow from a strong college to an even stronger one. He recalls the evolution of the curriculum from a traditional liberal arts education to one “more professionally advanced,” as faculty with more research interests were hired. “We were going to become the Catholic Amherst,” he says. “It was quite an exciting time.”

With the ’70s came the realization that “the world didn’t need all male colleges,” according to Flynn. He notes the long, drawn-out discussions that ensued before approving and implementing a coeducational system. “But in the end, there was overwhelming support for it,” he says. Through the years, Holy Cross has built on its curricular changes and the admission of women to become a stronger academic institution. “As a reflection of the whole Catholic subculture in New England, we changed as the world changed in order to service the community better,” he says.

On a more personal note, Flynn is especially grateful that he has been able to pursue his passion for the Russian culture with the support of his colleagues and the administration. Using the vast on-campus resources, he also developed a course that explores and compares the national experiences of Poland and Ireland. “I can’t ever think of a time that the library refused to buy a book I requested,” he says.

Flynn’s retirement will involve a continuation of his interest in Russian history. “I’ll be working on a book regarding the Greek Catholic Church in the Russian Empire,” he says. He’ll also return to Holy Cross on a part-time basis to teach one course. Additionally, Flynn and his wife, who spent 25 years in the music library at the College, plan to travel to a warmer climate during the cold winter months.




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