BEHIND THE SCENES
(revealing, truthful, not strictly chronological, often colloquial)
by Richard T. Nolan (written during August of 2007)
Reference letters and newspaper stories do contribute to a portrait of one’s career, but as with most people, myself included, “behind the scenes” incidents and factors should be included for the sake of the broader picture. I endured several negative experiences, all of which were nuisances, none lethal. One would not gather that reality from my CV items. A CV can give the appearance that everything flowed smoothly.
How well I recall the generous “he walks on water” introductions to some groups for whom I was providing a workshop or a special address! How badly I would feel when a student having difficulty would comment that because I was always an honor student (so not true!) I couldn’t possibly understand his/her academic struggles! With a brief bit of humor, I would try to get behind that image at the opening of an address/workshop; on a few occasions I shared my undergraduate transcript with a downcast student – who would be both shocked and then hopeful. This “Behind The Scenes” autobiographical report is an attempt to provide balance to my CV – in which I do take great satisfaction; career achievements have been important to me (but always secondary to my home life).
During my fulltime 1964-65 NYU studies, which included courses in religious counseling, I entered weekly private and group therapy at the American Foundation of Religion and Psychiatry, now the Blanton-Peale Institute (www.blantonpeale.org). With heart and mind I learned a great deal that was both personally and professionally useful. The focus of the therapy (just after a mess at the Cathedral Choir School) was on the ways I related to people in the workplace and perhaps elsewhere.
One significant and helpful insight from the psychotherapy was to ask myself when in a conflict or other unpleasant situation, “How might I be contributing to this difficulty?” My introversion (often appearing as aloofness), independence (frequently seeming too autonomous), persistence (a determination to carry through, not just stubbornness), and outspokenness (sometimes unwisely) can come into play individually or in combination. I suspect that, while not causes of the unpleasant events reported below, they could have been factors. Other possible variables are inherent in my Myers-Briggs personality temperament. (Do see www.nolan-pingpank.com/nolan/intj.htm.) The extent to which any of these events could have been tempered or prevented, if I had been aware of my unhelpful input, would be purely speculative on my part.
PRE- EMPLOYMENT SCHOOL DIFFICULTIES
Chapter One in Soul Mates .... (www.nolan-pingpank.com/soulmates/chapter_one.htm) mentions some of the internal troubles I experienced in my youth. Studies at Boston Latin School (1950-54) were tough. Barely age 17, I graduated at the bottom of my class – after last minute cramming with a dozen or so others for a physics re-examination that paid off. Typically, two-thirds of those who began their courses in the 9th grade flunked out before graduation; those who started in the 7th grade performed much better. Graduating at the bottom of one’s class at this school was still an honor. I was particularly elated, when a former, distinguished BLS Head Master (three years behind me in school) “confessed” to an alumni group meeting in Palm Beach that he had graduated at the bottom of his class! That was so good to hear. I was in good company!
The postgraduate year (1954-55) at Tabor Academy was a good one, though unremarkable academically. The following summer I returned on the summer program (non-teaching) staff. Mom and Dad were so wise in providing that breathing space for me before college. (See the Tabor 1955 and 1963 supportive letters at www.nolan-pingpank.com/nolan/misc_rnolan.htm) There were no difficulties at Tabor.
However, I was in a fog as I started out at Trinity College (1955-59). (See www.nolan-pingpank.com/nolan/trin-eval.htm.) Despite the steady improvements, in the final semester of my senior year I had a bizarre experience in a private tutorial in the education department. My professor, a relatively new faculty member, asked his two senior colleagues (one being the department chair) to join him for my oral final examination, which I expected to be a breeze. However, his colleagues had been misinformed about the course content, and I was asked question after question beyond the scope of the course. I was so befuddled and unassertive that I just sat stupefied without raising any objections. Confident that my professor would somehow take care of it, I was shocked to learn that afternoon that I was summarily flunked. The next day I asked for a re-exam or extra work or whatever, but he said that it was a done deal. Oddly, in other courses I had the other two examiners as teachers and had done well. I have never been able to figure out why things developed as they did – with no recourse. I did learn, however, not to trust an evaluator (or whomever) when a situation progresses badly; acquiescence is no virtue.
On the side, the college president told me that he had been made aware of what had occurred and that there would eventually be justice. I should be patient – even though I could not graduate with my class! A summer course elsewhere (with an “A”) put me on the graduation list for the next spring’s commencement! I was unaware of any sort of justice emerging. Yet, within a couple of years I learned that my tutorial professor was not reappointed to the faculty, the education major was eliminated, and the department chairperson “left” for a position elsewhere. Justice – of sorts! Another learning: “justice” does not necessarily mean correcting an injustice in ways one might expect or want!
Nonetheless, Trinity was an excellent experience, and most importantly my family life with Bob took root there. Especially from Dr. Cherbonnier I learned so much that was both scholarly and applicable to life. Over the years this was shared with Bob. He and I are now McCook Fellows; our eventual bequest will cover all or most of the expenses for one deserving student annually.
