Tribute to Retiring Faculty

Sunday, May 21, 2023
by William Hoynes, Dean of the Faculty

Commencement is a day of transition for more than just our graduating seniors. Today, we recognize six members of Vassar’s faculty who completed their long and dedicated tenure of service to the College this year. This is a moment to celebrate their accomplishments and to express our gratitude for their many contributions to the Vassar community during the decades they have spent on our campus.

I share brief tributes to the six wonderful faculty members marking their retirement transitions today, representing the many distinguished faculty who have touched the lives of today’s graduates. 

To my colleagues who are in attendance today, when I read your name, I ask you to stand to be recognized. To the faculty and students, I ask for your applause at the conclusion of my remarks, which I hope will resonate in the hearts of the faculty we recognize today with deep gratitude.

Paul Kane, Professor of English

Professor Kane joined Vassar’s English Department in 1990 and was a longstanding member of the Environmental Studies program.

As author or editor, Paul has published twenty books, including Ralph Waldo Emerson: Collected Poems and Translations and Poetry of the American Renaissance, as well as eight collections of poems, including A Passing Bell: Ghazals for Tina. He received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities, and an honorary doctorate from La Trobe University in Australia. In 2022, Paul received the Order of Australia from the Australian government for “significant service to literature, particularly through the promotion of Australian arts, poetry, and emerging talent.”

Paul is a wonderfully creative teacher who taught courses on poetry, verse writing, and environmental humanities. His “Poetry and Philosophy: The Ancient Quarrel” was always popular with students, and “It’s Only Natural: Contemplation in the American Landscape” helped to define Environmental Studies at Vassar. Recently, Paul developed two innovative courses, “Building Thoreau’s Cabin,” an experiential investigation into carpentry, construction, and environmental thinking, and “Entering the Labyrinth,” which involved the construction of a labyrinth on the Vassar campus.

Thank you, Paul, for the grace and wisdom you have shared with your students and colleagues. Your creativity and commitment to innovative teaching gave 32 years of Vassar students a deeply meaningful education.

Peter Antelyes, Associate Professor of English

Professor Antelyes joined Vassar’s English Department in 1984. He has served as Chair of the English Department, Director of the Jewish Studies Program, Faculty Director of Teaching Development, and has been an active member of the American Studies and Media Studies programs.

Peter is a specialist in American literature, with a longstanding interest in multi-ethnic and multi-racial literature. He is author of the book Tales of Adventurous Enterprise: Washington Irving and the Poetics of Western Expansion. Recently, his work has focused on comics and on Jewish American literature, including the paper “Jews, Gender, and Comix” in the Modern Language Association’s collection Teaching Jewish American Literature.

Peter is an amazingly talented teacher; I had the great fortune to team-teach with Peter several times, and I still marvel at his ability to engage students so deeply in carefully analyzing texts and considering genuinely complex questions about culture and history, literature and identity. His courses on 19th century American Literature, Postmodern American Literature, Jews in American Popular Culture, and the Comics Course are innovative and forward looking, deeply appreciated by both students and faculty colleagues.

It has been my honor to work with and learn from Peter as a colleague and friend for the past three decades. Thank you, Peter; your profound generosity, deep curiosity, and sustained commitment to engaged pedagogy have been a true inspiration.

Jim Merrell, Professor of History on the Lucy Maynard Salmon Chair

Professor Merrell joined Vassar’s History Department in 1984. He has served as Chair of the History Department and is the recipient of many honors and fellowships, including from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, and the Massachusetts Historical Society.

Jim is a specialist in early U.S. history, particularly the Native American experience in colonial times. His first book, The Indians’ New World, won the Bancroft Prize for a distinguished work in American history and diplomacy. His second book, Into the American Woods, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and was awarded a Bancroft Prize, making Jim only the fifth historian to win the prestigious Bancroft prize twice.

Jim teaches courses on early U.S. and Native American history, including “American Moments: Rediscovering U.S. History,” “Revolutionary America: 1750-1830” and “American Encounters: Natives, Newcomers, & the Contest for a Continent”—and he advised senior theses for many scores of history majors. He has always encouraged his students to “go to the source,” helping to sustain this core Vassar ethos, and he has played a valuable leadership role on Vassar’s Native American Advisory Council.

