They Inspired Us to Think

As you would expect, responses to our question about influential faculty were as varied as our class. There was the professor who steered us into a life-long profession, who inadvertently led us to our spouse, who helped us find god, who inspired us to pursue a course of study we’d never have otherwise considered, who told us what course of study we should not pursue, and, of course, there were the numerous professors who opened our eyes and ears and hearts and minds to ideas and perspectives that continue to resonate 50 years later. We group them here by academic subject, with a separate group for non-faculty mentors. 
—Jean Phifer & Kit Rachlis, eds.

Question 2: Which professor, course, or campus leader most influenced you at Yale? Is there a particular moment or incident you can tell us about?


This will seem a bit dry and nerdy. The life-changing professor for me (and likely for our classmate Anne Riney) was Paul Berney. He taught accounting. Anne and I “got it.” I loved the rules-based nature of accounting. Paul encouraged both of us to apply for jobs with the (then) Big 8 accounting firms. Both of us did that, and both of us started good careers in the profession. It never would have happened but for Paul.
Steve Blum [BR]

I must second Steve Blum’s nomination of Paul Berney as the professor who influenced me most. Since Paul led his own accounting firm in New Haven, he taught the classes at 8:30 before he put in a full day at his firm. We were a small group he routinely addressed as “Gentlemen and Anne….” He was an able advocate for the profession. One morning, we arrived to find a guest speaker, a partner in a Big 8 CPA firm. Some of us spoke with him after class and walked out with him. As he drove off with a jaunty wave from his yellow Jaguar convertible, I revised my opinion of CPAs as dull little men in “gray flannel suits.” A few years later, Paul asked me to speak to the accounting classes about my experiences at graduate school and at Price Waterhouse & Co. Expecting a small group, I was stunned to walk into a lecture hall filled with a larger crowd than I had ever addressed. Knees buckling, I half sat on the corner of the desk and delivered my remarks. It seemed to go well and with great relief I began to say my goodbyes to Paul. To my surprise, he told me that I had another large group to address that afternoon. Paul not only guided my choice of career but taught me to prepare better for public speaking engagements. 
Anne Riney [JE]

American History

Intellectual history course — 20th century, I think — from David Brion Davis. Brilliant, engaging, incredibly articulate. I scribbled notes nonstop for each entire lecture until my hand ached. An added plus: I didn’t have to suffer the male students dominating discussion, as in many courses where participation was allowed.
Nancy Ehrenreich [SY]

David Brion Davis (1927–2019) accepts National Humanities Medal from President Obama during 2014 ceremony at the White House. (Alex Wong / Getty Images) Obituary (offsite link)

David Brion Davis taught a class on American cultural and intellectual history. I still have his book Fear of Conspiracy from the class. It struck me even then how pervasive the American tendency is to search for subversive enemies and to project dangers from fragmentary and highly circumstantial evidence. It cannot be “our” fault; it must be evil outsiders. The book documented two centuries of conspiracy-mongering (1763–1966). I enjoyed his lectures and also remember the incredible length and breadth of the reading list.
JoAnn Hanson [SY]

Howard Lamar teaching “History of the American West.” A maker of puns (“It seems the west is just in our genes”). A living representative of the subject matter (related to a famous Lamar in Texas). Promoter of the boom-or-bust theory of the West (which he applied to everything from mining to Hollywood). Expert in spicing up a lecture class (after handing out some photos of some event, he would say, “That concludes the audiovisual portion of the class”). A generous man (put up with my terrible paper on Ned Buntline and dime novels). Arts patron (let me present a few scenes from a play I was directing, Indians by Arthur Kopit, to some Western historians at the polo field. I’m not sure how, but Alley Mills later of The Wonder Years arranged this).
Steven Kimball [MC]

I took several courses on early 20th-century American history with John Morton Blum, one of the big three of the renowned history professors, which included C. Vann Woodward and Edmund Morgan. All great. Blum’s classes were in 114 Strathcona Hall, that exceptionally large lecture hall. I treasured his lectures, and his reading list had some of the classic books of that period. One day, he kicked out a student who was sitting in the back reading a newspaper (when we read hard copies). Blum stopped his lecture and said, “Excuse me, young man, but you can leave now since you are not paying attention.” Everyone gasped, but I admired his straight-forwardness. I learned that many of his students saw him as a mentor and that his range was wide, from George W. Bush to Henry Louis Gates. He authored many books, but one I often used as the go-to bible of American History was The National Experience.

At the end of one course, Professor Blum asked for three students to please come up to the podium. To my alarm, my name was called! I wondered what trouble I might be in. When I reached the front of the room, he said, “I always pick three faces in the crowd at the beginning of the course to monitor how my lecture is going. You were one of the faces I watched throughout the semester.” Yikes! I loved the course and hoped my face expressed it. I think it did, for we later became friends. I once invited him to speak to a group of interested historians, and he began his talk with this question, “What was your first political memory?” That struck me as a great opener. Mine was sitting directly behind ex-President Harry Truman at a Broadway show. After I graduated, we became neighbors on Edgehill Road. I would often see him walking his dachshund and we would chat. The last time I saw him was when I drove by one day, and there he was, walking his dog, this time with a cane.
Cilla Leavitt [TC]

R. Hal Williams was an American history professor, who was the instructor for my junior year history majors seminar. I had never done a major research project nor written a detailed paper. Williams, more than anyone, taught me the process of writing. We studied the Progressive Era, which covered the period from after the Civil War through Woodrow Wilson, with the always entertaining figure of Theodore Roosevelt in between. America grew up during this period and became a world leader. There were several bright people in that seminar, and Williams managed to keep us working together on our projects in a highly professional manner. I’m now a lawyer and handle two or three major federal appeals each year. It all started in Williams’s class.
Bill Lunn [JE]

Hope you don’t mind if I cite two. Edmund Morgan’s Colonial America course freshman year confirmed that I chose the right major. I taught secondary school history for 41 years. And professor Jeremy Adams, the model for “Nowhere Man” in Yellow Submarine, was a remarkable teacher (of course he didn’t get tenure). In a pithy comment on an essay, he stated, “Mr. Mendelsohn — This is publishable, except it is cloaked in the most wooden writing style I have ever read.” I’ve worked on my writing ever since, and any improvements I’ve made are thanks to him.
Bill Mendelsohn [BK]

Edmund Morgan (1916–2013). YAM photo.Obituary (offsite link)

American Literature

I won the lottery and got to take Cleanth Brooks’s class on William Faulkner. I still love his books. I am still amazed Brooks actually went hunting with Faulkner hisself [sic.] The stories he told — as they say, priceless.
Beth Rosenthal [BK]

Cleanth Brooks (1906–1994). Yale/Marsland photo.  Obituary (offsite link)

American Studies

It wasn’t a course but a course of study that most influenced my academic life at Yale. I had returned for junior year intending to pursue American History as my major. It took me about ten minutes into my first seminar — Tocqueville’s America — that I realized pure history was going to bore the hell out of me. I needed something more. One of my roommates, Rich Feinstein, suggested I check out American Studies. It was a suggestion that changed my life by reawakening my intellectual curiosity, which had been repressed by my half-hearted attempts to fulfill all my distribution requirements during our first two years. After Psych 10 and introductory Anthropology, not to mention satisfying my language requirement, this interdisciplinary major focused on the development of American culture from John Winthrop to the 1960s, on literature from Shakespeare to Ken Kesey, and on the evolving religious experiences that spread through the colonies and then the states (yes, Yale was, in part, a conservative religious reaction to heresies honed at Harvard). I ate it all up. I still do. Thank you, Edmund Morgan, Alvin Kernan, Bob Chambers, and all the great minds I encountered in my fellow classmates whether we were discussing whether Henry Adams was self-indulgent, Ahab was the machine in the garden, or the Civil War was foreseen by Edgar Allen Poe. It was the intellectual trip of a lifetime, and I haven’t come down yet. Only in America and, for me, only at Yale would this have been possible. Boola!
Alec Haverstick [SY]