Berkeley Divinity (1959-60) was gracious enough to admit me as a fulltime student without the actual Trinity degree in hand. However, one year there was sufficient. (Please read the paragraph at www.nolan-pingpank.com/nolan/BerkeleyDivinitySchool.htm) A mismatch for me.
No problems as a student at Hartford Seminary (1960-62). The school was most supportive as I worked my way through school financially by means of my post at the nearby Watkinson School.
WATKINSON SCHOOL, HARTFORD (1960-1962)
My position at the Watkinson School (my first job involving income tax!) went along very well, until I informed the Headmaster in the late winter (c. February) of 1962 that I would not be returning for the next school year. I thought that this would give him plenty of time to recruit my replacement. He seemed to understand that the opportunity to associate with Manhattan’s Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine by way of its Choir School was compelling. Able to complete my Hartford Seminary divinity degree with a course at Union Theological Seminary (1962-63) and perhaps continue somewhere else toward a doctorate would be an attractive option for most young people as career paths are under way.
The Headmaster had been very supportive as I worked part-time during my first academic year and fulltime my second - while studying fulltime at nearby Hartford Seminary. I was able to finance my tuition and, as a part of my compensation, was provided room and board. This was an excellent arrangement – though far more strenuous than I had anticipated. Bob and I spent time together as much as we could. (He was living at home, teaching fulltime, and studying toward his master’s degree.) [Do note that prior to mid-February the Headmaster wrote a good reference letter to Headmaster Alec Wyton at the Cathedral Choir School at www.nolan-pingpank.com/nolan/misc_rnolan.htm - “Cathedral Choir School (1962)”.]
However, “L.J.” (his first two initials – the Headmaster’s benign nickname)) was so caught up in the school personally that he held a feeling of resentment or betrayal toward departing faculty members. I cannot recall what the minor, precipitating incident was (my frequent absence as a seminarian from daily chapel not required for faculty?), but early in May he told the assistant headmaster to inform me that I could not store my belongings in my room, which was not to be used anyway until my late August move to New York – as we had agreed during our discussion of my plans. I had to store everything at my expense while I was in the 3-month Clinical Pastoral Training program in Middletown – about a 45-minute drive south. It seemed awfully petty to me, but that is what I had to do – at a time when my funds were very short. (Perhaps he finally discovered that when I was - rarely - a substitute organist at the pretty horrible 5 p.m. chapel services he led so pretentiously, as a prelude I would often play my own “Bach-like” improvisations on the Mickey Mouse theme song – admittedly very unwise and juvenile on my part.)
Years later “L.J.” faced a contract non-renewal and was sent into an unasked for early retirement by the Board of Trustees. However, I recently read in a Watkinson publication that of late he revisited the campus for the first time in decades. Hopefully this is a sign of reconciliation of some sort.
The two years at Watkinson were otherwise very good! In addition to serving as an introduction to teaching and dormitory responsibilities, there were many fine times – especially daily after supper in the modest faculty lounge – where we could rehash the day and generally socialize. I even served as an MC of a school dance. Me! How out of character! The Headmaster did not seem amused; he was a stuffy Episcopalian who no doubt thought that an Episcopal seminarian should always be somber. (third photo at www.nolan-pingpank.com/bob_rich/photos2.htm) Additionally, as mentioned above, the job allowed me to pay the tuition for, and almost complete, seminary studies – where I was exposed to some truly fine scholars then on the faculty.
In recent years Bob and I have been modest, annual contributors to the school. The current Headmaster has been a dinner guest in our home, and we connect whenever a Watkinson event is held in Southeast Florida.
THE CATHEDRAL CHOIR SCHOOL OF THE CATHEDRAL CHURCH
OF ST. JOHN THE DIVINE, NYC (1962-1964)
I had been hired for the fulltime mathematics post at the 40-student Choir School by the Headmaster and internationally distinguished organist Alec Wyton. It was very disappointing to arrive and be greeted by a newly appointed Head who was assisted by an incredibly uptight principal - whose equally edgy wife taught Latin fulltime. The new Headmaster’s spouse quickly earned the reputation of being an insufferable, status-seeking, loud, affected, gauche creature in her 50s - whose only identity was based on her husband’s title “Headmaster.” On one pre-Christmas occasion when I was walking with the Bishop from the cathedral to the Choir School, he commented with a wince, “I suppose THAT woman will be there! What’s her name?” Just about everybody found her only barely tolerable.
A layman during my first school year, I was ordained a deacon (in Massachusetts, my home diocese) the following summer (June, 1963). At the outset of the second year I realized that continuing to live in a 2-room suite with my windowless bedroom built into a dormitory filled with twenty 5th and 6th grade boys and also sharing their group shower/lav facilities (although I had a lockable toilet!) contributed to a vocational mismatch. Additionally, single, resident faculty had to leave the building during the school’s summer vacation – even though the Headmaster, principal, housemother, and assistant organist resided in their quarters year round!
