The Journal of the AGLSP

XXV.2 CM2

 

Raymond Callahan taught at University of Delaware for 38 years and served as director of the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies program and as associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. He held the John F. Morrison Chair of Military History at the U.S. Army's Command and General Staff College and is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. An expert on military history, Callahan has authored six books. His most recent work, Triumph at Imphal-Kohima: How the Indian Army Finally Stopped the Japanese Juggernaut, was named one of the five best new books in World War II history in 2017. His doctoral and master's degrees are from Harvard University; bachelor's degree is from Georgetown University..

AGLSP TEACHING AWARD – 2019

Serendipity

Raymond Callahan, University of Delaware 

I would like to begin by thanking the association for the great honor they are conferring on me.

I have always thought that the ancient Greeks should have added Serendipity to their roster of goddesses because of the powerful role that Serendipity plays in our lives. And that is how my connection with liberal studies began.

A friend and colleague at the University of Delaware, David Norton, who came to academe by way of Forest Service smoke jumping, put together a plan to bring a graduate liberal studies program to UD. After lobbying various departments for support, and negotiating the byzantine system for approving new courses, he was ready to bring it to the Faculty Senate in the spring of 1987 for final approval. I happened to be Faculty Senate president that year, and David and I war-gamed how to get the strongest endorsement from the Senate. As we left the room after the Program was approved with near unanimity (someone always votes “no” on principle in Faculty Senate), I said to David that I hoped I could offer a course in his new Master of Arts in Liberal Studies program.

A few weeks later the dean invited me to lunch (usually such lunches were to cajole you into accepting responsibility for something complicated). This dean also drank martinis at lunch and expected you would not be so rude as to let her drink alone. Over martini #1 she asked me if my glowing remarks to the Faculty Senate about Professor Norton’s program represented what I really thought. When I assured her that, in this case, they did and that I hoped to offer a course for the new MALS program, she said, smiling over martini #2, that she was glad to hear that because Professor Norton had told her that two years of college politics while threading the labyrinth of the course approval system compared quite unfavorably with smoke jumping. So while he would teach for MALS, he would not run it. “I think,” the dean said, signaling the waiter for a refill, “you should do it,” adding, “The Provost thinks so too.” And so, the goddess Serendipity ushered me into MALS, the best job I ever had in academe. Thirty years later, retired from the University, I have not yet retired from my connection with UD’s liberal studies program.

Two things stand out in my mind as I think about those thirty years. The first is the remarkable group of people who populated the program. Following that memorable lunch with the dean, as we worked to get the program up and running, there were moments when a variant of the Field of Dreams line ran through my head: “If we build it will they come?” I need not have worried. A very spry and vigorous man came by my office almost as soon as we opened for business—the just-retired head of research at the DuPont Co. He told me he had rushed through grad school at the beginning of WWII, gone to work immediately for DuPont, who loaned him to a federal program he was told he could never speak about—and which turned out to be the Manhattan Project. He said to me that he had come to regret the narrowness of his engineering education and now wanted to “branch out,” which he did, writing a study of the medieval German mystic Hildegard of Bingen as his final project. (Our initial class incidentally included the current Director of UD’s MALS program.) Then there was the very elegantly dressed retiree who appeared in my office a few years later. She said she had carefully scrutinized all the College of Arts and Sciences graduate programs and decided that MALS best suited her purposes. Her very brisk manner was explained when it turned out she was a former marine officer; in her generation, woman Marines were rare, woman marine officers rarer still, and field-grade woman Marine officers (she retired as a major) rather like unicorns—very hard to find. She wanted to write about Katherine Hepburn, whose film characters she in some ways resembled. And she did.

These students, and many, many others wanted to continue learning, filling what they had come to realize were gaps in their education, and enjoy the company and conversation of like-minded adults. They wanted to talk about the ideas and issues raised by literature, art, theater, history. And that brings me to the second thing that stands out as I reflect on 30-year association with liberal studies, and that is the attractive power of knowledge. As our years pass its importance becomes steadily clearer. Reflecting on his own not very adequate education, Winston Churchill wrote of the envy he had come to feel for those “who had fine scholars to tell them what was what; professors who had devoted their lives to mastering and focusing ideas in every branch of learning; who were eager to distribute the treasures they had gathered.” He went on to say that undergrads led “frivolous” lives and that only when people were “really thirsty for knowledge, longing to hear about things” could they really appreciate what academe has to offer. In 1931, when he wrote that, Churchill was putting his finger on the power and attractiveness of what we do, as was Carol Burnett when she said, “We don’t stop going to school when we graduate.”

Never before has that for which liberal studies stands been so needed. As I look back on my career in my 80th year, there is no part of it I enjoyed more or am happier about than my long association with graduate liberal studies. Long may it flourish!

Thank you again for the honor you have given me.


Copyright © 2019 by Association of Graduate Liberal Studies Programs