Norman Holmes Pearson, who taught the American Studies senior seminar Postwar American Fiction, has probably had more impact on my life than anyone outside my family. He was the most brilliant individual I have ever met. Even so, he seemed genuinely interested in what members of the class had to say. His criticisms of my weekly essays certainly improved my writing style. More importantly, when I considered deferring my entry into law school (after nine of my eleven classmates in The Mind of the South seminar said they planned on law school) to study in England, he recommended that I study at Cambridge rather than Oxford. He had been at Oxford before the war and said that even then there were too many American students, so it was likely I would never properly experience English life. I am still in England now, not least because, just a few weeks after arriving, I met my future (English) wife in the Pembroke College Cambridge bar. Professor Pearson is long deceased, but I did not escape his shadow. Between 2004 and 2020 I worked as a fund manager in Ryder Court, London — the very offices from which Norman Pearson had run the British-based operations of the OSS during the Second World War.
Scott McGlashan [CC]

I took Charlie Reich’s class based on his book, The Greening of America, freshman year. I was really struck by the need to be a “consciousness three” person. I felt the need to do what my heart dictated. So, after the spring term ended, I went home to Cleveland, got engaged, and was married at the age of 19 to my high school sweetheart, Kathie, in September prior to our sophomore year. We have been happily married for over 52 years and have been blessed with seven children and 24 grandchildren.
Randall Miller [DC]

Art History

Robert Farris Thompson (1932–2021), Portrait in TD; Yale Univ. photo.YDN appreciation (offsite link)

The answer to this question is a bit complicated, because the course that most influenced me was a course that a colleague in the Art History Department and I created for ourselves. Essentially, we resurrected a course that was no longer in the Blue Book but that, I believe, had once been called “Museum Studies.” We pitched our idea to curators James and Susan Burke at the Yale Art Gallery, and they took it on. We were charged with creating a display of ancient Greek pottery from the gallery’s collection with a loan of contemporaneous Greek bronzes. Under the Burkes’ supervision, we researched the objects, wrote the exhibition texts, and designed the display cases. Taking our cue from the then-revolutionary display techniques of the Garvan Furniture Collection — e.g., hanging chairs on walls — we raised vases on pedestals to eye-level, so that viewers could appreciate both the silhouettes of the pottery and the painted designs. We interacted with museum professionals in all departments at all levels, from the curators to the carpenters who built the displays. I don’t recall how long the exhibition was on display, but it was long enough to be a source of pride that something that my colleague and I had created was good enough for the gallery to exhibit. Why do I consider this “influential”? Because it exemplifies the Yale I knew, where students were encouraged to “run amok” (with some supervision) with the university’s incredible resources. I hope that this encouragement of intellectual curiosity and support of idiosyncratic projects, particularly at the undergraduate level, continues 50 years later.

The professor I enjoyed the most was George Kubler, who taught Pre-Columbian and Latin American Art. Although art history was not my major, his classes were fascinating, and he was a true expert in his fields. There was a bit of a paradox about him; he was very Euro-centric but was probably the key art historian who brought Ancient America into the fold as a topic of study. His classes were taught in the old Street Hall in a room that had replicas of the famous murals in the synagogue at Dura-Europos. It’s amazing to think back to the old days of showing slides in art history classes. I remember that one of my papers was on José Clemente Orozco’s murals at Dartmouth, and I donated my slides to Professor Kubler’s library. Although on the surface it might have seemed like he had a distant, intellectual kind of personality, he actually was always listening to you well. Also, he was a supportive person. I remember once I was toying with the idea of going into art history, and he wrote me a nice letter of recommendation. When I would come back to Yale, I always visited him. He stayed on into the early 1980s, kept working at other institutions, and passed away in 1996.
Steve Bauer [SY]

I recall watching a Gilda Radner skit on Saturday Night Live many years ago. She was hawking a record containing all the facts anyone would remember ten years after graduating from college. One example: “Economics — Supply and Demand.” Her sales pitch was that there was no need to spend four years and all that money on a college education when we would forget most of what we learned. Some 50 years after my last Yale College course, I sometimes feel that Gilda had it right. Most of my courses have blurred into a general memory of interesting information, excellent professors, and impressive classmates. But most of the details have gone. The one clear exception is Professor Robert Farris Thompson’s course on the History of Art. I remember one class where he showed examples of modern art, large, abstract canvases, often in a single color, and explained the artist’s intended conversation with the viewer. I had little prior experience with art and probably none with modern art. His comments opened up a degree of understanding that is still with me after more than 50 years. One of Professor Thompson’s particular interests was Afro-Atlantic music. On one occasion, we entered the lecture hall and saw him playing the drums, accompanying Santana’s “Oye Como Va.” In his typically articulate fashion, he explained all the many strands that had been brought together to produce the music. When I hear the song, I always think of Professor Thompson.
Steven Davis [ES]

Anne Hanson (1921–2004).Obituary (offsite link)

When I took Anne Hanson’s class on modern art, I was a relative newbie to art history, having only taken Vincent Scully’s survey course my freshman year. I was impressed before I even got to class, knowing that Professor Hanson was the first female tenured professor at Yale. I heard that her husband was a sculptor and when I saw her arrive for the first lecture, with her silver hair in a pageboy and chunky jewelry around her neck, I thought she was the coolest woman I’d ever seen. Her lectures were terrific, and so many of her lessons have stuck with me. I was particularly drawn to the Impressionist artists and remember Professor Hanson’s description of their brushstrokes, use of color and perspective. Her words have stayed with me when I go to exhibits and surprise myself by recognizing a particular painting or artist. I often thought of writing her a thank-you note and regret that I did not. I wonder what she would think of my latest art purchase, a painting on canvas by an artist named Tiggy, whose work makes fun of famous art. In this one it’s a take off of Matisse, with a hot pink bikini falling off a Matisse-like figure, with the words “wardrobe malfunction.” I hope she would appreciate the humor.
Susan Klebanoff [DC]

Vincent Scully (1920–2017). Yale Univ. photo.Obituary (offsite link)

My most favorite and influential professor was Vincent Scully. I took four classes with him — “Introduction to Art History” to his architecture/architectural history offerings. He opened up a new world of visual art that has been a source of joy for all this time. I am trying to remember a quote from Camus that he always used to close out the last lecture of the semester. It was something about a big change coming “but few of us know it.” He was an incredible communicator who felt and made you feel the passion for the subject matter.
Juan Leon [SY]

For me, it was Vincent Scully who turned me onto architecture. Having been on campus for seven years (M. Arch. ‘77), I am sure I heard Scully’s annual lecture on Frank Lloyd Wright’s frightening train ride home from Chicago to Spring Glen, Wisconsin, at least four times. On the fateful day, Wright kept getting messages at each stop on the way about the fire burning down his house and the murder of his wife. Always chilling!
Jim Liberman [BK]

I was blessed to be in Directed Studies. I believe the first class of our freshman-year course of study was a History of Art lecture given by Professor Robert Farris Thompson, a scholar of African art and a master drummer of the Yoruba tribe. It was electric — fast paced, exciting, informative, different. His delivery was musical, rhythmic, with an unrelenting energy that was hypnotic. “Art is Life, Life is Art,” he intoned multiple times, a thought which pervaded the class all year. I left the lecture almost breathless, thinking, “Wow, is every lecture at Yale going to be like this?’ Haha. That said, the energy continued throughout the year, including the experience with him in small sections. He was always available and accessible, loved hanging with students, and provided great insights which remain of value to this day.
Geoffrey Menin [MC]