Unlike other school faculty, my life was not the Choir School, and this was a cause for some collegial resentment. I clearly had a life beyond theirs. In addition, I had been admitted to an NYU doctoral program (at that point part-time) – which was an indicator that the duration of my teaching commitment would be limited.
Bob and I had many weekends together, school vacations, and the eagerly anticipated summer months. During term time he would visit in my 2-room suite – which was not an irregularity among the three single, male faculty members and one male assistant organist (three gay and one severely befuddled). Otherwise, I busied myself with school responsibilities, some liturgical cathedral involvements, my studies, and occasionally assisting in neighboring churches. (During one summer month of 1963, I had my first parish experience as a newly ordained deacon. Bob, as well as my parents, visited. See www.nolan-pingpank.com/nolan/pdfs/David-Arnold.pdf.)
The Headmaster was hospitalized when the 1963 fall term began and was thereafter confined to his apartment. No one spoke about the nature of his illness. The principal carried on as best he could, but the school was chaotic. Even the food quality plummeted – for example, bacon was served almost raw with what looked like mildew stuck to most slices. This was part of my compensation! So that scarce candidates for my math post could be located and interviewed, by November I submitted my resignation to the principal, effective with the school year’s conclusion in June (1964). Afterwards “the wife” glowered at me every time she saw me – which, assuming stress resulting from her husband’s illness, I set aside any noticeable, reciprocal expressions.
In mid-March I was summoned to the Headmaster’s bedside. In a medicated stupor, he told me that one of his former students just had to withdraw from Princeton, and he was giving him my job immediately. I would have to move out by the weekend. He also “assured” me that I was on the way to a very good parish post (which is what I was interviewing for - beginning with the conclusion of the coming summer with Bob and teaching at the University of Miami’s summer session). I did not have the heart to contest his decision in that conversation.
A touching moment was his comment that he did not think he was “going to come out of this thing.” As I have it, he was never informed that he had terminal cancer, nor was the faculty told. When I mentioned the comment to the cathedral clergyman who was chaplain to the Choir School, he was astonished. With a degree of impatience, he said, “You’re the first one he has said anything like that to.” I have never been able to figure out why. It certainly did not help my collegiality with the inner circle.
The dismissal was a shock. I sought counsel from the cathedral Dean – who was serving without distinction (in the wake of headliner James A. Pike) and had been recruited from a society church. He made it clear to me that he would not intervene in Choir School matters under any circumstances (although the school was a cathedral unit), especially with an ailing Headmaster. He declared that this unhappy incident would be quickly forgotten and that my résumé would list my service as 1962-1964. He informed me that I could live in the top floor walk-up of Cathedral House – right over the Deanery – with a private entrance, use one of the bedrooms (among several), and have use of the lav, lovely parlor, and phone. Furthermore, I could live there and be paid through May (instead of June). With no conferences or others living there, I had the whole floor to myself. Needless to say, Bob was astonished at this development – and more appreciative than ever of his secular employment.
That left June with nowhere to live before we left for the University of Miami. For that period of time I lived at the very conservative “Biblical Seminary” on New York’s East Side and worked 4 to 11 p.m. as its telephone operator and receptionist. A job is a job, and I found this one by contacting every appropriate resource I could think of! (Bob was able to stay there, too, when he could come to NYC.)
After the Dean proved professionally impotent, as far as I was concerned, I went to the Bishop of New York, who said that this was a cathedral matter, and he had no way to intervene. Technically, this was true. (Many years later I ran into him at a Connecticut event, and he leaped toward me with outstretched hand. It was brief and pleasant.)
On to the lay Chairman of the school’s Board of Trustees – by correspondence – with a request that I be given a letter that would serve to explain my abrupt departure! What they did not know was that I was terrified that years down the road someone might start a rumor that I had been dismissed, because of an inappropriate, even criminal, relationship with a Choir School boy – or something else of equal harm to my reputation. I cannot recall his specific response, but there was to be no letter other than dates of appointment, title, and the like.
At this point I was being interviewed in Short Hills. (Math teachers were in such demand that Bob could and would relocate wherever I might land.) The initial interviews went extremely well, and then it soured. I telephoned the curate (gay, I sensed) and asked what had happened. Most guardedly, he told me to look to my references. I replied that this made no sense. Then he unloaded: the cathedral Dean had told the rector that I had been dismissed from the Choir School and that he would not discuss the situation further.
I sailed into Cathedral House and, without asking, charged into the Dean’s cavernous office with my voice quivering with anger, “What are you doing to me?!” I stood – awaiting a satisfactory answer. He babbled a bit and said clearly that he was not about to talk with anyone outside the cathedral about anything that might make the cathedral look bad! Despite my fury, I held my tongue and found satisfaction in thinking everything that I wanted to say to him. At least I had a roof over my head and did not want to jeopardize that arrangement by sounding off to a man who was self-disclosing to me as an incredibly weak and ethically wanting human being.
