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Dean of the College
Selected excerpts from the Oral History Project interview. The full transcript may be restricted. To request access please contact the Simon’s Rock College Archives.
- I came out for the interview, spent a day here, and then the next day went over to see Leon at Bard. On campus, I went into the classroom buildings and saw classrooms with twelve or fifteen seats around a table. That was all I needed to see to understand what teaching at Simon’s Rock was about.
The association and merger with Simon’s Rock is an extremely important part of Bard’s history, because it created a model of a satellite operation for Bard that has been repeated over and over again in various ways since that time. The campuses abroad that combine Smolny University in St. Petersburg and Bard, or the Open Society University in Budapest and Bard, or in the West Bank and Bard, all began with the idea that Bard could be the center and it could expand its mission by having other operations. The Bard Center for Curatorial Studies on the campus and The Bard Center for Decorative Arts in New York City were also based on the model of having Bard Center be connected to a Bard satellite—each of which has its own board and its own administration, and is responsible to Bard but given a great deal of leeway to operate according to its mission. And the Bard High School Early Colleges around the country are another variation on this model. And over the course of the thirty-seven years that we have been a part of Bard there has never been a question about challenging our mission, our mission has always remained the same and has been totally supported by the Bard Board and by the Bard administration.
- [Betty Hall], in particular, was a real harbinger of feminism and of the future. What she did was not something women did at that time. I always thought that she would’ve loved being a student at Simon’s Rock. Because clearly she didn’t fit into the normal educational system. Neither at Miss Hall’s nor at Knox. So, she got this. She understood this.
- [Emily Fisher] built a second home in the area because she wanted to be near the college. She was very active interested in both details and long-range plans. We would meet weekly when she was in the Berkshires. Everything we did in the last dozen years of my tenure as Dean we were able to do because we had a Board Chair who believed in these things, who was prepared to support them, and to help us get other people to support us. We had other dedicated donors all along, but Emily was by far the largest donor in the history of the college. She is still giving, to endowment, to buildings, to establishing the first named professorships in the history of the college. She is a wonderful woman—thoughtful, caring, generous, willing to think outside the box, and smart. Like Betty, she really cares about people, and she regularly goes to the dining hall just to sit with the faculty and staff. She has been a beacon and a blessing to this place, a savior. And a great delight to work with. I feel so lucky to have known these two women, and to work with them, and come to think of them both as friends.
- When I was about fourteen years old, I decided that I wanted to be a college English teacher. I think there were really two reasons, one selfish and one not. The selfish reason was that I thought that if I was a college English teacher, I would get paid to sit around and read books and discuss them with bright people for the rest of my life. Which sounded to me like heaven—and it turned out that it was. The other reason was that I thought I could help develop young people’s abilities as critical readers and thinkers and so help them achieve their own dreams. I thought that I could do that. For me, teaching was a vocation. It was designed to both serve and serve myself.
The whole time I was an administrator, I also taught. I taught classes, did senior theses and tutorials. I made time for that because it was so important to me. So, I think I was always viewed as someone who was a teacher as well as an administrator. Which I think was really critical to my ability to do the kinds of things I wanted to do, and the way I was seen by people. They knew that I loved teaching and that I was a good teacher. So, that’s what I thought the job of Dean was: taking this really interesting place and taking it to the next level and trying to build it in such a way that it would last for a very long time. And that involved everything, that involved balancing the budget, it involved hiring great faculty, it involved building the facilities that would allow them to do their work, and the students to do their work, in the best possible environment. It was very rewarding. There were some very difficult times, and we had to go through those, but basically a very rewarding experience because I did feel that I was able to make life better for a lot people, that I made a difference in the lives of students and faculty and others, and that was satisfying to me.
- I think [Ian Bickford] is wonderful. To have the first person who is a graduate of the college become its head is a historical moment. He has had an extraordinarily fine career so far. I think he is a wonderful choice for this position and I think he comes with a credibility as a faculty member and a graduate that no one has had before. And he has had this experience with BHSEC [Bard High School Early College] which is valuable to us, and the Academy.
- A couple of years after I arrived I realized that too many students were getting extensions on the deadline for turning in their theses. (The deadline was necessary so that seniors’ GPAs, diplomas, Commencement programs, etc. could be completed on time.) It seemed to be assumed by some faculty and students that the deadline didn’t really matter. I read an article about how students had to deliver their senior theses at noon on a certain day at Reed College in Oregon, and that the delivery involved a student parade to the Dean’s office. So, I established the policy that all theses were going to be due at noon on a certain day and asked the faculty to help me make that deadline real. The first year that policy was established, the seniors paraded across campus playing kazoos, and climbed up the hill to the window of my office in the College Center. I opened the screen and they each reached in and handed me their thesis. That became the beginning of the annual senior prank. It was my idea to have a firm deadline. It was their idea to have a prank. [...] Usually when we had a new building, [seniors] would have that be part of the prank. They were very creative most of the time! There were only a few that seemed like they crossed the line of dignity for me—but I did them anyway.
- My parents were so proud that their son was a professor that they used to address my birthday cards to Dr. Bernard F. Rodgers, Jr. When they came to Simon’s Rock for the first time, we were walking around campus and everybody was calling me “Bernie” and my Dad said, “What’s that all about?” I said, “See, it’s informal here” and he grumbled “Well, I don’t like that . . .” [...] What I think it suggests is that respect is not earned by a title. Respect is earned by who you are. It is not disrespectful to call me “Bernie”; and calling me Dr. Rodgers doesn’t necessarily mean you respect me. The tradition is a statement about where respect comes from and what respect is.
- I will never teach undergraduates anywhere else ever again because I am spoiled rotten. Where else could I ask people to read a novel a week and they would almost all actually do it? I don’t believe any place. I honestly believe that they don’t do that at Harvard. They certainly don’t do it at Loyola or DePaul or anyplace in Chicago! And my students mainly did it every week, and I never had a class where my students didn’t teach me something, not a single class. I taught the Seminars every year for years, and there was never a class where somebody didn’t say something that I hadn’t ever thought of. So, I think the students are wonderful, and I think they’ve been wonderful for a long time.
- You know in my worst moments, I’ve thought if we went out of business tomorrow, we’ve saved thousands of kids at this college. We have affected the lives of thousands of wonderful people. If it’s not here tomorrow, it still did that. I would much rather that it be here for thousands more, not to mention the lives it’s given the faculty members and staff, so for fifty years this place has made a difference for all kinds of people and I hope it will continue to do that.
Leon Botstein, Ruth Ide, Ba Win, Bard, merger, Betty Hall, Elizabeth Blodgett Hall, Livingston Hall, Livy Hall, Baird Whitlock, Dimitri Papadimitriou, buildings, construction, expansion, Ian Bickford, Peter Laipson, Mary Marcy, Bard Academy, BHSEC, Bard High School Early College, senior prank, senior thesis, shooting, Emily Fisher, Pat Sharpe
Daniel Arts Center, Simon's Rock
Rodgers, Bernie, "Bernie Rodgers" (2017). Simon's Rock Institutional Oral History Project. 16.
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“Where else could I ask people to read a novel a week and they would actually do it?”