One of my favorite seminars was American Decorative Arts with Charles Montgomery. Rather than having risen through the ranks of academic tenure at Yale, Mr. Montgomery had joined the faculty after a distinguished career as Director of the Winterthur Museum in Delaware and as a renowned and successful antiques dealer. He taught us to be literally “hands on” with the historic objects we studied. I distinctly remember his lesson about how to spot a fake silver or pewter tankard, the traditional 18th-century mug with a lid. He filled a few of the tankards in the collection with something to drink (beer?) and passed them around the table for us to sample. We quickly discovered the fake because its lid did not open far enough to avoid hitting you in the face when you tried to drink! It was an unforgettable lesson in the application of common sense to assessing historical artifacts. Sadly, he died only a few years later in 1978 at the age of 67.
—Jean Parker Phifer [JE]


Sidney Altman, professor of biology and teacher of the molecular half of Bio 101 and all of the genetics course. The latter was the best course I took at Yale. He was a no-nonsense but excellent teacher of what was, for biology, relatively difficult material. His final exam was the best test I ever took in that it required thinking about the course material as well as knowing the content (i.e., not just from memory but also from analysis). Altman later won a Nobel Prize and was dean of Yale College. He did not win his students over with charm but rather with effort, efficiency, and excellence.

Whoever taught the first semester of Bio 101. Genius lecturer. I’d never heard anything like it. He said something like, “Life is a tenuous film plastered on the surface of the earth,” and it fired my imagination. A life of veterinary medicine, biomedical research, and delight in all non-human living things followed. In my old age I’m discovering delight in humanity as well!
Joan Hendricks Garvan [CC]

Exams were handwritten in blue books, and in my first semester biology course final (after the holidays, as exams were then), I apologized for my poor handwriting on the final questions. The feedback I received was tart but accurate: “Self-knowledge is good, self-improvement is better.” That has stayed with me.
Loring Ingraham [SY]

Professor Melvin Cohen. Biology. I spent semesters in his lab studying nerve regrowth in cockroaches. My mom called him “Cockroach Cohen.”
Peter Pelikan [BK]


Freshman year Advanced Chemistry Professor Stellwagen. He taught an original course and designed and built the equipment to perform experiments with.

Professor Harry Wasserman. I loved his Organic Chemistry course in my freshman year. I went on to earn a Ph.D. in biochemistry and have been in research ever since.
Margaret Kern Fahnestock [JE]


I remember hearing economics professor James Tobin teach about competitive advantage and how production should be moved to countries that can produce the most cheaply. This is behind NAFTA. I thought, “What happens to the people who had held these jobs?” He said something about there would be a transition and, in the end, it would work out. We now see what has happened to workers, businesses, communities, and our national political scene. Maybe production should move to the low-cost producer, but we needed to work harder at getting a new job/life for the excessed workers. Fifty years later we are still dealing with this transition.


My first year, I fast-talked my way into a seminar taught by Maynard Mack, who, unbeknownst to me, was the most feared member of a fearfully towering English Department. I was woefully underprepared, as Professor Mack let me know in a quietly piercing way, but he poked and prodded me into a little better shape as the weeks unrolled, and eventually I awoke to the fact that his gift as a teacher was opening a space where we students could learn most of all from one another. Never having learned enough to warrant leaving the academy, I became a teacher myself and since have tried to mold my classroom in the spirit of his understated but far-reaching invitation for us as students to recognize in ourselves what Emerson (in a line I first heard when imparted by Professor Mack that semester) called “the eternal stirring in our hearts.”

I wish I could say a particular professor was a powerful influence on me or a real mentor, but I did have some outstanding professors, notably Tom Weiskel, who left me with a love of the art and poetry of William Blake. Six months after we graduated, he drowned trying to save his little girl. They were skating on a pond, and she had fallen through the ice. It wasn’t until a reunion of our class many years later that I learned that his brother Peter was in our class. We talked about his brother. So, I guess I want to remember Tom Weiskel and perhaps hear from others who took Eng 47 in the fall — I think — of 1972.
Deborah Greenman [BK]

As a math major who was also pre-med, I must admit that the two most enjoyable and inspiring courses that I took while an undergrad were both humanities courses. I like to credit Richard Gilman’s lectures on modern theater and an English professor’s (whose name I cannot remember) course on Shakespeare for combining to kick-start my right brain, an organ that I didn’t even realize that I had up to that point! Their passion for all the elements involved in theatrical literature and performances — drama, symbolism, comedy, irony, dialogue, humor, and music, to name a few — sparked in me what has become a lifelong appreciation for live theater, film, and the arts in general. Now, if only they had taught me to be a competent performer… But alas!
Lowell Keppel [SM]


One of the courses at Yale that took me out of my intellectual comfort zone was intensive introductory French. In high school I had studied Latin, painstakingly assembling translations like jigsaw puzzles. In French, sitting around a table with maybe ten other students, I found myself, day after day, thrust onstage, expected to pick up a tune and improvise. There were plenty of grammatical structures to learn — where are you supposed to place pronoun direct and indirect objects in a sentence using the passé composé? — but the stumbling felt less like a construction project and more like the way a jazz musician, practicing, playing, internalizes scales and chord progressions, then creates something shapely and elegant out of thin air. We moved along quickly. Just as we were getting a handle on one concept, the next one would come along, so that I found myself in a continual state of teetering on the brink of linguistic collapse. But, like the diligent musician, I began, very slowly, to acquire a vocabulary, not only of words but of phrases and formulas, habits of cadence, a feel for what worked and what seemed off.

The course was overseen by the noted Pierre Capretz, who would go on to publish the popular, widely adopted (and later controversial) textbook, French in Action. In fact, Capretz was just developing the book at the time, and my classmates and I were the guinea pigs for it, working from mimeographed sheets with dialogues tracing the Paris encounters and evolving relationship of Robert and Mireille (whose stereotypical gender roles would cause the later controversy). Capretz was affable and dynamic, but we met with him only once a week. Our daily classes were taught by two graduate students, a glamorous American (we all had a crush on her) and a more businesslike Frenchwoman. There was a real esprit-de-corps in that class — by the way, that’s from the French esprit-de-corps. And, as it turned out, French would resonate deeply in my life. That same year (my sophomore year), I met a Mount Holyoke first-year named Mary Jane Cowles, a Romance Languages major who … well, suffice it to say that Jane and I still have the airmail letters we exchanged during her junior year in Paris; we married in 1979 in Princeton, where she earned her Ph.D. in French; and in the 40-plus years since then, we’ve traveled regularly to France, alone and with our two sons. When we go to Europe, we sometimes see David Castronuovo, an old friend from that Yale French class who now lives in Rome. As for my French proficiency, I’m far from fluent, but I can certainly carry a tune.
Dan Laskin [ES]


Wir leben, kämpfen und sterben für das Vaterland” is the sentence that, perversely, I remember most vividly from the first weeks of German 25, the Intensive German course I decided to take in the misguided conviction that I needed some mastery in German to qualify for grad school in English. German 25 met every morning and four afternoons a week and demanded long hours in the language lab.  The two professors in charge of the course, Ernst Schürer in the fall and Steve Scher in the spring, were assisted by two native speakers, Frau Gross and Frau Fitz.  The pace of the course was unrelenting; not all the students who began stuck with it to the end.  If Ernst Schürer was teutonically methodical and conscientious in his teaching, Steve Scher was mercurial, overbearing, and unbearable until we found that our exasperation with him had turned into love. Puffing on one of his eternal cigars, he excoriated us for our sluggishness, picked up the pace, and seemed to delight in watching us scramble and pant to keep up.  But we did.  And once we had been beaten into shape, we were fit to enjoy the heady experience of sharing his love of a language and literature that I, for one, had never expected to be able even to like.  We read Kafka and Thomas Mann and felt as though we had been initiated into a language and culture that deviated significantly from our century’s deserved stereotypes.  By the end of the spring semester, we’d become a community and celebrated our not insignificant achievements in a wonderful party at the Scher residence, where we huddled around a Ouija board and pretended to be characters in the Magic Mountain.

