Professor Finkelstein, a fixture of the English department, which he chairs, is leaving. Next semester will find him at Mary Washington University in Virginia as the dean of arts and sciences, a change he said he looks forward to.
"I have a very good opportunity," he said, "and it's a good time personally to move, if I'm ever going to. My kids are gone, as I've said, and honestly I'm at an age where if I don't move soon I won't move at all. I've enjoyed helping to build programs and support people's careers and I see being a dean as a way to do more of that on a larger scale."
Finkelstein has been at Geneseo for 27 years; nine of them as chair of the English department. What's kept him in this tiny town for so long? "You know," he said, "I've enjoyed teaching Geneseo students. Also, my kids were in school, and now they're done. I'd never really thought of leaving and upsetting their experience."
That's all well and good. But in the '80s, Geneseo wasn't necessarily the prestigious crown in the SUNY system that it is now. What, really, brought Finkelstein here to the edge of our valley in the first place? Apparently there was an assistant professorship open which would allow him to "teach interesting courses to good students." The rest, as they say, is history.
Finkelstein is most noted by students for his Shakespeare classes, which most English majors must take one of. One wonders what about Shakespeare's body of work (other than the absolutely disastrous ways in which it has been adapted to stage and screen, that is) could possibly compel a man to research and teach about it for nearly 30 years. Finkelstein smiles as he explains it: "I find that the issues he raises and his means for addressing them are compatible with my interests, and he takes a multifaceted perspective on those issues that I find appealing."
More to the point, he said, the different critical styles and approaches to the Bard's works, along with their timeless and enduring themes, create a body of work ripe for study and interpretation.
The most important question to ask the chair of the English department, though, is well known. There's an old joke that English majors will be living in cardboard boxes in the near future; is there any value in the world for an English degree?
Of course there is! Finkelstein thought for a moment before he said, "This is something I've thought for my whole career: an English major teaches you to think in a nuanced and disciplined way, and improves your critical thinking. The repetition of reading and writing improves your writing skills. All of this makes you a better, more flexible candidate for any job market you want to enter."