In June I went “outside the box” – to the National Education Association (I was a member) in downtown Manhattan – which reinforced the unfortunate reality that the integrity of private schools depends entirely upon the uprightness of a given Headmaster (or CEO)(at no charge)); he concurred that I had to have something in writing, because of my legitimate concern with possible, destructive, rumor mongering – even in the distant future. Perhaps he sensed that I was gay; I do not know. In any case, I needed help clearly unavailable from the Church. Here is the letter – made public here for the first time – I have never had to haul it out.
Reading between the lines in 2007, I suspect that some of the folks interviewed commented ad hominem on “my introversion (often appearing as aloofness), independence (frequently seeming too autonomous), persistence (determination to carry through, not just stubbornness), and outspokenness (sometimes unwisely)” ... and the possible variables inherent in my Myers-Briggs personality temperament. [from the third introductory paragraph at this essay’s opening] The choir school setting at that time was mutually incompatible; of that, there was no doubt. Had Alec Wyton been the Headmaster, nothing of this sort would have occurred, although I still would have moved on; the age level of the students was just not in tune with my interests and capabilities. Additionally, living quarters for single faculty were not suitable for professional adults.
Mr. Van Houten would have recognized relevant personality factors, which is not the same as a teacher’s breach of contract – and certainly not moral turpitude. If my traits had been job threatening, there should have been some sort of official notation – or at least conveyed to me in some form, even a “shape up or ship out.” That never happened, nor was there any cause for it. This type of event is not unique to church employment.
A vacationing, thoughtful, senior, cathedral clergyman wrote a two-page, pastoral letter to me on July 8th – in response to my note asking for his sense of what had taken place. A very “in the box” priest, he was admittedly taken aback by my request for a cover letter from the School’s Board Chairman and especially the National Education Association. Apparently this was considered impertinently aggressive and was just not done in such a hierarchical organization. Nonetheless, he remarked, “The school was like a headless hen this year, as you well know, and I think that it is probably a mistake to reconstruct the situation, even if it could now be done. My advice to you since your departure, which I agree was unnecessarily precipitous and badly done, has consistently been to regard the whole affair as a matter of gross incompatibility. ... Most people cannot know how bad things were at the Choir School, and it is unfortunate that you became a part of the disintegration – but it is a fact.” (Because of some other very personal remarks about people and places, I would be very uncomfortable reproducing his entire letter here; at this writing in 2007, I believe that he is still alive.)
All things considered, I realized then at age 27 that I would never again work fulltime for any parish or agency of any church. Now at 70 and having had a good look (over 40+ years of ordained ministries) at others’ fulltime, church-based ministry, I suspect that I am indeed incompatible with much of the pitiful, inner workings and acceptable styles of collegiality in many church entities. I find no embarrassment in this whatsoever!
However, my part-time ministries at St. Paul’s (14 years as vicar - Bantam, CT), Christ Church Cathedral (6 years, Hartford, where I remain a retired honorary canon), and currently at St. Andrew’s (Lake Worth, FL) have worked out beautifully.
The Choir School experience taught me early in my career to obtain reference letters along the way to convey a truthful record about my work. I have consistently recommended to younger people – especially gay men - to do the same. Today, if one were maligned or poorly treated, the Courts might be a proper appeal – although Courts are reluctant to rule on church employment issues. Candidly, I do not trust the Church as an employer – unless one is a rector (with virtually no accountability). (See www.philosophy-religion.org\criticism\accountability.htm)
To this day, I have not forgiven the Dean for his cowardice, regardless of his prominence – which does not impress me whatsoever. There was never anything approaching an apology or statement of regret from him. Nor does the injustice foisted on me so callously simmer within my spirit. Those emotions were all neutralized decades ago. [I was not his sole victim; the distinguished Canon Howard Johnson, testifying at General Convention (in a state other than N.Y.) about his “Global Odyssey” around the Anglican Communion was asked to report further to a significant Convention committee – at a time that conflicted with his routine assignment to lead a weekday Evening Prayer Service at the cathedral. He asked the Dean if someone else could lead that marginally attended Service, but true to his often-petty form, the Dean declined, and Howard had to drop his significant testimony and return to New York.] The Dean was my first, and not my last, experience of a priest who was a walking tragedy in his personal and vocational life – once one could perceive the full picture – yet a cleric who went up the ecclesiastical ladder with fancy though unremarkably filled positions.
With the few I have shared this event privately, I have inevitably been asked, “Do you think it all boils down to their perception that you are gay, that they realized that you and Bob were more than college friends?” To that, I readily answered “no.” For heaven’s sake, the Bishop was (discreetly) gay; the assistant organist was obviously gay; I was but one of a few other gay cathedral employees. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” was the absolute then – and, to my knowledge, no impropriety was alleged about my behavior – ever. People at the cathedral pretended that “it” did not exist – unless someone cared to gossip a bit or if an immoral event became contentiously public.