Thank you, Jim, for your enduring commitment to the craft of teaching and to the deeply meaningful work of mentoring; you have given four decades of Vassar students a rich and rewarding education.

Miriam Rossi, Professor of Chemistry on the Mary Landon Sague Chair

Professor Rossi joined Vassar’s Chemistry Department in 1982. She served as Chair of the Chemistry Department and has been a faculty member in both the Biochemistry program and the Science, Technology, and Society program. She has been a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Santiago in Chile, and a Visiting Professor at the University of Bologna in Italy.

Miriam’s specialty is X-ray crystallography of biologically active compounds. In addition to teaching Inorganic Chemistry, she developed and taught a Computational Chemistry course, a Structural Chemistry and Biochemistry course, as well as an innovative “Chemistry of Cuisine” course. She has worked with hundreds of students on senior theses and independent research projects, most of whom became her co-authors.

Miriam has published three books and more than 160 scholarly papers. She received three grants from the National Science Foundations, two for scientific instrumentation and one for the advancement of women senior faculty in the physical sciences. Recently, Miriam and her husband, Francesco Caruso, collaborated with two Italian chemists in an analysis of a plant-based compound that they determined could help in the treatment of COVID-19.

Thank you, Miriam, for your always-collaborative approach, and for opening the world of scientific research to several generations of students. Your work has enriched the lives of your colleagues and students in ways that will long endure at Vassar.

Randy Cornelius, Professor of Psychological Science

Professor Cornelius joined Vassar’s Psychology Department in 1981. He served as Chair of the Psychology Department and as Director of the American Studies program, and was among the faculty who developed the Environmental Studies program.

Randy studies human emotions, close relationships, and the religious beliefs of scientists. He is the author of The Science of Emotion: Research and Tradition in the Psychology of Emotion and co-editor of Adult Crying: A Biopsychosocial Approach. His recent work has focused on understanding the social functions of weeping, including analyzing tears as a type of communicative display.

Randy teaches a wide range of extremely popular course in Psychological Science, including courses on Social Psychology, the Self, and Individual Differences and Personality, as well as innovative courses in American Studies, such as “American Popular Culture,” “Millennial Thinking in American Culture,” and “Mormons in America.”

Randy has been a deeply engaged member of both the College community and the local community, and is a composer, musician, and a longtime host of a program on Vassar’s radio station, WVKR.

Thank you, Randy, for modeling for your students how to explore meaningful questions with patience, humility, and humor; your students will never forget the intellectual journeys you led them through.

John McCleary, Professor of Mathematics and Statistics on the Elizabeth Stillman Williams Chair 

Professor McCleary joined Vassar’s Mathematics Department in 1979. He has been a visiting scholar at the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute in Berkeley, California and at the Newton Institute for the Mathematical Sciences in Cambridge; and a visiting fellow at Clare Hall College, University of Cambridge.

John’s academic interests are in algebraic topology and the history of mathematics, particularly the history of geometry and of topology. He has published papers on elementary number theory and mathematical physics. His more than 30 publications include the book Geometry from a Differentiable Viewpoint, as well as many scholarly papers on topology.

John teaches classes at all levels of the Mathematics curriculum, and he taught more than 20 different Mathematics courses during his career.

A dedicated contributor to the College community, John served several terms as Chair of the Mathematics and Statistics Department—serving a remarkable total of more than 15 years as department chair. He has received many grants and awards including a recent grant from the National Science Foundation to host a 2019 conference at Vassar, “Exploring Tensegrity.”

Thank you, John, for your enduring commitment to supporting your students and colleagues, and for sharing your wisdom with the College community. Your work has enriched our lives, and we are forever grateful for the opportunity to learn with you for these past 44 years.

The six of you have completed a combined 236 years of service to Vassar College, and we will truly miss you. Thank you for sharing your passion for teaching and learning with our students. Graduates and colleagues, please join me in expressing our gratitude.

Thank you.