Harpur Featured Stories
by Jake Becker
Binghamton University faculty, alumni and administrators gathered May 1 to honor professors Carrol Coates, Gerald Kadish and Zoja Pavlovskis-Petit for their 50 years each of teaching at Harpur College.
The event recognized the leadership of the three in shaping the core values of the institution throughout their careers.
"Harpur College was founded on a tradition of excellence that began over 60 years ago," Interim Dean Wayne Jones told an audience in the Mandela Room. "As we reflect on the amazing careers of these three wonderful faculty, we can see where continued excellence comes from. It comes from the excellence in your scholarship, and everything you do to share with your students the passions you have in your discipline, in the liberal arts and in Harpur College."
The jubilee marked the retirement of Kadish, distinguished professor of history, known as "Mr. Harpur" to his former students. Coates, Bartle Professor of French, comparative literature and linguistics, has for the last year enjoyed semi-retirement teaching part-time. Pavlovskis-Petit, who is in her 52nd year at Binghamton University and also a professor of comparative literature, will continue to add years to her tenure.
By sustaining this commitment to excellence, which began when Harpur's first president, Glenn G. Bartle, was shaping the emerging institution, the three have continually integrated their academic passions into their respective curriculums.
"They've helped take the vision that Glenn Bartle had and [have made] it reality as the university transformed itself from an undergraduate liberal arts college to a university setting," said Donald Nieman, executive vice president for academic affairs and provost. "To make that happen, you really need people who carry the institutional memory of the institution to new, successive generations that come in. Gerry, Zoja and Carrol have really done that."
Their devotion to students continues to set a model precedent for Binghamton's faculty within and outside of Harpur College, according to President Harvey Stenger.
"These three professors started their careers here and created a legacy of what Binghamton University is known for—outstanding faculty teaching and engaged, highly-motivated, precocious, hard-working students," he said.
After accepting the inaugurated faculty award for a half-century of service to Harpur College, Kadish made the most of the opportunity to commend his colleagues and express his gratitude.
"[Professor Pavlovskis-Petit] has been a constant delight for [these] 50 years," he said. "[Professor] Coates has been also for 50 years a source a knowledge. Harpur College remains an exceptional opportunity for those who truly want to learn."
Jones, who recited the long lists of personal and academic achievements, emphasized the professors' seminal work in expanding the core values of the institution.
"[Each individual has spent] 50 years contributing not only to the education of our students," he said, "but to the intellectual brainpower of our campus."
Carrol Coates has enjoyed his 50 years at Harpur College by expanding his passion for French literature and mentoring students in and out of the classroom.
“I’ve felt that one of my main duties was to work with students,” he says. “My intention was to get students into discussion and to get them to think outside of what they were used to in their high school training. My intention is that I hope I’m training or provoking students to think more.”
After earning his undergraduate and master’s degrees from the University of Oklahoma and his doctorate at Yale, Coates joined Harpur College as an instructor in 1963, following teaching positions at Ohio University and Lycoming College, a Methodist institution in Williamsport, Pa.
“The opportunity to come here seemed like a ticket to paradise in comparison because this was already a university that was expanding, and there were no religious restrictions, so I was delighted to come here,” he says. “In those good old days [Harpur College] gave me an immediate promotion to assistant professor in the fall of ’63.”
Coates, whose official title is professor emeritus, has never placed boundaries on his own curricula. Harpur College enabled him to spend three years studying in France in the 1980s, which widened his academic periphery.
“When I came here,” he says, “French study was divided pretty much by centuries. When I came back in 1985, I began branching out. I taught first French-Canadian literature, then Haitian and Caribbean, and eventually I worked into African literature in French, so I spread out into totally new areas that I had never studied as a student.”
Contributing a “fair amount of administrative work” as the first master of College-in-the-Woods after working in the Dickinson community, Coates has also organized student-faculty trips to France and Canada.
“We had an overseas program in the 1970s in southern France,” he says. “We took around 20 students each spring and I coordinated it from campus for several years. After that, when I [began] teaching courses on Quebec literature, I arranged with the students to make a trip to Montreal twice as a group. One time I took a University van and we had it practically full. I knew some of the Quebec playwrights, so I took them to theaters.”
Coates now teaches 17th- and 19th-century French poetry in a smaller capacity, but has expanded his research to include La Fontaine’s fables as well as fables in Russian, a language he began studying in the U.S. Army’s language school in 1954 after being drafted during the Korean War.
Looking back on the last half-century, Coates has “never regretted joining Harpur College” and continues to show his appreciation for the expanding institution.