How wonderful it was when Canon Edward N. West invited me to return to preach at the cathedral for a 1984 Sunday Evensong. Later, in 1991, I was invited to vest for the Service celebrating the school’s 90th birthday; at the reception I chatted with some grown-up, former students, and dear Alec Wyton. My last visit was the 2005 public celebration and blessing of Bob and my 50th anniversary. The current Dean, Jim Kowalski, is a good, collegial friend.
My two cathedral years were not all bad, by any means. Apart from enabling me to study at Union and NYU, I was cured of habitually bowing down before status church settings or titled clergy. Their fallibilities were exposed graphically. At one point during my difficulty Alec Wyton said to me, “Never forget – the people make a place; a place does not make the people.” I have never forgotten his wise words. (Mr. Wyton’s generosity was such that, when during an evening I was touring my parents around the locked cathedral, they were treated to a private, 15-minute organ recital! I was deeply touched.)
Even the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in all its grandeur was dependent upon the qualities of the people who are its lay and ordained ministers at any given time. Also the same year Suffragan Bishop Stuart Wetmore commented to me, “God help anyone who tries to make this their spiritual home.” That is how foul things were. I believe that the cathedral has made a full recovery from that terrible period! Certainly I have. Bob and I are members of the cathedral’s “Society of Regents.”
After a few more interviews during the late spring of 1964, I decided to spend the coming academic year as a fulltime NYU doctoral student. I was able to raise the needed money via scholarships from the Episcopal Church and State of New York – along with student loans and some church work here and there. I would not take any funds from my parents.
By the way, two parish interviews were revealing and enough to endure. One Westchester County rector made it clear that one of my most important duties would be to drive the parish bus each afternoon to transport affluent students from their well off homes to church activities; the parents had come to expect this service. During the interview hardly anything was mentioned about worship, religious education, or pastoral care! He seemed to want desperately a subservient errand boy. Forget it! Subsequently, the rector of Westport informed me that as a “single man” I would not need the house normally provided with the position; instead, the parish would rent a one-bedroom or studio apartment for me; for sure, that would reduce my overall compensation as compared with a married priest’s employment. Neither church would provide a written contract or clearly defined expectations in writing. A handshake would do. I was not about to be a rector’s on- call stooge. Forget it! N.Y.U. was the way to go fulltime for the 1964-1965 school year!
CHESHIRE ACADEMY (1965-1967)
In the early spring of 1965 I was admitted to a master’s program (M.A. in Religion) at Yale Divinity School and lined up a fulltime position at Cheshire Academy (Cheshire, CT) as associate chaplain and instructor in math and religion (required weekly classes for Episcopal boarding students). A non-sectarian, independent school, Cheshire had been founded in 1794 as the Episcopal Academy. My interview at a New York hotel with Headmaster Arthur Sheriff had gone very well. He was a great old man, very concerned with students who were underachievers. My first year (1965-66) went splendidly, too. He eagerly hired Bob for the following school year (1966-67).
My Yale program was secondary to the Cheshire position. On the “why Yale?” section of the application, I wrote, with tongue in cheek, that I would be teaching fulltime nearby in Cheshire and that I really did not require the program, given my Ph.D. studies at NYU. I further indicated (something like) that a Yale degree would add a first-rate addition to my CV and I would be exposed to more top scholars.
I was truly surprised when I was admitted: with advanced standing because of my Hartford divinity degree – and I was allowed to enroll part-time to complete the program over two years. Further, I paid $50 per month (for ten months each year) to cover my whole $1000 tuition for the entire program! During my studies, I was allowed to take Yale’s German language exam for its doctorate; NYU then transferred the language certification into my program there. I hope that Yale and NYU are still as accommodating for all students! (By the way, the Yale and NYU programs went smoothly right to their conclusions.)
At the beginning of that second Cheshire year, Mr. Sheriff (who had been headmaster for decades) was retired by the Board of Trustees, and they brought in a non-educator administrator of some sort from the New York Port Authority; he was to overhaul the school’s overall efficiency.
An Episcopalian, the new headmaster registered a complaint early in the school year with the senior chaplain that my sermon (at required Sunday chapel for Christian boarding students) was at cross-purposes with the school. Nice start with the new boss, and, a metaphor of sorts for the rest of the year! In my sermon I had stated that one should avoid defining oneself basically by one’s successes, or lack thereof, in the classroom or the athletic field, but instead, who we are as a unique child of God; this religious self-defining was the context for all of our achievements and failures. I had in mind the many underachievers in the student body – as well as the bright kids and the jocks who strutted around with a superior attitude.
During his inspection of our campus building (while he pompously wore a flowing green, floor length cape), the headmaster informed both Bob and me, who had separate, very comfortable faculty apartments (bedroom, study, living room, kitchenette, bathroom in a fairly new building) that as single men, we did not need so much room and that the next year we would be moved to smaller quarters.
