Vassar Today

So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Goodbye

By Veronika Ruff '01

They’ve helped students find the truth, taught them how to write through publications of their own, guided young minds through their research, encouraged undergraduates to become engaged intellectuals, and inspired them to teach others. And now, these five longtime members of Vassar’s faculty are ready to say goodbye.

Constance Berkley
Lecturer in Africana Studies

Berkley, a poet, has focused on teaching comparative literature and, over the course of her career, has evolved into a noted specialist in Afro-Arabic/Islamic literature and culture — primarily focusing on Sudan. Since her 1972 arrival at Vassar, Berkley has worked to “awaken in students an awareness that there are great African, African-American, and Muslim thinkers, scholars, and writers.” She said the search for “truth” — “the truth of African people and their relationship to world culture” — guides her work. “If I have done anything,” Berkley said, “I hope that I have shown students that it’s just the tip of the iceberg, that we must work diligently, all of the time, to ameliorate the negativism, poverty, and inhumanity that are tearing our world apart.”

Though she’s leaving a formal teaching schedule behind, Berkley will not be giving up on her quest to find the truth. She is in the process of finishing two books, a number of poems, and several critical essays, translating Arabic works into English, and studying and working with Sudanese writer, and friend, Tayib Salih. “I do not foresee sitting home…I’m not retiring, just shifting my focus,” she noted.

Beverly Coyle
Visiting Professor of English

Coyle came to Vassar’s English department in 1977. “From the moment I saw the position announced, I wanted to come to Vassar… I had mostly all the right perceptions of the place; it was never a disappointment,” she said. “There’s a mystique before you arrive, and it never goes away, quite.”

She arrived as a “modernist, Americanist”; but when she was assigned to teach a composition course during her first semester at Vassar, Coyle’s title reshaped itself. While critiquing her students’ writing, she realized she wanted to be writing. Coyle took on the assignment that she had given her students — to write a story. That story was soon published, and after eight years of work, it became the now-prolific writer’s first novel, The Kneeling Bus. “I very much needed the natural process, I suppose, of teaching what I was doing…rather than what I knew,” she said.

Coyle is leaving teaching to concentrate on five writing projects that are in the works, including a play. She also plans to re-read works by Wallace Stevens — the subject of two of her scholarly books. “I’ve been waiting until I turned a certain age to do it,” she said.

Shirley Maul
Associate Director of Reader Services, Library

“There have been tremendous, and very exciting changes in the library,” said Maul, who came to Vassar in 1973. She’s seen the building of the Lockwood and Ingram libraries and witnessed the transition from the Dewey Card Catalog to a computerized system. “I remember begging students to get on a VAX [Vassar email] account,” she said. “Now we can’t get them off the computers!”

Maul has also enjoyed advising first-year students each year and serving a stint as Davison House Fellow for four years. She is especially proud of her time on college committees, one of which created a full-time administrative position to address the needs and support of disabled members of the Vassar community. Another, which she chaired, established a firm copyright policy for the college. Maul plans to continue working at the library’s reference desk (“part-time, mainly to stay out of my husband’s hair”), but looks forward to visiting her grandchildren, working in her garden, and traveling to Japan, France, Germany, and Russia.

David Schalk
Professor of History, on the William R. Kenan Jr. Chair

Schalk came to Vassar in 1968, “at the peak of extreme historical and social tension.” The college, he said, “has a special quality that sets it apart. It’s an engagement to the real world, a quality going back to at least the suffragette movement, to Vassar’s involvement in WWI — to the point that the French government sent the school a tank in gratitude,” he noted. “Vassar has class in the best way — a combination of sophistication and social concern.”

Revered for his courses on justice and European intellectual history, Schalk has appreciated the opportunities to teach experimentally at Vassar — he taught the College Course at its inception and, for many years, team-taught (with Professor of Physics Morton Tavel) a Science, Technology, and Society course. Last semester, a remodeled seminar room in Swift Hall was dedicated to Schalk. He plans to continue writing and researching topics surrounding intellectual history, as well as relating to his newfound interest in colonization and decolonization. To his throngs of former students, Schalk suggests, “Keep in touch, stay involved, and remember that our society needs intellectuals, especially engaged intellectuals.”

Judith Wohl
Visiting Instructor in Education

After 25 years teaching in the Arlington School District, Wohl came to Vassar’s Department of Education 12 years ago to supervise the student teaching program. “We get to know our student teachers so well and come to share a common philosophy, but we really encourage them to be themselves and find their own teaching style,” she said. Wohl, who also teaches courses in methodology and drama in education, has seen some exciting changes in Vassar’s student teaching program. The number of participants has increased over the years and the program recently received certification to place student teachers in math and biology classrooms, in addition to social science, humanities, and languages. “I’ve just been so proud of the people I’ve worked with,” she said. “Vassar makes great teachers.”

Wohl, her husband (Professor Emeritus of History Anthony Wohl), and their dog Digger plan to settle in the community. “This area is too beautiful to leave, and there’s too much to do on campus,” she said. “We’re looking forward to exploring in a way we have not yet had time to do.”