“Coming here to Harpur was an opportunity to develop teaching and research in the directions that I wanted,” he says, “and I’ve never withdrawn from that view and am grateful for it.”
After five decades at Harpur College teaching ancient and medieval history spanning various regions of the world, Distinguished Teaching Professor of History Gerald Kadish decided that his jubilee year of teaching would be his last.
Kadish joined Harpur College in 1963 with a history degree from Hunter College and a PhD from the University of Chicago, but with “not a minute of teaching experience.” A meeting with then-Harpur College President Glenn G. Bartle led Kadish to believe that Harpur would be the right fit to begin his teaching career.
“At the time of choosing [where to teach] I had four offers from places I had actually heard of,” he says. “None of them had a vision of undergraduate education that matched Glenn Bartle’s. None of them seemed to have the sort of students that would actually make excellent use of what that vision was. The Harpur students seemed to have the intensity, the skills and the real level of learning that I supposed I would be delighted to invite into the college world.”
Kadish has certainly reciprocated that intense learning experience during his tenure. In his first semester he taught Western civilization and ancient Greek history, and over the years has added Roman and Egyptian history, the ancient Near East, hieroglyphics, ancient law and society, and Japanese history to his course offerings.
“My chair introduces me as someone who teaches everything nobody else teaches,” he says.
Kadish, who was named distinguished teaching professor in 2007, has shown that his passion for the history and cultures of the world matches his endless devotion to students.
“I think the most gratifying thing has been to see lights go on when a student has come to appreciate an area of knowledge not previously of importance to the student,” he says. “It can be quite dramatic, almost like a light coming on in the eyes. Another thing is the sound of satisfaction that some let out when they achieve beyond what they previously achieved.”
His ability to enlighten students has had a lasting effect, leading many of his former pupils to stay in touch.
“He is one of the most popular names that come up as someone that [Harpur alumni] like to come back and speak to,” Jones says.
Kadish plans to continue writing about ancient Egypt and travel to places whose history he has taught, but never visited.
“After teaching Japanese history for 10 years, visiting the country is at the top of the list,” he says.
At the golden anniversary event, Kadish conveyed his affection for his thousands of students, who for 50 years have sustained his intellectual strength.
“An ancient Egyptian scribe announced to his students that since he had no natural children of his own, they were his children,” he says. “And so do I feel.”
Beginning her 52nd year of teaching, Zoja Pavlovskis-Petit is already Harpur College’s longest tenured professor. But she has no intention of stopping.
“I still have a high level of energy, enjoy communicating about subjects that interest me and find great pleasure in being among young people,” she says.
A native of Latvia, Pavlovskis- Petit joined Harpur College in 1962 after completing her graduate work at Cornell University. As professor of comparative literature and classics, she has devoted her career to the intellectual prosperity of all students who have entered her classroom.
“Even the kind of student who has not read much and does not really know how to write is almost always intelligent and thus can learn,” she says. “In every class there is a number of outstandingly responsive students, eager to learn.”
A polyglot who has combined ancient Greek and Latin with English and other European languages in her courses of study, Pavlovskis-Petit has instructed her undergraduate students in classical mythology, a course on fairy tale study (which she introduced at a time when this field was largely unexplored in American institutions) and a course on romantic and modern love stories. Her graduate seminar subjects include irony, myth criticism, ancient literary criticism and comedy.
Outside of the classroom, Pavlovskis-Petit has been busy working on several diverse research projects, including a German-to- English translation of a fictionalized biography written in central Europe, a monograph about the intersection of imperial Roman myth with Biblical myth in the late Roman empire and a book on Nabokov’s uses of irony.
Upon hearing that she would be honored for her jubilee year-plus-one at the golden anniversary celebration, Pavlovskis-Petit admitted that receiving recognition is gratifying, but not entirely necessary.
“My attitude to it reminds me [of] how my mother reacted to Mother’s Day,” she says. “On the one hand, she thought it was an entirely superfluous holiday, much ado about nothing. On the other hand, though, she would have been hurt if I didn’t give her candy and flowers on the occasion. So it’s mixed, with pleasure predominating.”
The quantity of her academic and linguistic abilities continues to parallel the substantial respect she has received from the Harpur College community.
“Over her 51 years,” Jones says, “[Professor Pavlovskis-Petit] has served in every capacity you could ask of a faculty member. I think that she epitomizes the quality of teaching and scholarship that all of us aspire to.”
Last Updated: 6/3/15