Our compensation included living quarters and meals (the latter only during term periods); such a move would affect the worth of our compensation as well as our quality of life as residents in future dilapidated quarters in an old building. That did it! Bob lined up a job almost overnight (effective with September, 1967) as Math Department Head at Thomaston High, and soon afterwards I was offered a one-year appointment at Hartford Seminary. The Headmaster was outraged at us and the many others who, dissatisfied with his arrogant tyranny, made plans to leave. Local and New Haven newspapers eventually published numerous, ongoing, incisive reports of unrest at the school, and that lack of information control infuriated him all the more. (The New Haven Register does not currently offer online archives for these years.)
Now fully retired, Mr. Sheriff was dejected over the new Headmaster’s ruthlessness - which included dismissal of long-term faculty members at ages 60 and 61 not yet eligible for Social Security or other retirement benefits. Mr. Sheriff began to write reference letters for those he expected would leave, myself included. It was all ready when I asked him for such a letter. [Please see the two Cheshire Academy letters at www.nolan-pingpank.com/nolan/misc_rnolan.htm as well as the Butler and Bowers letters within “Reference Letters with RTN Placement File (1967)”]
The Headmaster was an abject failure and was summarily fired a few years later, but went on to be president of a small, private junior college in Massachusetts.
The two years at Cheshire were otherwise productive and enjoyable. Bob rapidly became a highly respected teacher and mentor while being introduced to the pros and cons of independent school teaching. I was able to complete my Yale program (which enhanced my NYU studies) and squeeze in some adjunct philosophy teaching at the Hartford Branch of the University of Connecticut. Moreover, the actual work and all other relationships at the Academy were fine in every way.
In passing, we are modest annual contributors and attend annual Palm Beach gatherings of alumni and other supporters. The headmaster graciously attended our 50th anniversary Service at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York – which was very touching. (Please see related pictures in photos 12 www.philosophy-religion.org/round_about/index.htm and at www.nolan-pingpank.com/nolan/cheshire.htm)
HARTFORD SEMINARY 1967 - 1971
My one-year appointment (1967-68) at my divinity school alma mater went well and yielded an unexpected, new position for the second year “Assistant Academic Dean (and Lecturer in Philosophy and Education).” I had studied college and university administration with the former chancellor of New York University, a wonderful course in theory and practice. [See “New York University (1965)” among the supportive letters at www.nolan-pingpank.com/nolan/misc_rnolan.htm.]
I thought that just perhaps this position was one that I would enjoy indefinitely. Right from the start, more responsibility came my way than had been intended, because the Academic Dean-elect was killed in a car accident shortly before the fall semester began. In his place a committee of three professors acted as Dean for several months, but trusted me to deal with far more than I had expected. Fairly soon, an outstanding, senior faculty member (a distinguished scholar in Islamics) was appointed Academic Dean, and we got along extremely well. He was like an older brother; his wife was especially charming.
Bob was pleased with his new job at the high school, too. We moved into a new 2-family house (as a cover for our relationship) equidistant between his post and mine. Bob had designed the house, and we had it built during the summer of 1967. We lived there until retirement in the early 1990s.
Then came a bolt from the blue! The seminary president called a special faculty meeting and announced that the Board of Trustees had decided to downsize the school – including a 50% reduction in fulltime faculty. No one’s job is secure when that happens; even tenure counts for nothing when a fulltime position is reduced or eliminated. I could see that my own job would not be needed in a smaller institution. In any case, I was asked to stay on for the time being.
However, in the late spring of 1969 a college friend encouraged me to teach at the new community college in Waterbury starting fulltime in September – at least until I finished my doctoral dissertation. Here there would be a possibility of tenure; the pay was very good as was the location. The president Dr. Charles B. Kinney, Jr. was a grandfatherly man (very active in his UCC congregation) with a fine professional reputation. He was committed to the role of the liberal arts as a central component to all the college programs, whether vocational or the first two years of a 4-year college curriculum. I knew nothing about community colleges, other than they had no prestige whatsoever, but the position met my most important criterion – its “fit” for supporting my life with Bob in our new home.
The seminary president wanted me to stay on, but the whole situation there looked very iffy. We struck an agreement that I would remain, but add another fulltime job late afternoons and evenings at the community college. Needless to say, the double compensation was attractive, but I was really exhausted after I had met my obligations. As “Special Assistant to the Dean,” I reduced my obligations during 1970-71, which concluded my seminary work.