A year later, this class resulted in an event which, even after 50 years of university life, astonishes me.  In the course of our senior year, Steve Scher was denied tenure and landed a job at Dartmouth, where he worked until his death in 2005.  Jane Newman ’76 (a fellow German 25 student who would go on to be a noted Germanist and comparatist) and I decided to give him a farewell party in my suite in Saybrook.  We invited all the members of the Intensive German class and — utterly naively — the entire faculty of the German department (even the senior faculty members who had voted to deny him tenure).  To our astonishment, everyone came, and it was a wonderful party.  Steve never forgot that evening.  It took years of my own being bumped around the tenure and academic hiring process for me to realize and fully appreciate our chutzpa.  
Susan Winnett [SY]


When I got back to Yale after a semester away in January 1973, I learned that I would be able to graduate with my class, assuming I could complete my major — history. I needed to take a junior seminar and chose a class with a recent Ph.D. from Stanford on women during the Victorian era in Britain. Patricia Otto (now Klaus) was a fantastic, enthusiastic teacher who built wonderful camaraderie in her seminar. She got me interested and excited about Victorian British history. I ended up doing two seminars with her, and she helped me determine a senior thesis topic and an advisor. The following year, I encountered a severe writer’s block while trying to complete my thesis to graduate. The Saybrook Dean, C. Duncan Rice, was so fantastic. When I went to him in despair, he said he would allow me additional time, but I needed to leave campus for a few days and not work on the thesis. My dear friend and roommate, Marilyn Sharpe, had actually finished the semester before. She and I got a car and drove to Boston, the Cape, and Rhode Island for two days. When I came back, I finished the thesis without a problem and graduated. Thank you, Dean Rice!

Even though I disagreed with his politics (as I still do), I found Donald Kagan’s classical civilization course to be quite interesting, useful, and thus, memorable.

Wolfgang Leonhard (1921–2014). Yale Univ. photo. YAM appreciation (offsite link)

Wolfgang Leonhard, educated in the Soviet Union in the 1930s and a rising star in the East German political establishment until he defected to and settled in the West in 1949, taught Soviet history and communist studies at Yale from 1966 to 1987. With his distinctive German accent and flair for the dramatic, Professor Leonhard was one of the most entertaining and incisive lecturers on campus. Here was someone who had lived what he was teaching. To this day, I remember his trenchant critiques of both Soviet-style authoritarianism and Western democratic liberalism in the context of the Cold War. I also remember his delightful German-accented English: A word like “espionage” was pronounced “s-PIE-on-ahze.” In the autumn of 1976, I was living in Berlin, learning German, during that year’s national elections. I was in the kitchen of a Berlin flat and could hear the voices of TV commentators coming from another room. Suddenly, a voice, speaking in German, yanked me back several years to New Haven. “I know that voice,” I said to my German friends. Though I had never heard Wolfgang Leonard speak much German, I instantly knew it was him. Rushing into the room, there he was, declaiming in his usual flamboyant style on why Helmut Schmidt would continue as chancellor. It was like meeting an old friend.
Jeffrey Boutwell [PC]

This isn’t exactly what you asked, but the extraordinary Yale History Department of our era had an important and lasting effect on me. Some greats in my chosen European focus: Peter Gay, Gaddis Smith, Henry A Turner, others. Two defectors from behind the Iron Curtain changed the way I saw the world: Wolfgang Leonhard, an East German Party official schooled in the Comintern, taught an electrifying (to this child of the Cold War) History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. And Eva Balogh, who had fled Hungary in 1956, taught the History of Eastern Europe. I remember conversations with them vividly, and much of what I understand of the world today is because of them. And John Merriman, new to Yale in 1972 and not much older than we were, was my advisor in French History. He went on to memorably enthrall students with his lectures and passion for 50 years until his death in 2022. Cilla Whiteman Leavitt and I audited his course on revolutionary France in 2020 during COVID, and I’m so grateful we had that chance. Hail and farewell. They made my life more interesting, and lit the way to a long career in the book business. A great gift.
Christina Coffin [TC]

Piotr Wandycz was a professor of diplomatic history and director of Russian and East European studies. His influence was indirect, having to do more with his ability to examine history through diplomacy. Although I was particularly focused on the development of communism in the inter-war years, I chose to write my senior thesis on the machinations of Milan Stojadinović, the prime minister of Yugoslavia, as he pulled away from France and negotiated with central European governments, and finally his efforts to accommodate and stay in good graces with the rise of Hitler. This all stemmed from a grad course in diplomatic history led by Professor Wandycz, in which he brought to life the various ploys and efforts by European governments during that period. His habit of using a long cigarette holder added to the sense of drama, like being around Bogie in Casablanca.
Jim Pavle [BK]

Wolfgang Leonhard’s lecture courses, History of International Communism and History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Leonhard was a privileged son of the Comintern, selected and nurtured to be a Soviet apparatchik in the German Democratic Republic (DDR) after WWII. Thought better of it and defected. A truth teller. Helped make me a Cold Warrior almost as much as Dick Bissell.
McKim Symington [BR]

To win a quick bet (“you wouldn’t dare”) I entered the Ten Eyck Prize-Speaking Contest junior year. Thirty of us auditioned with speeches, 9 to 11 minutes long, on any topic. This was going to be Old Yale. The contest was still in its prime, under the direction of Prof. Rollin G. Osterweis, Yale’s debate coach, who passed in 1983. The finalists would appear on a flood-lit stage at Sudler Hall in Harkness. 

Only five finalists would make the cut, and Yale’s debate team would dominate. So the rest of us were there for No Apparent Reason. Why worry? There was no real chance of making the finals. We didn’t have to dress for success. I picked a quick story about overdevelopment in a small Vermont village. On impulse, I added a mild Vermont twang. I’d dared enter, so I’d won my bet. 

Late that night a friend from the Yalie Daily tipped me I’d made the finals the next week. I froze. The finals could get raucous from bands of amused classmates. Now I’d need a memorized, buffed-up talk. The debaters dominated, but I survived for second place (Deborah Rhode, later a Stanford law professor, won). Somehow the experience steeled me up for future stage visits. I thanked my luck for stumbling into Prof. Osterweis’ legendary course, “History and Practice of American Oratory.”
Dave Danforth  (ES)


During our fall semester senior year, I took a college seminar in Calhoun on incarceration, which looked at virtually every aspect of how people, society, and our judicial system reacts and is affected by the action of putting someone behind bars.  In fact, it was the weekend of the opening football game against UConn, and I had never missed a home game.  Well, I missed this one as the class spent the entire 48-hour weekend in the State of Connecticut Correctional Facility outside of Hartford. We experienced every stage of being booked, fingerprinted, and photographed and the humility of losing virtually all of our rights. That experience has stayed with me all these years, and I realized right then how a single stupid or ill-timed action could radically change one’s life trajectory forever. Add to that the more far-ranging racial profiling, false arrests, and social injustice issues and how many lives have been irreparably damaged. Incarceration and recidivism — two more gnarly societal issues that seem so hard to resolve in our divided world today.
Phil Clark [CC] 

Many of the professors and courses at Yale have had an influence on my career and my thinking. However, the most influential was the undergraduate Constitutional Law course taught by Charles Black, a professor at the Yale Law School. Professor Black made Constitutional Law both readily comprehensible and very interesting. The course influenced my eventual decision to go to law school after Yale. I only wish my law school Constitutional Law course was half as well taught as Professor Black’s course at Yale.
Matthew Weston-Dawkes [SY]


