The literary question
I could not stop myself from grinning as I read the cover of the Summer/Fall issue of the Bulletin. Yes, Kenyon is still literary, and it always will be. I read the collection of stories on this topic with great interest and found that I shared many of the thoughts and memories with the authors. Try as I may to deny it, those roots have forever marked me.
I was a chemistry major at Kenyon, but I took advantage of the wealth of wonderful English courses that were offered. My high-school literature experience was not enjoyable, but somehow my freshman English class with Karen Edwards changed my views on the subject. Through means that are still not clear to me, she was able to reawaken my childhood interest in literature and to excite me about creative writing.
Then, Fred Turner made Shakespeare come alive for me. Each session of his class began with the re-enactment of a scene from the play we were reading. All of us directed one scene and acted in several throughout the year--I have never forgotten the scene I directed, from The Merchant of Venice, or my attempt to portray Cordelia in King Lear. It was a transforming experience for me and that dull classroom in Philip Mather Hall, which appeared entirely different to me when I attended my physics class there that same semester.
Karen Edward's Milton seminar was also a delight for me, even though the class dissection of my papers was a bit harrowing.
Despite the wonderful distraction, I stayed on the science course. I went on to the University of Illinois after Kenyon and got my Ph.D. in chemistry in 1990. And now, after seven years in the chemical industry, I have returned to my literary roots. I am now a writer for Chemical and Engineering News, a weekly publication on the chemical industry. The topics are mostly technical, but I can't ignore the profound literary experience that continues to have a major impact on my life.
Paige Hanchett Morse '85
Speaking up for Gerrit Roelofs
As an academic and former English major, I read with delight your "Editor's Page" (Bulletin, Summer/Fall 1997)--a well-deserved panegyric to an essential figure in Kenyon English, Perry Lentz. You write evocatively and nostalgically, Mr. Stamp, about your experience as what Greeks might have called the "lesser man" to Perry Lentz's "greater man." The professor in me acknowledges the exhilaration of even the possibility of exciting students, the way Lentz does, into intensive and systematic approaches to school, and more specifically, to texts. But the student in me would like to offer a light correction of your otherwise splendid column.
That Gerrit Roelofs was kind and generous with you after you joined the college as public affairs director does not surprise me. Nor, however, does your acknowledging as much do enough to correct what is to my mind a misimpression of Roelofs qua professor. To be sure, you are, to a point, right on: Gerrit Roelofs could be a scary bully of a man. Indeed, I remember vividly my refusal to bid at an auction of faculty services where a morning of chopping wood with Roelofs was on the block. Quite frankly, I was afraid I wouldn't be able to keep up and that he'd ridicule me for wimpiness. And I remember as well his remaining officed in Ascension Hall (protesting what?) when the English department moved to Sunset Cottage.
Yet I also remember an icy winter morning in Ascension when I showed up cheerlessly to make up an exam I'd missed in Mr. Crump's seventeenth-century literature class. Crump was out ill; Milton was the topc; I hadn't done the work. I'd been nursing a surgical knee on crutches in a fierce Gambier winter. For the make-up test, I was left alone in a windowless cubbyhole for what was meant to be an hour. The questions were pointed, but unintelligible. Roelofs entered near the end of the hour. I'd written nothing. He watched me, then placed his big body in the little chair (who else could pull off a flannel shirt with a tie?), glanced at the test, then gently questioned me in a way that elicited information I'd stored away about Paradise Regained, Lycidas, and so on. I wrote as fast as the answers came to me, but he demanded the test before I could finish, though well after the bell. I earned an A- on the test--he earned my admiration as an irretrievably compassionate man.
I could offer many more anecdotes in a similar vein, such as the time I was preparing to defend my honors thesis but was paranoid that a nosy, offhand remark I'd made to Mr. Church at the grocery store was going to trigger the sabotage of my work on the Marlow-centered works of Joseph Conrad. When soon after I saw Roelofs at the post office (again, it was freezing), he laughed heartily at my conspiracy theory and assured me no one was out to get me, but if they were, he added, he'd promptly crush all pettiness (the way I'm sure he did that firewood). As fond as I am of these yarns, however, it is more to my point to nod not only to Roelofs's compassion but also, if only briefly, to his ability as a teacher and reader of texts.
Like you, I remain haunted by the echo of great texts in Philomathesian Hall. There I first encountered Shakespeare--a year of it, preceded by Spenser and Marlowe. Neither Mephisto nor Faustus has ever been played with as much melancholy as by Roelofs, who read daily with startling tenderness from his tattered editions. When we hit Shakespeare, I remember sitting with my roommate--Bob Jennings '78--frantically scrawling Roelofs-isms in the margins of the gargantuan Riverside Shakespeare. Roelofs, we knew, was our way to Shakespeare; we could not do it on our own. Jennings was fearless as a tailback for the fighting Lords, but like the rest of us, he hid from Roelofs's eye in class. Somehow we enjoyed fearing Roelofs, just as Wayne and Garth enjoy their unworthiness of the rock band Aerosmith. Roelofs was so into and comfortable with the texts, yet he also seemed so humbled, if not by their complexity, then by the sound of the movement of their words in time. He pushed the plays hard. I was gripped. No one else, I was convinced, could have done anything to get me to concentrate on the plays and not on the radiant Jenny Patterson '81, the back of whose head I admit to having studied as closely as I did the Prince-King Hal trilogy.
