A Century of Experience

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Susie P. Gonzalez
Nov. 30, 2011

A Century of Experience

Three retiring Trinity University professors amass more than 100 years in the classroom, in theaters, and overseas

SAN ANTONIO - Three Trinity University professors are taking advantage of a one-time early retirement program announced last May by University President Dennis A. Ahlburg. Together, the trio of faculty members has taught for more than a century - 112 years, to be exact.

Professors eligible for the early retirement program had to be at least 63 years old and have taught at Trinity for a minimum of 10 years.

Russian professor Sarah Burke, department of modern languages & literatures, is leaving with 38 years of service. While she plans to rekindle an earlier love for art, she said she will "miss the laughter, fun, and challenges of the classroom."

Steven Gilliam, professor of human communication & theatre, has taught for 30 years and plans to focus on his professional design career. "I am closing a door of opportunity to find a new door of discovery." Emblematic of the transition, he will teach his last class at Trinity and head for the Majestic Theater, where, later that evening, he will open the national tour of "Fiddler on the Roof."

Philosophy professor Lawrence Kimmel, leaving after 44 years, said, "As teachers we are most of all honored by what our students become."

Before their exit at the close of classes in December, the professors answered the following five questions:

1. What year did you come to Trinity? How has the campus, your department, or your scholarship changed over the years?
2. What are some of proudest achievements as a Trinity faculty member?
3. What will you miss most about Trinity?
4. What is next for you?
5. Please provide your preferred e-mail address.

Sarah Burke

1. I came to Trinity in the fall of 1973, but already had been teaching since 1965. At that time Trinity was known as "The University in the Sun." We had masters programs, a home building program, and there was talk of creating a doctoral program. My department was then called the Department of Foreign Languages and included all of the current languages except for Chinese, Japanese, and Arabic but did include Latin. It was chaired by Dr. Jean Chittenden, who was marvelous. At the time, Trinity was known for its Division One tennis teams and its drama productions. When I arrived at Trinity, only two years of Russian were being offered, and my job was to build a Russian program. That I did, gradually over the years, until we were able to hire a second tenure-track faculty member and create a major. I came to Trinity as primarily a scholar of Russian literature from the turn of the 20th century but was also moving toward Russian art of the avant-garde from that period. During the 70's, I traveled to the USSR almost yearly, making contacts with unofficial dissident Russian artists, who were subsequently incorporated into my research.

2. I am particularly proud of developing a solid Russian major program at Trinity and the trips I made with students to the USSR during the late 70's and 80's. I was also proud of my role with others in creating the First Year Seminar program, my five years as an Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs, and most recently, the opportunity to teach a seminar in HUMA 1600. I am most proud, however, of the exhibitions that I facilitated for the Russian unofficial artist Evgenii Rukhin at various venues on the East Coast and at The Phillips Collection in Washington D.C.

3. I shall miss the students, faculty and wonderful staff at Trinity. I am sure that I shall miss the campus, and I know I shall miss the laughter, fun, and challenges of the classroom.
Since I shall have free time in the spring, I want to travel - maybe to Russia to experience the breaking up of the ice on the Neva River in St. Petersburg and/or to Washington State to walk under the cherry blossoms and visit the tulip fields. In the fall, I intend to see a real fall.

4. I intend to see as much as I can as long as I can. When I am not traveling I shall continue to take courses in art and to make and develop my art. When I started my college studies, I intended to be an art major and put that off to have an exciting life as a Russian specialist; so now I am getting back to my original passion.

5. My e-mail is sburke@trinity.edu

Steve Gilliam

1.I arrived in 1981. I have served under three presidents, six chairs, and with 27 drama faculty and staff. Over three decades, I have designed 108 productions in the Ruth Taylor Theatre.