Searching for a way to pursue my fascination with language after finding “Introduction to Linguistics” disappointing, I was trying out courses across the catalog that had “language” in the title. Ruth Day’s “Psychology of Language” turned out to be one of the most fascinating courses I took at Yale. A large part of what made the course so inspiring was Professor Day herself. The course was extremely well organized, and her lectures were crystal clear and accompanied by very helpful handouts. My only regret is that my final project for the course was disappointing to both me and her. (I was fascinated by the results of child language research but not very good at working with children.) Ruth Day was one of the two (yes, two) female teachers I had a Yale. She was a role model for me then and in my career as a linguistics professor. Sadly, Day was one of the many junior scholars who cycled in and out of Yale’s faculty in those days with only a remote chance of a permanent position or tenure. She has spent almost all of her career at Duke, whose students are luckier than Yale’s!
Barbara Johnstone [BK]

Ruth Day, and her very popular course in “Cognitive Psychology” stands out. Yale is a great place to think about thinking. Her course influenced me to also take Sensory Processes at the Pierce Foundation. More importantly, these courses influenced me greatly throughout life, more than any course in my engineering major or the natural sciences. The course sparked a life-long interest in mind and brain, leading to reading the works of Oliver Sacks, Steven Pinker, Dan Levitan, Daniel Kahneman, Richard Thaler, etc. These led to a better understanding of self and others around me at home and in the workplace. The learnings apply to the ergonomics and the user experience solutions I’ve designed. Even now, they guide what I select for computer and smartphone display backgrounds and layouts.

One of the optional weekly evening seminars was on the topic of bilingualism. My project was to compare: (a) my observations playing in Hebrew and English with a local bilingual two-year-old and (b) journal articles on childhood bilingualism. I now live in Israel, where everybody is at least bilingual, and most children are so from when they start daycare or sooner. The lessons from my project are totally applicable. They explain children’s preferences and how children so effortlessly switch to speak the right language to each person. I mention the ideas in conversations with other grandparents several times each year. The lessons explain why, when I first meet a Hebrew-first-English-second child and speak Hebrew with my American accent, at first they think I am speaking English, but they can’t understand me, and tell me so. Only once I slowly explain that I am speaking Hebrew, then they can tolerate my accent, lock in on the language, and understand. Professor Day moved on to Duke many decades ago, but she very graciously responded the few times I reached out to her regarding appropriate topics.
David Kra [DC]


Not sure this event was the most influential, but it changed how I dealt with my future studies, and I think made me a better boss/parent/partner later in life. Sophomore year, I spent too much time goofing around without much focus on schoolwork. One of my courses was a math unit; I had skipped several of the classes, including the last one during which the previously announced time of the final exam was changed. The upshot was that I showed up for the exam just as it ended. The professor was not happy — REALLY not happy. However, in an act of mercy, he told me to come back in an hour and that he would let me take an exam he would create just for me. This consisted of his calling out problems for me to solve at the blackboard while he watched. It was mortifying, as I fumbled through, but I was profoundly grateful just to have been given a second chance.

I took three courses from Professor Shizuo Kakutani. He was a brilliant mathematician and also a very nice man. He taught me how to think clearly and prove things correct. I am not a mathematician, but this was the most important skill I learned at Yale.
Geoff Lowney [CC]


Willie Ruff. Wonderful jam sessions with Dwike Mitchell and occasionally Dizzy Gillespie. History of African-American music made fun.

Willie Ruff (1931–2023). Yale photo. Obituary (offsite link)School of Music tribute (offsite link)


There were so many unforgettable and influential professors at Yale, it’s difficult to single out only one. But Robert Fogelin, the professor who taught me Intro to Philosophy, stands out. His class was very large, the temperature very warm, and the hour very early (8 a.m.), but against those odds, Professor Fogelin could transform often dry and dense topics into engrossing revelations. I could never imagine David Hume as interesting. I left classes proudly believing that if I could understand this stuff, anything would be accessible. While I must admit that no single lecture stands out, I do remember how pleasurable learning something new and challenging could be. Professor Fogelin shrunk the class size into a seminar-like setting by inviting participation. In some of my other classes I was so overwhelmed by the volume of reading assignments that I felt it necessary to take Evelyn Woods’s speed-reading workshops. While I could scratch the surface meaning with my eyes leaping across the page the speed- reading way, I lost sight of deeper meanings and aesthetics, which is best gained by participating in the learning experience with someone who loves to teach as well as loves the material being presented. Taking Fogelin’s class slowed me down academically to the detriment of my mastering Evelyn Woods. It temporarily led me to seriously consider majoring in philosophy as I confused my profound admiration of Fogelin’s oratory with the area he taught (which I soon discovered was not for me). But ultimately, it was an extremely valuable detour. He rekindled my love of learning out loud and reading at my own pace, a lesson I often need to remember when I get ahead of myself while leaving my joy in learning behind.
Irv Leon [TC]

Jay Ogilvy, Early Concentration Philosophy and others…. Jay ran the double-credit seminar that was my introduction to Yale academics and also introduced me to my lifelong friends Bennett Gilbert and Paul Stevens (among others). Jay became a friend, too, and a mentor. He and his wife, Heather, opened their home to me on an as-needed basis, a getaway whenever stress or homesickness made dorm life too much to bear. We have remained close for 50 years and see each other whenever we can.
Rick Okie [SY]


Professor Charles Sommerfield was a theoretical physicist assigned to me as my faculty advisor in freshman year to look over and approve my course selections. I remember trudging up Science Hill to the particle accelerator building to find his office to get his signature with a bit of trepidation, as I had never been there. I knocked on his door and introduced myself, explaining that he was my faculty advisor. His very first words to me — he was sitting at his desk behind stacks of journals in a fortress-like enclosure — were, “Don’t be a physicist.” He signed my course selection, and I followed his advice.
Thomas Corbi [TC]

Political Science

I was a Political Science major and my “advisor” (I forget exactly what he was called) was Paul Wolfowitz. To be very clear, I’m not a fan of the neo-conservative policies he helped implement while in various government positions, and I’m not overlooking the scandal at the World Bank that led to his resignation; but in retrospect, his influence as my advisor was a significant factor in my generally globalist outlook on things. I am dismayed by the current drift in the U.S. towards isolationism.
Brent Costello [DC]

Ronald Steel had a significant influence on me. I was interested in political science and international relations, and he was the author of Pax Americana and a visiting fellow in Jonathan Edwards College who offered a non-credit seminar on foreign policy. There were only a few of us who attended, so it was an opportunity to engage with an accomplished writer and intellectual. In the fall of 1971, I wanted to continue to learn from him and signed up for his credit seminar on Walter Lippman. He was doing research for a book on Lippman, which was published several years later. To the present day, I recognize his influence, because it is important to me to be thoughtful and informed and to use critical thinking skills to explore and understand the implications of different points of view and policies.
Bill Wardle [JE]


The Reverend Tom Chittick was Lutheran Campus Pastor. He joked upon arriving in Fall 1970 that he was also a freshman (we didn’t question that terminology yet.) His Old Campus office was a refuge, and Luther House on High Street was a home away from home — I lived there my sophomore year. In 1976–77, he was my field placement supervisor at the University of Pennsylvania campus ministry, and on March 15, 1980, he preached at my ordination. Yes, I had courses and professors who influenced me, but sometimes extracurriculars have even more impact!
Ann Larson [BR]

Jaroslav Pelikan (1923–2006). Yale Univ. photo. Obituary (offsite link)