No, Roelofs did not suffer fools, but who does? Would it have been a virtue had he praised your l-i-t-e readings of great works of literature? He was harsh when it was called for (and so, I'm sure, is swim coach Jim Steen). One spring Sunday we had a lengthy Lord Jim-based discourse by phone from the East Wing during which Roelofs angrily and properly criticized me for not addressing Conrad's Chance in my thesis. But I also remember his praising students openly for having written good papers. To this day, I can hear him closing a class by acknowledging Robin Inboden '79 and Kathleen Kirk '79 for their excellence--meting out parental praise to shake the rest of us out of our slumber. It did me. So, while I am not at all surprised that Perry Lentz made Kenyon English what it was for you (I regret terribly having been boxed out of his over-enrolled American literature class), I wish you had hung in there with Roelofs--to appreciate not only the kindness that you eventually did but also so you could have included in your column an allusion to Roelofs as the first-rate, even patient, teacher he was.
Who would not have loved to be a student of Kenneth Burke, William Empson, Robert Lowell, and John Crowe Ransom? I know, in spades, that Gambier's intellectual life was at its peak in 1950. And I did not even take my first English courses until my sophomore year, after learning I wasneither the actor nor the thinker I'd hoped I was when I began as a freshman set on drama or philosophy. Still, if I am at all literate today, it is owing entirely to the influence (from which I now suffer Bloom's familiar anxiety) of great men and women called Crump, Daniel, Duff, Sharp, Ward, Zwarg, and of course, Roelofs.
Gerrit Roelofs needs no defenders, since what you wrote was hardly intended (nor fairly characterizable) as in any sense an attack on him. But I cared for him so deeply that I felt impelled to say, however awkwardly, that he was to my mind the artist's model of the academic-- a thoughtful, caring person with an active, lively intellect that was a pleasure to watch at work. Il me manque.
Daniel Brian Yeager '79
San Diego, California
Editor's note: Yeager is a professor at California Western School of Law in San Diego.
How thick a slice of life?
For the record, I want to take strong exception to one theme in Associate Professor of English David Lynn's comparison of today's Kenyon with the College in what he calls the Golden Age ("Is Kenyon still literary?") in the Summer/Fall 1997 issue of the Bulletin. Seeking to validate the present, I believe he grossly misrepresents the past.
I do not mean to heap blame on Lynn, whom I know and admire. But he has bought into a myth that has gradually grown up around Kenyon in the years before and after World War II, when John Crowe Ransom was the leading light in a faculty that included other stars as well. As one who was there at the beginning of that era, I would like to provide a different perspective on it.
No one who has followed the development of the College would challenge Lynn's conclusion that today's Kenyon is a more diverse and a more challenging educational environment for what are, in many ways, better students. But the College of Ransom and the other professors he mentions, Philip Blair Rice, Charles Monroe Coffin, Philip Timberlake, and Denham Sutcliffe, was not as he presents it, and his comments demean them unfairly.
Lynn concludes, on the basis of the views of two distinguished alumni, Peter Taylor '40 and E.L. Doctorow '52, that their era "represented a fairly shallow slice of life at Kenyon, directly affecting relatively few students." As one of the "typical students" to whom Lynn refers, I know I was directly and indelibly affected by my four years at the College, as were many of my contemporaries.
It was quite true, when I arrived in Gambier in the fall of 1938, that Taylor, Robert Lowell '40, Robie Macauley '41, and a few others lived apart, physically and socially, from the rest of us. No doubt they felt themselves "reviled," as Taylor wrote later and Lynn now recalls. But their isolation has been exaggerated as the myth evolved. Lowell played football with a fierce intensity for Kenyon, and all the Douglass House residents were active with Hika, the then-flourishing literary magazine, where they worked amicably with lesser talents living on campus.
Who can say whether Doctorow, James Wright '52, and the other "independents" who came to the College after World War II were more alienated than veterans at other campuses who were thrown together with high-school graduates, younger and less experienced in every way. I do not doubt that Doctorow felt the hostility that he has movingly described. But he, too, involved himself in campus activities. Files show that he wrote a column for the Collegian, and he has said that, after the departure of Paul Newman '49, he played leads in student productions on the Hill.
