Retiring distinguished teaching professor of English delivers farewell address to community

Distinguished teaching professor of English Ron Herzman concluded 49 years of teaching with a lecture to the campus community.  Herzman touched on the faculty members who influenced his growth in academia, as well as the interdisciplinary nature of his time at Geneseo. (Izzy Graziano/Knights’ life editor)

After 49 years of service to the college, distinguished teaching professor of English Ron Herzman will retire at the end of the spring 2018 semester. His impact will be remembered on-campus, which was shown through the attendance and reception of his final lecture, “Dancing with the Stars: Cook, Towsley, McCoy—and Dante.”

Members of the campus community came together for Herzman’s lecture on Friday April 13 in Newton 202. In the lecture, Herzman reflected on the friendly and intellectual connections he has made with various individuals, specifically with distinguished teaching professor of Medieval and Renaissance Europe and Church History William Cook, distinguished teaching professor of mathematics Gary Towsley and distinguished teaching professor of English Beth McCoy. 

The main narrative of the lecture brought together the minds of Dante and Plato to emphasize a collaboration of “sameness and difference” through a shared inquiry, according to Herzman. Through Cook, Towsley and McCoy, Herzman said he experienced this process in his Geneseo career.

Working with historian Cook when they taught classes about Dante prompted Herzman to think about the work in a different manner than he had before. Through Cook, Herzman learned more about the structure and context of Dante’s work, allowing him to leave the safety net of his obsessive concern with the text. 

Collaborating with math-centered Towsley allowed Herzman to think more about Dante from an internally analytical perspective, making complex concepts clearer than before. Towsley helped Herzman see Dante’s mathematical precision as not necessarily a framework to the work, but more of a dialect that provides the entire narrative with the theme of inevitability. 

Lastly, Herzman explained his relationship with African-Americanist Beth McCoy. Together, they explored what would happen if African American scholars like Frederick Douglass and W.E.B. Du Bois intellectually interacted. Herzman claimed that this caused him to see the works of the authors in new lights, specifically allowing him to give more flesh and blood to Dante’s work.

The lecture ended with closing remarks from professor and chair of the English Department Rob Doggett and a question and answer session for Herzman so he could share his wisdom with the audience.

Alumni George Goga ‘17, who met Herzman in his first semester at Geneseo, gave a heartfelt introduction before the distinguished professor’s lecture. Addressing Herzman as both a beloved professor and friend, Goga spoke of Herzman’s accomplishments.

“To say he is highly devoted to teaching simply does not do justice to the time, hard work and dedication that Dr. Herzman has devoted to changing students’ lives for the past 49 years,” Goga said. 

Herzman received his Ph.D. from the University of Delaware and an L.H.D. from Manhattan College. As a professor, his teaching focuses are on Shakespeare, Chaucer and Dante. He published The Medieval World View in 1983, and it was published into its third edition in 2012 by Oxford University Press. 

Additionally, Herzman was the first to receive the Faculty Career Achievement Award at Geneseo in 2017. He is also the Director of Education and Outreach for the Dante Society of America. 

As represented during the lecture, McCoy was one of the many people who interacted with Herzman throughout his Geneseo career. His departure has a profound impact on McCoy, considering his constant presence around the English department.

“I think that [his departure] is very sad, but also he has given so much to Geneseo that it’s important to be able to embark on new journeys,” McCoy said. “Just experiencing the space in Welles without him around so regularly is going to be a big adjustment. It was a great honor to get to team teach with him, it really was.” 

Even though Herzman is leaving, his influence will always be present by those he impacted.