For some reason, a course on St. Augustine caught my eye as a freshman, taught by Jaroslav Pelikan, already one of the foremost scholars of Christian history and theology. As it turns out, the class comprised several Divinity School students, a couple of graduate students, a couple of seniors, and me. He joked that if he had listed the course as being about a fourth-century North African philosopher, he would have needed the Yale Bowl for the first class but could hold the second one in his office. I took another course from him later, and he told us to submit our paper in any Indo-European language except Finnish, unless we could lend him a Finnish dictionary. Years later, I posted to a blog about religion and mentioned Pelikan. The host responded directly that he had to defend his thesis to a panel led by Pelikan, who asked him a multiple-part question. The host asked whether Pelikan preferred that he answer the questions in order or some other priority. Pelikan responded, “I don’t really care if you answer it at all. I was just trying to impress my colleagues with the question.”
Joseph Truhe [TC]

Jaroslav Pelikan. A great professor inspires you to go beyond what you learned from his class. His unparalleled knowledge came from reading every source material in the original language, whether Greek, Hebrew, or Biblical Aramaic. I never saw him refer to a note during a lecture, and every one of his classes was seamless perfection. I bought his five-volume The Christian Tradition many years ago and have only made it through 200 pages of volume one, but I keep it on my bedside table just in case I am up to the challenge of getting through it. Another of his books, Whose Bible Is It?, was much easier to digest. Fifty years later he is still teaching me!
Dan Rouse [CC]

I enrolled in a Religious Studies course taught by Willard Oxtoby as I recall. He presented the lectures and had graduate students teach smaller groups. A Greek Orthodox graduate student (I am not sure of his name) had us examine and compare the Gospel of Matthew with the first half of Paul’s Letter to the Romans. I had been raised in a mainline Protestant church, and although I had been taught that Jesus, the Son of God, was crucified and raised from the dead, I did not understand why — except for the jealousy of those whose power he threatened. But now I grasped that Jesus took on the sins of the world and suffered death for us all. As he had committed no offense towards God or man, death itself could not claim him, and God raised him to life. Learning this prepared me to respond positively to an invitation at a Christian student meeting to embrace Christ as my own Savior. I left the silent Quaker meetings I had been attending on campus and started to meet with this group of Christian students. While “born again” might seem enigmatic to some, it still vividly describes the experience of my own personal renaissance that was Yale’s best gift to me and the portal to life beyond.
Sharon Vaino [SM]

Russian Literature

Betsy Sullivan and Yale Professor Victor Erlich (1914–2007; Yale Bulletin notice (offsite link) ) on the occasion of his 90th birthday at Yale in 2004; courtesy Betsy Sullivan

It’s fair to say that Victor Erlich, the wonderful late professor of Russian literature, changed my life by introducing me to the “grotesque” in Nikolai Gogol’s writings, the delicious juxtapositions intended to satirize the Russian empire’s absurd social and bureaucratic inequities, such as his story about a bespoke overcoat that takes over a humble clerk’s life (“Shinyel”) and a nose that separates itself from its second-rate civil servant’s face (“Nos”). It was the beginning of a journey through Russian and Soviet art and politics that inspired both my senior and master’s theses at Yale, overseen by Erlich, a Russian Jew raised in Poland, where his family had taken refuge during the Russian Revolution, and from whence he escaped the Holocaust. Victor Erlich was inspiring, erudite, funny and with an expansive humanity that I treasure to this day.
Betsy Sullivan [JE]


William Zinsser. YAM photo.Obituary (offsite link)Tribute site (offsite link)

William Zinsser’s non-fiction writing seminar not only “most influenced” me at Yale, it has served as a useful guide for good writing throughout my life. His book On Writing Well is a personal bible on effective communication. It is never too far away as a reference. Zinsser published two of my pieces in the Yale Alumni Magazine: “Hi, I’m Miscellaneous” in 1974 and “Oneth By Land” in 1977. He taught us to make every word count. Doing that makes each word more powerful. In addition to his class, I lived in Branford College when he was Master and had the good fortune to get to know him and his family. Bill inspired me to become a good writer in my professional life. I am very grateful for the lessons he shared and have passed his wisdom along to many.
John Hanway [BR]

In the spring of my junior year, I took William Zinsser’s nonfiction writing class, which later became the basis for his best-selling book, On Writing Well, still the bible for many aspiring writers. I have never experienced a teacher who could be so tough and so generous at the same time. Every week, he gave us an assignment — an obit, a review, a character sketch — and every week he’d hand back our papers. Mine would be covered with marks and comments. This phrase is a cliché. Those two adverbs [or, more likely, those five adverbs] are not needed. That description is vague. The logic of those two paragraphs is backwards. It was painful to be on the receiving end, but I also knew that here was someone who was reading what I wrote with rigor and, I think it’s not an exaggeration to say, devotion. His exacting standards were a form of kindness: He believed we could meet them. At the time, I thought I was getting a lesson in writing. But I realize now that I was getting a lesson in how to think clearly, how to see the world in all its complexities, and, maybe, just maybe, how to imagine myself in it. At the end of the semester, he gave me a B. It was not the A I had hoped for, but I knew his assessment was accurate. We never spoke again until one day 30 years later when my phone rang at work. On the other end was someone whose voice I recognized immediately. “This is Bill Zinsser,” he said. “I’ve been following your career, and I just wanted to say hello.” That phone call was so much better than getting an A.
Kit Rachlis [PC]

I took a number of large lecture courses at Yale. It was not that I gravitated to that format but that I was drawn to the towering intellects and performers who taught these courses — professors like John Morton Blum, Vincent Scully, and Sidney Mintz — the teaching faculty for which the undergraduate curriculum is known. It was captivating to be in their audience. But it was an adjunct faculty member who influenced me the most — Harriet Harvey Coffin, wife of our chaplain, William Sloane Coffin, and a professional writer, who taught a small seminar on autobiographical writing. Harriet’s mantra was that one was only as good a writer as one’s ability to dig in and bare one’s soul. This matched the gestalt of the early ’70s. Once a week, ten of us walked up to the Coffin living room on Hillhouse Avenue to bare our souls, each of us having a full class to do so. Every so often, a visitor would stride through the living room — people like R. D. Laing and Ramsey Clark —on their way to see Reverend Coffin. In addition to leaving us wide-eyed, this parade only enhanced the exercise we were involved with. Sometimes, Coffin would burst in with a choice soundbite about the news of the day (I remember a particularly fiery one after Jeb Magruder cited him as a mentor) or a memorable pearl: “It is easier to beat your breast than to stick your neck out!” Harriet was a warm and encouraging guide as we navigated our lives and crafted them into stories, which she ultimately turned into a book. I also took the writing seminar taught by William Zinsser, whose style and approach was starkly different from Harriet’s. Hers suited me more, but what a privilege to have both — each in his or her way as towering as any of their legendary colleagues on the faculty.
Linden Wise [DC]

Multiple Professors

There are many. Cleanth Brooks: Faulkner. Alvin Kernan: Shakespeare. Peter Demetz: Theory of Literature. Emir Rodríguez Monegal (my thesis advisor): Senior Literature seminar. Marie Borroff: Modern Poetry. Victor Brombert: 19th-Century French Literature. He lectured in French unless he got excited or had an important point, then he would slip into English. Willie Ruff: music. The only Yale prof I had who regularly invited his students to dinner. His commitment to the New Haven community was astounding. His class required that we share what we were learning with New Haven school kids, which actually had some impact on why I decided to remain in New Haven after graduation as I began to learn that the city was a good deal more than just Yale surrounded by distressed neighborhoods. Jaroslav Pelikan: Religion. He could recite the Sterling Library classification number of any reference book from memory. Saybrook’s Martin I. J. Griffin: He frequently bailed me out of academic troubles caused by my time commitments to theater.
Colly Burgwin [SY]