But never mind. The point is that Ransom, Rice, and the rest were not there to make Kenyon "literary." All were hired as teachers for the entire college community, and a few were assigned the additional task of publishing a literary magazine. With the small enrollment (three hundred when I arrived) and the curricular requirements of that time, it is unlikely that a student could graduate without taking a course from at least one of the teachers named. The myth that they somehow affected only a favored few smacks of Aesp or the Brothers Grimm.
The record shows that those teachers taught all of us well and, as they were teaching, created the prestigious magazine that Lynn now heads. During this period Rice, while serving as executive editor of the Kenyon Review, was featured in a picture essay in Life as one of the dozen best college teachers in the nation. And all the best students of Ransom, Rice, and the others were not cloistered off campus. For example, Walter Elder Jr. '42, who grew up in Springfield, Ohio, joined a fraternity, lived in North Hanna, and, while an undergraduate, shared (with Arthur Mizener, pictured with the literary dignitaries on the cover of the Bulletin) the first short-story prize offered by the Review. After the war, he was a Rhodes Scholar.
It is important to understand that the Golden Age was not limited to writing, and its great teachers were not all in English and philosophy. Biology and chemistry, under Charles Thornton and William Coolidge, regularly sent graduates to the nation's best medical schools. Other faculty stars included Paul Titus in economics, Richard Salomon in history, and Samuel Cummings in psychology, among others. Money was tight, facilities were rudimentary, but there was research in progress, with student involvement. Norton's efforts in the laboratory had earned him the nickname "Froggy." Speech professor John Black recorded student voices to study regional accents and tonalities, and a young physicist named Wilson Powell, in a cloud chamber fashioned in part from scrap wire and old bicycle parts, took the first ever photographs of splitting what were then called cosmic rays--photos first published in the Collegian.
There was an important difference in the dynamics of the College then. Admission was quite easy, but attrition was severe. (I entered with about one hundred classmates and graduated with fewer than fifty.) But as we survivors progressed, the times did indeed turn golden. We were quite sure that we had lucked into a unique undergraduate educational community tucked away on our Magic Mountain.
Not that those teachers tried to keep reality from us. Months before Pearl Harbor, in a courageous demonstration of real world prescience, almost every member of that Kenyon faculty signed a blunt public statement stating, in effect, that the United States would probably have to enter the war against Adolph Hitler.
Perhaps this myth--the idea that those times showered their golden benefits only on a favored few--has grown up because the larger, coeducational, otherwise more diverse, and in so many ways better College has so far failed to produce the likes of Lowell, Taylor, Macauley, Doctorow, or Wright, and later faculties, in their frustration, have been willing to revise what happened then, even as they worked to make it happen again, as one day surely it will.
No matter! Whatever its provenance, the myth should be dispelled. The record clearly shows that, for a time in Kenyon history, a group of gifted and giving professors worked wonderfully well in the college community and, among other things, began a literary tradition that continues at Kenyon today.
John A. Goldsmith '42
I read with one part regret and one part amusement your brief note in the Summer/Fall 1997 issue of the Bulletin on the reinstatement of military recruiters on campus. Let me explain.
We've really come a long way in the last thirty years. When I graduated, back in "the bad ol' days," we actually had a U.S. Air Force ROTC detachment on campus (!) for the recruiting and commissioning of students. Oh, it wasn't much of an institution--we only commissioned five or six students a year--and it just petered out around 1970 because of low enrollment in the program and the Vietnam War. But still, we produced over the years numerous officers who, like myself, served our country in the armed forces. They often made great personal sacrifices to answer the call of duty, including the supreme sacrifice of life itself. How sad it is that Kenyon should have decided that students should no longer be ableto talk to military recruiters on campus.
And how ironic the comments made after the College reversed its decision in the light of financial realism--namely, the possible loss of student aid. Maureen Tobin, director of the Career Development Center, tried to rationalize the decision by stating, "It felt good to stand behind our principles and give all of our students an equal opportunity for job interviews. But when it comes down to choosing between principles and giving our students the financial aid they need, it becomes hard to stand behind those principles."
But there it is, staring Kenyon right in the face, and the College missed it! "Giving students an equal opportunity for job interviews" isn't furthered by banning military recruiters. That policy denies students an equal opportunity for job interviews. It prohibits on-campus interviews for anyone because of the views of a vocal minority of students who decry the sexual-orientation policy of the military services.
How strange it is for reason to be stood on its head! If Kenyon wants to stand behind the principle of giving students an equal opportunity for job interviews, the College should have realized that this comes with opening the doors to military recruiters, not shutting them out. It's not an "either-or" proposition at all--either principles or financial aid. The "principle of equal opportunity" goes hand in hand with financial aid and an open door for military recruiters along with all other recruiters.
