And we got to know one another well so very quickly, because the placement service was on the top floor of the hotel and half of the elevators were busted, so you had to wait 20 minutes to get an elevator. So we would talk there. We were just constantly with one another for three very demanding days. Neither of us got any of the jobs. Let’s talk a little bit about this joint position at Wabash, or as Jeremy said, “One of the best bargains in higher education.”
[Professor of Classics] John Fischer got a sabbatical at the last minute and he needed a replacement. John knew me from Athens, so he gave me a call and asked whether I would be interested. I came up for an interview and they offered me the job. Joe had not quite finished his degree, so we decided that it would be better if I had a job and he could finish the dissertation. The first year here went really well, but then we got what we thought was a tenure-track job at Wooster. After four years there, we realized it was no longer a tenure track job. So we started looking around. Once again, John called. Ted Bedrick was retiring, so John suggested we come as his sabbatical replacement and that we “share the position, so they can see how this works.” After only a month here it was pretty clear they were wildly enthusiastic about this. They saw possibilities for exploitation that even we did not dream of! Beside John, who else was crucial to your first years here?
[Professor of History and Classics] Jack Charles was wonderful. I learned more from him about what it was to have a vocation than from anybody I’d ever met. He taught me how to be a teacher in a small liberal arts college. I already had the vocation for archaeology, but not that sense of commitment to the community that I learned from him. In graduate school, you’re always competing against other people, proving that you’re better than everybody else. That’s not what works here. Here, your colleague really is your colleague, not somebody with whom you are competing for limited resources. Let’s talk about students: Tom Brogan ’88
He was my first intern, the first student I took to Kavousi. The first thing I had to do when we got there was build an outhouse, and Tom had carpentry experience, so he helped build it. Then we had to clean up the old schoolhouse to be our workrooms. They’d been stabling animals there—the fleas were terrible. Poor Tom had fleabites all over him, but he stayed with it. He loved the work. He went to grad school at Bryn Mawr, studied with many of the same people I had. And 88
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he’s been fabulous running the Crete Research Center. He’s one of those rare individuals who everybody thinks very highly of because they are so generous and interested and not playing political games. I can’t take credit for anything other than introducing him to Crete, but I’m proud of him.
There are so many people for whom statistics are all-important in understanding what masses of people are going to be doing. But if you lose track of the individual human lives and experience behind those, you’re just doomed. Let’s talk about your predecessor as LaFollette Professor of the Humanities, Bill Placher ’70.
There are a lot of very bright, very talented, even very decent people, but I never met anybody like Bill. He could always say the right thing at the right time. I remember his invocations: He knew exactly what the right note was to strike for any occasion—the combination of seriousness, humor, knowing the audience, what was required, and he did it with integrity. Picked the thing that really mattered to him that was in fact the right thing for the occasion. He brought out the best in everybody. Do you have a favorite moment from your time at Wabash?
There are many, but winning the [McLain-McTurnanArnold] teaching award was one of them. I was clueless. I was sitting in the balcony, and I kept thinking, They’re going to take it away if I don’t get down there, so I went bounding down. What will you miss most?
The students, and I haven’t come to grips with that yet. What essential thing can we not afford to lose at Wabash?
I think for this College, cutting back on the humanities would be a huge mistake. I know what the coming tide is: There are so many people for whom statistics are all-important in understanding what masses of people are going to be doing or have been doing. But I think if you lose track of the individual human lives and experience behind those, you’re just doomed. How can we live humanely if we don’t understand the lived experiences of individual people? And, of course, classics is at the heart of it all. Read much more of our talk with Professor Day at WM Online.