Retiring professors reflect on Geneseo experiences, careers

Ron Herzman

Distinguished teaching professor of English Ron Herzman has completed 49 years of teaching at Geneseo. His work has foregrounded medieval literature and humanities on-campus, and Herzman plans to continue working in education post-retirement. (Izzy Graziano/knights’ life editor)

Distinguished teaching professor of English Ron Herzman has spent decades carving his niche at Geneseo as an esteemed medievalist and humanities scholar. Now, in the semester of his retirement, Herzman has begun preparing to expand his academic world beyond Geneseo.

“A friend of mine from graduate school got a job here before I did,” Herzman said. “When Geneseo decided that they wanted a Chaucer guy, she was a broker in both camps—she said to the department ‘you will like him’ and she said to me ‘you will like this place,’ and it turns out both of those things were true.”

Despite a lifelong affinity for New York City, Herzman took the plunge and assimilated into the rural surroundings of Geneseo.

“I thought it would be really nice to be here for a while, and then get a job in a big city—it didn’t necessarily have to be New York. But, I fell in love with the place pretty quickly,” he said. “I never ever looked for another job.” 

During his sojourn at Geneseo, Herzman had the opportunity to work for the National Endowment for the Humanities. When this role ran its course, however, he returned to campus, where he has observed change and development both in the English department and beyond. 

“The sad news is that the main change in the English department is that we are far fewer than we used to be,” Herzman said. “As I’ve said on many occasions, the tragedy of higher education is that we have more administrators now and fewer teachers.”

Whereas the English department has shrinked, there has been an overall increase in the qualifications of educators, Herzman said.

“As Geneseo’s reputation has caught up to its reality, it becomes a very appealing place for people,” he said. “If you come here, it is assumed you’ll be a publishing scholar, in addition to being a good teacher.” 

In conjunction to teaching English, Herzman has had a fundamental role in the development of humanities at Geneseo. Beside mentoring other humanities professors, Herzman has taught the course almost every semester he has spent on-campus.

“There’s something really challenging about having a class … when your job is to convince [students] that it’s interesting,” he said. “People come into the major classes with a commitment to the stuff already. How do you teach to people who have no commitment? I think that’s the biggest job that I’ve had.”

Although Herzman will formally retire in May, he does not intend to abandon academia. In fact, Herzman’s post-retirement plans account for his steadfast commitment to Dante Alighieri, Geoffrey Chaucer and William Shakespeare—central to his current work at Geneseo.

“I want to take the best parts of teaching and get rid of the worst,” Herzman said. “As I tell everybody, the being in the classroom part, I’d do for free or I’d pay you. What I consider that I’m paid for is to go to meetings and grade papers. I’m going to have a lot of teaching situations that are not as formal and, therefore, won’t involve the grading process.”

After leaving Geneseo, Herzman will continue serving as the Director of Education and Outreach for the Dante Society of America, where he prioritizes bringing Dante’s works to the pre-collegiate classroom and general public. Herzman also plans to divide his time more evenly between Geneseo and Brooklyn, where his family has an apartment.

Ren Vasiliev

Professor of geography Ren Vasiliev has combined her experience as a geographer with her love for art and the environment. Following her retirement, Vasiliev plans to pursue art on a more full time basis.  (Izzy Graziano/knights’ life editor)

Professor of geography Ren Vasiliev has spent her 25-year career at Geneseo balancing her passions for art, environmentalism and cartography. 

“Really the way we academics do things is we’re finishing a PhD and we look for jobs, then we interview them and—in this case—this is the only job I had to interview for because they offered it to me,” Vasiliev said. “Except for the adjunct teaching I was doing before here, this is the only tenure-track position I’ve had.” 

During her time at Geneseo, Vasiliev has recognized the duality of technological advancements.

“Everything has changed the way everything has changed,” she said. “Technology has both enhanced and detracted from what we do. For research, it’s been great—for distraction of everybody, it’s been not so good.”

Over the past several decades, Vasiliev has watched the geography department blossom, which has included the migration from Fraser Hall to Bailey Hall. As the department grows, Vasiliev continues investing in research interests that have endured since she attended graduate school. 

“I have not worked on anything that’s specific to Geneseo, but the projects I have worked on are of things that I’m interested in,” Vasiliev said. “For example, I still end up doing research on place names—why places are named what they are.”

Concerning her place names research, Vasiliev has written a book—available in Milne Library—and still gets invited to do newspaper and radio interviews on the subject. 

Beyond geography, however, she plans on moving more toward her artistic pursuits now. 

“After I retire, what I’m going to be doing is actually not have two full time jobs, but have one full time job—I hope—which is my art studio and making art,” she said. “My art is sort of environmental.”

In her office, Vasiliev has decorated the walls with her own original works of art, including a solar wind quilt and a paper collage called “Silence.” Additionally, for her alma mater SUNY Oswego, Vasiliev created a piece for an exhibit about place, which she now similarly displays in her office. 

“Geography and cartography—map making—inform my art, and I am a cartographer, I studied maps for my PhD,” Vasiliev said. “I’m going to both travel and do art in my studio. I’ve always traveled, and I will be doing art and traveling in order to bring back stuff for art: ideas, inspiration and stuff—rocks, seashells, things.” 

At Geneseo, Vasiliev has taught cartography, statistics in geography, human geography and geography of North America. As she nears retirement, Vasiliev has begun thinking of her end at Geneseo as more of a graduation.

“I’m looking forward to being able to think about the future,” Vasiliev said.