If Kenyon truly doesn't want military recruiters on campus, take a lesson from the Air Force ROTC program thirty years ago, in the days when antiwar signs proclaimed,"What if they gave a war and nobody came?" ROTC left the campus because of lack of interest. If no one were interested in military service, the military recruiters would undoubtedly do the same thing.
Mark E. Sullivan '68
Raleigh, North Carolina
I read with interest the article regarding the military recruitment policy in the Summer/Fall 1997 issue of the Bulletin. I see nothing wrong with what the government did, because I believe it is important that politically correct ideology be routinely cold-cocked by common sense. Still, there is some confusion about principles that was generated by the spin doctors in the Kenyon administration. I think some clarification is needed.
Principles, or values, are what you are willing to make sacrifices for in order to uphold and for which you will endure privations because of their worth to you. Indeed, there are many educational institutions that refuse government funding so they can remain true to their principles. The College apparently isn't one of them. I think the real reason the school capitulated is because no "principle" was truly at issue.
Let's be serious. In prohibiting military recruiters from coming to campus, Kenyon kowtowed to the whims of a designer minority and denied the rest of the student body access to information about an honorable profession. The policy generated favorable publicity for the College in certain circles at a relatively low cost. I don't think Kenyon thought that it would ever have to defend such a policy, and when the government called its bluff, the College was forced to admit that it lacked the fortitude to back its "principle" with any sacrifice. Kenyon was embarrassed and deserved to be.
I suggest that in the future the College define as principles only those issues on which it is willing to go the distance. Anything less is hypocrisy. The school has to define firmly in word, and uphold in deed, what it considers of value because of the lessons such a definition gives to the students. Right now, the only wisdom to be drawn from the military recruitment fiasco is money talks, nobody walks. Somehow, I don't believe Kenyon wants to project that kind of message.
Harlow J. Keith '75
I would like to take a minute to thank you sincerely for the recent "Coping in the Nineties" issue of the Bulletin, detailing the stories of several alumni who have aced terrible illnesses and difficulties in their lives. At Kenyon and so many other relatively elite private schools, the accent is on looking and sounding good, success and its trappings, the appearance of affluence, and so on. I believe it took courage and honesty to print the stories of those who have struggled not for affluence but for life, sanity, and health. I am sure so many alumni have had personal struggles they don't dare report to even close friends, much less the Bulletin, and I find it real, honest, inspiring, and refreshing to present that side of the overall picture of life after Kenyon. After all, isn't "well-roundedness" one of the cherished goals of the Kenyon experience?
I could relate to the tales myself, having lived through a crushing case of panic/anxiety/depression when I was overseas working in Cambodia for the United Nations in 1992. I'm sure many Kenyonites can relate.
Matthew C. Bloomfield '82
The Office of Public Affairs recently received the following letter from John Alfred Lewis '45 concerning the death of Adele Lewis Eakins.
It was with great sadness that members of our family learned of the death of Adele Lewis Eakins, the last surviving great-granddaughter of Bishop Philander Chase, founder of Kenyon College. Born December 1, 1897, in Roseville, Warren County, Illinois, the daughter of John C. and Ruth Chamberlain Lewis, she was also the granddaughter of the Reverend Jacob S. Chamberlain and Mary Chase Chamberlain, the latter being the only daughter of Bishop Chase.
Mrs. Eakins, whose husband, Mr. Jack Eakins, died in 1990, grew up in Knoxville, Illinois, and with her two older sisters and four older brothers spent many summers at the old Chase family home, Robins' Nest Farm, near the site of Jubilee College.
The farmhouse, which is now a private residence, built by the bishop in the early 1830s, was named by him, his reasoning being that it was built of "mud and sticks and was filled with young ones," a veritable robins' nest! It was during the lifetimes of Adele Eakins and her brothers that the property, inherited from their grandmother, Mary Chase Chamberlain, was parceled off to buyers and by 1930 was gone from the Chase family descendants. The Robins' Nest held a special place in Adele Eakins's mind and heart, as did the old Jubilee Cemetery nearby, where in the spring of this year, her remains will join those of her grandparents and others in her extended family, including those of Bishop Chase and his wife, Sophia Ingraham Chase.
In September 1991, at a family reunion at Kenyon, Adele Eakins spoke reverently of her ancestor, the bishop, telling Bulletin Associate Editor Michael Matros that though she didn't recall much mention of him during her childhood near Jubilee, "he used [church] money strictly as intended" ("Hagiography," Bulletin Volume 15, Number 1, December 1991).
Remarkably, Mrs. Eakins lived five days beyond her one hundredth birthday and died peacefully in Kalamazoo, Michigan, December 5, 1997, near the home of her daughter and son-in-law, Marion and Christopher Koronakos, with whom she spent her last ten years. A lifelong servant of God's work through her activities in her beloved Episcopal Church, she had lived most of her life in California, where she reared three children, David, Marion, and Eleanor Eakins. She will be greatly missed by all who knew her.
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