Like so many of us, I had the gift of studying under stellar teachers: Mark Rose (Elizabethan theater), William Ferris (American folklore), Elga Wasserman (women’s studies), C. Duncan Rice (Anglo-American radicalism), and more. Two stand out in my memory, for different reasons. As a junior, I talked Harold Bloom into letting me into his senior seminar. He led us into a whole new way of thinking about great writers. In the fall, the professor who had agreed to advise me on a creative writing senior thesis was not around. I asked Professor Bloom for advice. To my surprise, he said that if I switched to literary analysis, he would do it. I have been grateful to him ever since. Where Prof. Bloom was a showman, John Hersey was quiet, patient, and supportive, despite his fame as both a journalist and a novelist. My work in his fiction writing class needed improvement. He always delivered critiques in a manner that encouraged students to see a way forward. When I became a journalist, I wrote to let him know and got a thoughtful letter back. I attended a small retirement party for him shortly before my husband and I headed off as foreign correspondents. He approved our plan. His skill at writing both fact and fiction in ways that opened worlds to readers has been an inspiration to me ever since.
Barbara Borst [SY]

There were three. I took more courses with Bob Brumbaugh, who taught Greek philosophy, than with anyone else. He was a gentle man and a graceful intellectual. He tolerated me even when I accidentally messed up his Greek typewriter that he lent me. It is an unhappy fate that has led to his being just about forgotten in the scholarship, even though he pioneered several areas, including the study of Greek technology, now a rather active field. Besides being a scholar, he was a tinkerer, a gadgets guy, and this led him to study Greek machines. These were his two sides: the philosophical, on the side of his father, who was a dean at the University of Chicago; and a ‘side, from his mother’s family, which led him to be a codebreaker in WWII. My single greatest intellectual experience at Yale was a tutorial on Aristotle’s logic, under Rulon Wells, Brumbaugh’s great friend. The third was Karsten Harries, with whom I still have occasional correspondence after I accidentally discovered he is the best friend of my former neighbors after knowing them for 20 years. He taught me much more than I could then grasp, and he influences me every day.
Bennett Gilbert [SY]

William Ferris (1942–). UNC photo.Profile (offsite link)

Many professors influenced the path my life took during and after Yale, but two stand out in my mind. I entered Yale as a physics major, interested in particle physics. I excelled in physics and math in high school and built a cloud chamber (a detector of nuclear particles) as a high school science project. Professor Jack Sandweiss was my assigned major advisor. After my freshman year, in which I flubbed a linear algebra final and got a C in the course, Professor Sandweiss told me I was not cut out to be a physicist and encouraged me to switch to computer science, a subject in which I was doing well. I was devastated but took his suggestion. I went on to blend computer science with cognitive psychology, which pointed my career in the direction of Human-Computer Interaction, an area in which I have written eight books (with three more in the works), given invited presentations worldwide, and received a Lifetime Achievement award. So, I guess Professor Sandweiss did me a favor, but I still sometimes think I might have made a good physicist. The second influence was Professor William Ferris, whose course on the History of Black Music in America I took during my senior year. As a guitarist, I was especially interested in the country blues guitarists the course introduced me to. I spent hours in the library, listening to old Library of Congress recordings of Blind Blake, Reverend Gary Davis, Big Bill Broonzy, Blind Lemon Jefferson, and their contemporaries.
Jeff Johnson [CC]

John Mauceri, the conductor of the Yale Symphony, made my time at Yale so much fun and brought me more memories than I could have imagined. Mark Salkind remains a friend, and I still remember our trip to France. I continue to play the harp but not as often as I wish. As far as a professor — Harry Wasserman, organic chemistry. My unknown was purple and exploded in the lab.
Jane Hamersley McLaughlin [BK]

First semester freshman year, I took Edmund Morgan’s “History of Colonial America.” I was in awe of him. Often the class would stand and applaud after one of his lectures. I loved going to the Beinecke library to research old letters and newspapers. I had taken no biology in high school and had no interest in it. But first semester Freshman year, on a whim, I also took Richard Goldsby’s “Biology for Non-science Majors.” I did a term paper on malnutrition in America. So, I decided to take pre-med courses (which I found much easier than my history classes), while majoring in history and have never regretted either decision.
John Heller [SM]

Tom Weiskel taught the legendary Eng 89, the double-credit year-long junior seminar for Intensive English majors. While he was teaching our class, he was about to go on sabbatical to write a book, and our class offered a laboratory to try out ideas. The experience was heady. He went on to write his book on the Romantic sublime, but he did not survive to see it in print. He was 29 when he drowned in a skating accident with his daughter. These things — the remarkable class, the premature death, and even the topic of the sublime — are linked in my mind, and from the perspective of that loss, Tom Weiskel seemed like one of those early-to-perish Romantic poets (Keats, Shelley) he studied. How, after that, can I speak about others? And yet I learned from so many of Yale’s teachers. Some were famous — like Harold Bloom — but most were just very good. Mark Rose taught a year-long course on Shakespeare that got me launched in literary study, and I remember wonderful courses taught by Jacques Guicharnaud in French and Charles Feidelson in English.
Julie Rivkin [DC]

Actually, the great pleasure of Yale was to be able to mix so many threads of knowledge. I drew deeply from anthropology (Sidney Mintz), philosophy (Robert Fogolin), psychology (Solomon “Sonny” Cytrynbaum), music (Robert D. Morris), and city planning (Christopher Tunnard). But perhaps my greatest luck was to have a graduate tutor take me to meet the great ecologist, G. Evelyn Hutchinson. At the time, I did not understand what a master I was in the presence of. All of the seeds of these courses continue to grow in my life today.
Jonathan Rose [BK]

Foremost, Robert Farris Thompson on African art from West Africa to the Caribbean. No class, perhaps anywhere, had the rhythm and emotion of this one. Absolutely eye and ear opening. Second, Cleanth Brooks’s 20th-century American poetry. Amid the intellectualism and sterility of many of the New Critics, Brooks’s reminiscences of his personal experience with many of the poets and the importance of their lives to their poems stand out among most of the lectures or class discussions at Yale. A third was Victor Brombert’s lectures in French on 19th-century French novels.
Peter St. Clair [CC]

Three professors had a profound influence on my way of seeing the world, my professional life, and how I experienced cultural relativity and relative truth. The first is Vincent Scully, art history professor, who to this day has shaped how I look at my world wherever I go. Need I say more? The second is James Hillman, visiting professor from the Jung Institute, who was at Yale my senior year.  Thanks to Professor Hillman, I became deeply immersed in the teachings and wisdom of Carl Jung.  I engaged in intensive Jungian dream analysis with Hillman’s wife. And I chose the path of a clinical psychologist in no small part due to Hillman’s influence.

The third professor is one whose name, sadly, I do not recall. He was a teacher of Chinese Poetry. What he drove home for me in a fun and fascinating way was the incredible power of the translator. Our assignments were always to receive a Chinese poem written in its original Chinese characters and an accompanying sheet of the myriad possible meanings of each character. We were then to translate the poem from Chinese to English, assuming whichever character translation we were drawn to and fashioning a meaningful, coherent, and hopefully pleasing poem. The astonishing realization was how different each of our poems was, yet each rich and true to one or another of the Chinese characters’ meanings. This class taught me a great deal about the impact that both written communicators and translators have in shaping our reality and our view of “truth.” Plus, we enjoyed some very beautiful poems.
Marilyn Sharpe [SY]

I was a Russian Studies major and had fabulous professors and courses throughout my time at Yale. I am very grateful to all of them. Perhaps because it was so different from what I was studying most of the time, my course in Latin American literature, offered by Alfred MacAdam, really stood out in my mind. It was a fascinating romp, and I loved every minute of it.
Singie Shepley-Gamble [BK]

Cleanth Brooks and Elga Wasserman. I took Mr. Brooks’ course on Faulkner, fall 1970, and on Modern Poetry, spring 1971. I was married to a grad student and had a two-year-old daughter. I saw Ms. Wasserman to begin my application to Yale. She was cordial, welcoming. I sensed checking of boxes: self-starter; taking courses; has housing. The tidbit of information that I had a child came up, rather, it came out. She immediately offered to make a call for me to Southern Connecticut State University. Knifed by a Sister. “I am applying to Yale.” “You cannot possibly do the work required at Yale with a young child. Students stay up all hours of the night to get their work done.” “The only reason students stay up all night is lack of organization.”