2. In 2006, I was honored with the Distinguished Scholarship, Research, or Creative Work or Activity Award. Former students are designing and teaching throughout the country and include Emmy awardees and Broadway designers. My professional credits include designs with the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, Chicago Light Opera, Seattle's Village Theatre, Baltimore's Cockpit-in-Court, Georgia's Springer Opera House, Kansas City Starlight, Wichita Music Theatre, Houston's Theatre Under the Stars, and the St. Louis MUNY. I have over a dozen theme park credits with Opryland, Fiesta Texas, and Time-Warner Six Flags. My current design for "Cannery Row Capers" with SeaWorld opened in 2005 and stars a 2,500-pound walrus. I have designed three national tours of "Fiddler on the Roof" from 2001-2011, starring TOPOL, Theodore Bikel, John Peerce, and Harry Feinstein.

3. Faculty meetings. No, actually, I will miss our amazing students, who never get older. They teach me constantly to reexamine and to explore new possibilities.

4. I have a business with my partner and wife, Sam Carter Gilliam, SLG Design and Creative Talent. We will return as resident designers to the St. Louis MUNY this summer for our 19th season. We have additional design projects throughout the U.S.

5. My e-mail is sgilliam@trinity.edu or slgdesign@satx.rr.com.

Lawrence Kimmel

1. I came to Trinity in 1967. Chapman and the Computer Center were new and there was an open field which now contains Coates Library and Laurie Auditorium. My decision to retire was not an easy one. I continue to have the same passion for teaching as when I began over 50 years ago. Even so, at 76, it is time to move aside for a new generation, one that I hope will have the same dedication to teaching as those they are replacing. My teaching has ranged over many fields and paradigms within philosophy, but my approach has remained Socratic - a conversation among friends and engaging students to think critically about things that really matter. My scholarship and publication have been equally diverse over my long tenure in higher education. In addition to analytic and historical essays in philosophy - on the usual venues of epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, and aesthetics - I also have published essays on politics, law, religion, art, and literature. Early in my career I wrote a book of poetry, and I have written two plays for public television. Trinity has been a place open and supportive to creative teaching and scholarship. My colleagues in the department of philosophy have always been critically argumentative to our mutual advantage, and supportive in undertaking additional curricular tasks during my post-doctoral terms as a visiting scholar at Princeton and Oxford universities. Trinity has always had excellent faculty and our students still come to the University full of both competence and curiosity. One change in the task of reaching students in the Humanities is that contemporary students are more narrowly directed toward professional life. This is hardly surprising in these sometimes anxious times that frame their immediate futures.

2. I have received two teaching awards, The Piper Professorship for excellence in teaching and research, and the Z.T. Scott Award for outstanding teaching and academic advising. I have had the experience of teaching in several universities, and I believe Trinity's commitment to advising is singular in its excellence. I have also received two National Endowment for the Humanities awards. Aside from the personal honors for teaching and scholarship any faculty member receives, the fact remains that as teachers we are most of all honored by what our students become.

3. The classroom and the students. At the point of retirement, I can easily reflect on what a genuine privilege it has been to engage the energy of young minds as they come and develop in their undergraduate tenure. During all the years of teaching I confess to have felt more the weight of responsibility of the task than the privilege of its occasion. Finally, however, I can truly say that I cannot imagine any other profession, or any other life in which there is an opportunity and imperative to remain young in heart and mind. The life of the mind requires an open and secure space in which to flourish, and the community of scholars and teachers at Trinity has been all that it should be in its commitment to higher learning.

4. I will continue to write and publish, but probably pursue a new set of topics and a broader group of readers in the world at large. We have a beautiful home in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of Northern New Mexico with a library full of books. I will not be short on things to think or read or write about.

5. My e-mail is lkimmel@trinity.edu.

Kimmel closed by recounting a parable of Nietzsche's about the three metamorphoses of the human spirit:

One must first become a Camel, whose great strength is endurance, to take up the burden of understanding the whole of the culture that one inherits. Then the spirit must be transformed into a Lion, whose strength is in the confident autonomy of authority - to proclaim the truth as one sees it. But finally the Lion must give way to that strongest of all creatures, the child, who does not know what cannot be done, whose spirit manifests the creative potential for what is yet possible.

The story is, of course, the journey of the human spirit, but it is also an analogue for the journey of education and life-long learning. Students are at the necessary stage of the Camel, they will become Lions, and finally, if they keep the child alive in their souls, they will become not only informed and confident, but creative in ways they cannot now imagine. The point of telling it here is to remind myself to continue to work through the child.