(Please visit www.nolan-pingpank.com/nolan/misc_rnolan.htm, and among the supportive letters, read the two from Hartford Seminary.) Also, at least glance at the newspaper articles for the 1967-71 period, and you will discover the excessive professional involvements I had willingly undertaken. In retrospect, this pace was unhealthy. I wonder whether it laid the foundation for my 2002 heart attack! J Nevertheless, I recall that the many activities were enjoyable and invigorating. What does not show up in any records is the continuing work on my dissertation! All of this going on – with a partner who was wonderfully encouraging in every way! I would underscore that this was a period without conflicts with any individuals. My disappointment was attributable to the policy requiring transformation of the seminary, consequently, my professional future –which is an example of a negative episode beyond one’s control. Looking back, I believe I handled my part well – except for the frenetic pace while juggling the present with the future.
MATTATUCK COMMUNITY COLLEGE 1969-1992
Well before a new campus was built, the faculty came together in the fall of 1969 for the beginning of its third year of classes. [See "Five Named To Posts At College" (Waterbury Republican, 1969) at www.nolan-pingpank.com/nolan/misc_rnolan.htm.] We taught in a Waterbury public high school for several years. As I recall, our faculty meetings were held at the downtown Y.W.C.A. As mentioned above, in my opinion the president was superb – though combative types were ready to go at him from the start.
At some point in the early years, Dr. Kinney called me to his office to tell me that he had brought me to the college with the hope that on the side I would serve as an unofficial chaplain to the college and, further, that I would soon be willing to take on an administrative position. I very diplomatically put his hopes to rest. Afterwards, I never detected any ill will from him. Quite the opposite, he saw me through ten years to “full professor,” encouraged completion of the doctorate by authorizing annual NYU “maintenance” (tuition) payments, authorized every course I proposed to teach throughout the years, valued my textbook writing, funded my twice-yearly, public lecture series in philosophy and religion, fought for my sabbatical, and he permitted my rather extensive adjunct teaching as well as my commitment to the part-time pastorate of St. Paul’s Parish. (Please return to the “Miscellaneous Documents” page and take note of the items through his retirement year 1980. In short, Dr. Kinney trusted me to do a good job and bring credit to the college. I was truly sorry to see him retire. He lived on Cape Cod with his wife until his death in 1995 at age 81. Dr. Kinney was honored in 1994 when the community college's main administration building was officially named Dr. Charles B. Kinney Hall.)
The college’s next president stayed for only two years (1980-82). I liked her and her leadership style very much. I had no contact with the interim president, a two-year appointment (1982-84) from the Board’s Hartford Office. It was during this period that the Dean of Instruction blossomed as a terrorist. Finally, in 1984, a rather aloof president arrived; nearly invisible on campus, but a great politician, he retired in 2007. At the most, he and I exchanged some pleasantries; he kept his distance from most of the faculty. (More below, beginning with the paragraph “Now to the Dean of Instruction.....”)
First, back a bit: my initial Mattatuck department chairperson, a well-qualified historian, was absolutely batty! Examples – in no particular order: (1) in a class he vomited into a wastebasket (losing his false teeth in the process), but refused to excuse his class; among belches and gagging, he continued “teaching.” (2) He frequently took his chatty wife to class along with his young son, whom he occasionally ordered to urinate in the faculty parking lot. (3) He bragged about holding his son’s hand over a stove’s burner to scare him when the child misbehaved. More than once he was reported to the State’s agency for child abuse, but I cannot remember the outcomes. (4) As an early power play, he called department meetings on the spur of the moment, regardless of faculty schedules, and then have no agenda; he would create some minor issue and dismiss the meeting within 5 minutes. Some faculty members would have to drive an hour to arrive at these non-meetings. (5) When complaints were lodged by his supervisors or faculty or students (he was making borderline sleazy calls to female students at their homes), he played the anti-Semitic card, and he secured a very powerful Hartford lawyer to protect him. (6) He wrote bizarre letters to the editors of various city newspapers that were embarrassing to the college. (7) Apparently daydreaming, he drove his vehicle through the windows of a beauty parlor near the college and later at a store (perhaps a 7-Eleven). (8) For years, as department head, he ordered hundreds of desk copies of all sorts of textbooks, immediately sell them to bookstores, and pocket his profits. After years of his craziness, the Board of Trustees, working with his lawyer, retired him – with a generous retirement package! Although I had no respect for him whatsoever, I cannot call to mind a problem between us – except the comment made about everybody – that I was anti-Semitic. He died several years ago.
An annoyance: I was irked when I was turned down for a promotion – either to assistant or associate professor – which increased one’s pay scale. The promotion process was confidential and very competitive (with very few slots for each professorial rank funded annually); applicants rarely knew of the reasons for being turned down. A sympathetic committee member leaked to me that because I was “single,” the committee majority felt that I did not need the money. This was not a gay-related issue; it was pure discrimination against people perceived as single. In those days, legal action for such discrimination was unknown. Not only did life go on, but also in the tenth year of my employment, I was advanced, with only three others, to the college’s first full professorships.