I went to Mr. Brooks. I asked whether I would be able to study at Yale with a child. “You have a fine mind, and you should study here. In Plato’s Republic, both women and men are educated; the State cares for children. Of course, you want to know what sort of State is rearing your children. And my old friend, Rollo May, says you can’t do anything with children after they’re three, anyway.” Mr. Brooks, who had no children, whose views on women’s education, daycare, and childrearing were seemingly grounded in Plato’s utopian fiction and anecdote, whose male Southern advice might have been to stay home, barefoot, and pregnant, supported me. Anticipated support from a seemingly reliable front was not forthcoming. Ms. Wasserman, feminist woman, in charge of coeducation, who knew the reality of childrearing, thrice over, balked at a student’s application on the issue of motherhood. I did not appreciate, then, that for her role, Ms. Wasserman should have held a Deanship, at minimum, with sufficient power and resources to accomplish the job of coeducating Yale after 268 years. In the double standard of the day for women, she could not afford a mistake. I regret that I did not make an effort to reconcile with her later. Against the odds, I made it through, missed magna by a whisker, received Distinction in the Major, and that daughter is Yale Class of ’90.
Patricia Sheppard [DC]

Two professors, and their innovative Yale courses, combined to become the springboard for my book called Equal: Women Reshape American Law. The first was Margaret Ferguson, then a graduate student but soon to become a professor at Yale. The seminar I took with her was apparently (I understood) Yale’s first course on women in literature. It introduced me to multiple ways of crafting narrative, by women and about women, and that introduction became crucial for Equal, a narrative legal history that seeks to tell pivotal stories of women breaking into American law, often against massive resistance. The second was Anthony Lewis, in the one year that he taught a course on constitutional law at Yale before taking it to Harvard Law School, where he continued teaching a version of it for years. Lewis then was a columnist for The New York Times, who had won a Pulitzer Prize for writing about the Supreme Court. His course led me to read his inspiring legal narrative, Gideon’s Trumpet, about someone who had been treated wrongly by the American legal system and who had to fight it, from within prison, in order to receive justice. That book gave me the basic story-telling direction that I needed for my book. Equal begins its narratives in the early 1970s (the years we were learning to be students at Yale) with the first anti-discrimination cases litigated by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who generously allowed me to use her private files of letters and documents. Ginsburg later called Equal a “magnificent achievement,” and only now am I reflecting on the ways that courses by Ferguson and Lewis, along with books that I read for them, shaped and raised a sense of aspiration.
Fred Strebeigh [PC]

I would like to give three professors: Jaroslav Pelikan, then dean of the graduate school, who recommended that I read Simone Weil; John Freccero for his course on Dante that taught me about close reading and how to unpack historical and cultural memes embedded in language; and the wonderful Jonathan Spence, who in a sense set me on a course toward journalism and China, because of his ability to reimagine the setting and milieu of the Qing dynasty. My singular moment was chatting with Spence at a lunch in which he recalled with his great sense of self-irony how he came to Yale on a Yale-Cambridge fellowship with nothing particular in mind, after studying European history at Cambridge. When asked what he wanted to do — it was an open fellowship — he said, “What about nuclear physics?” He was asked if he had studied science, and he said, “No,” and they said, “No.” Then, at a lunch in the Yale Common room, he happened to be sitting with the late great historian of contemporary China, Mary Wright. She suggested he study Manchu — possibly because few had latched onto that subject in the 1960s. So, he did and produced, among other great works of literary history, his imagined autobiography of the K’ang Hsi emperor, one of the most audacious and brilliant of his writings. Spence did what no other historian at the time was doing, which was to write Chinese history in the way that Western history was written, in its own terms, but also as a part of a recognizable family of civilization.
Edith Terry [PC] 

Two choices. 1. Vincent Scully Art History because of course. 2. Alexander Bickel, on citizenship, because it’s only now that I’m realizing what he was saying. (Also, John Morton Blum — so hard to choose!)
Melissa Vail [MC]

Other Leaders and Mentors

I believe his name was Ernest Thompson. He was Dean of Ezra Stiles College. A lot of people said that he was mean and uncaring. I remember him saying a couple of times, “What you’re trying to do is like kicking a damn dead horse!” But he was surprisingly understanding and kind and very helpful to me when my father died. He helped me stay in school.

Kingman Brewster (1919–1988). YAM photo.Obituary (offsite link)

President Kingman Brewster influenced me through three distinct interactions at and after Yale. On the first occasion, President Brewster greeted and spoke with me graciously and without any ill will, notwithstanding that I had written editorials in the Yale Daily News that poked fun at and criticized the “King.” As a former chair of the Yale Daily News, controversial Yale leader, and prominent national figure, President Brewster valued freedom of the press and had grown accustomed to receiving criticism from disgruntled students and faculty, irate alumni, and even soon to be disgraced President Richard Nixon.

My second interaction took place a few years later when I worked part time as a law student intern in the University’s Office of the General Counsel while attending law school. One of my assignments was to assist the General Counsel and President Brewster in analyzing constitutional issues raised by certain university policies. I came away from my meetings with President Brewster convinced more than ever that no university in America had a more articulate leader or a stauncher defender of its policies and the importance of a liberal arts education. When President Brewster stepped down as Yale President in 1977 (the same year that I graduated from the law school), he was awarded an honorary degree at the graduation ceremonies and students chanted “Long Live the King!”

My final interaction took place a few years after I began my legal career at a law firm in New York City and was travelling to the United Kingdom on business. Recalling that Kingman Brewster had left Yale to become the United States Ambassador to the Court of St. James, I wrote to him and inquired if I might drop by the embassy in London to say “hello.” I promptly received a response on the ambassador’s letterhead inviting me to meet him in the embassy. Ambassador Brewster was as articulate and gracious as ever, and his words and actions further reinforced my high opinion of him. I sadly note that Kingman Brewster passed away on November 8, 1988, at the relatively young age of 69, a few years before his Yale College Class of 1941’s 50th Reunion.
Chet Cobb [SY]

This memory will solidify Vincent Scully’s designation at graduation that I was the resident jock in Morse. We had lost the Dartmouth game, and I was inconsolable. The team stopped for dinner on the way back to New Haven. I was with my dad, when assistant football coach Dave Kelley came to our table and told my dad that I played an awesome game. My dad said he thought I played well. Dave corrected him and said I played fiercely. Then he told me to remember how I felt and said, “You cannot appreciate the grandeur of the mountain until you have survived the depth of the valley.” That has been my mantra ever since.
Rick Fehling [MC]

Stephen Parks (1940–2021). Yale Univ. photo.Elizabethan Club remembrance (offsite link)Yale News (offsite link)

One of the most influential people in my time at Yale was Stephen Parks, a curator at the Beinecke library, the librarian of the Elizabethan Club, an avid collector of Gothic Revival furniture and decorative arts, and a sensitive and inspiring mentor. His apartment was filled with peaked and cusped chairs, rare leather books, and polished Victorian silver. Steve loved to cook and to host small groups of students in his apartment. He introduced us to what is still one of my favorite pieces of music, Faure’s transporting and lyrical Requiem. Steve took a real interest in like-minded students, and he inspired us to expand our knowledge and love of 19th-century arts and design. He also played an enthusiastic and welcoming role in Manuscript which I joined my senior year. Those evenings in his apartment on Bishop Street taught me that nurturing deep intellectual friendships in a convivial and cultured setting could engender a lifetime of memories.
Jean Parker Phifer [JE]