Again, going back a bit - two succeeding department chairpersons were terrific. When the second of these two (the best of all!) decided to return to fulltime teaching and the college had established “divisions,” another very well qualified, Ivy League Ph.D. became our Division Head. The college had brought in another misfit (who was retired and escorted from the building in tears - about 2006 in his 70s. Years earlier he had declared to me that work was his essence; I assured him that this was not the case for me. His forced departure must have been traumatic for him).
A major culture clash was inevitable between this Nigerian and virtually everyone in the college. His treatment of women, his arrogant sense of self-importance, and his obsession with his ancestral allegiances and customs were out of place. Until reprimanded, he closed a couple of our meetings with, “Now go in peace to serve the Lord Jesus Christ!” Good grief! We were a state supported institution, three of my colleagues were Jewish, and atheists/agnostics were on hand, too.
Most important was his inability to do his job. For some reason, he could not deal with the necessary charts needed for scheduling the division’s course offerings. He would botch the project with courses offered at times unsuitable for students as well as faculty. He hired unqualified Nigerian adjuncts; complaints from faculty members to the administration fell on deaf ears.
While this was happening, at our Hartford Cathedral (about 1990) I was preaching on something related to embedded corruption; I mentioned that I could detect some of this in my own community college, and I felt powerless to fight it. Well, the Lieutenant Governor - who trusted me from prior cathedral contacts - was in the congregation. She arranged for me to meet with the (Episcopal lay) Commissioner of Higher Education. In advance, I sent him a detailed, factual report of my first-hand observations about this Nigerian misfit. When we met, he told me that he appreciated my efforts, but they were not willing to challenge the man. He already had a record of using the race card whenever he was criticized, and he had retained a lawyer who had already threatened the Board. What's more, he was in a “protected class” which in actuality provided him with more invulnerability than tenure! (In retirement, my letter to the Commissioner was apparently trashed with so much else; I wish that I could have reproduced it here.)
At some point I did have a face-to-face clash with him over something I have now forgotten, and he threw around some racial stuff. I let him have it by charging him with being a racist. He shrieked and challenged me. I responded by pointing out how much he uses race as a shelter and as a criterion to benefit his hiring and other practices. The outcome, if any, of this spat has gone from my memory, too.
Witnessing firsthand the misuse of ethnic/racial devices as protections from deserved charges of incompetence plus the cowardice or expediency of some employers who refuse to name the shams that hover around them, I have some strong reservations about the naïveté of many church and other committees focused on these issues. Perhaps by this time the unsophisticated, simplistic purity of good people rightly against racism and ethnic hatefulness has matured. I certainly hope so!
For years the Dean had wanted me to switch from the Division of Social Sciences to the Humanities Division. On this matter I was expedient. I really did not like the styles of the Humanities Department/Division heads until my final Mattatuck years. My social science colleagues and heads wanted me to remain put, because my high course registrations were to the division’s advantage in determining budgets and permitting a number of low registering courses. Finally fed up with the peculiar Nigerian, I told the Dean that this would be a good time for me to be switched to Humanities (which at last had a fine chairman), and it happened right away. Throughout the few years remaining until retirement, I worked very happily in that division.
Bob did not have Social Security with his Thomaston High School employment – just the fine State pension. Wisely, he taught math as a Mattatuck adjunct for ten years (1970-80) as required for SS benefits – especially Medicare coverage. The Math Department Head very much wanted Bob to join the faculty fulltime, but he was very well satisfied with his Thomaston position.
Now to the Dean of Instruction – retired at this writing. This guy was most everybody’s problem at Mattatuck. Faculty nicknamed his trouble-seeking memos as, pardon the crass label, “snot-grams.” At the outset he was an excitable English teacher and rather speedily the first Humanities Department Head. The college quickly became his whole life. Although married with children, many faculty members wondered why. At a staff meeting he, in his usual animated, almost hysterical, style declared that the college was to save the city (Waterbury) and that all college employees should be required to reside within the municipality! Of course, no one took this seriously.
In time, the State of Connecticut required all of its units to engage in collective bargaining. Although at first I was opposed to this as “unprofessional,” I was soon convinced that we indeed needed a union to protect us from the manic-depressive moods of this man who was soon appointed as a Dean. Dr. Kinney’s only weakness, it seems to me, was in a number of his administrative appointments. He mistook apparent exuberance for competence; he mistook having no life outside the college for professional dedication. Furthermore, the unions were very effective in bargaining for outstanding compensation that rivaled many other institutions of higher education in Connecticut, public and private. We benefited enormously from the State’s elevation of public school teachers’ salary scales to be among the nation’s best.
The Dean perfected combative pettiness to an art form, and he always needed to be in combat with someone! While he wanted to showcase faculty, he did not like professors to outshine him in anything. If one received recognition for anything, within or outside the college, one knew that the Dean would soon seek him/her out to try to create some sort of misery. On one small matter, my department head wrote an appreciative memo to him that I had been acknowledged in the Western Civilization text we used, with our college mentioned, for making a major correction and some other suggestions included in its new edition. Within two days of receiving the memo, I met the Dean in the parking lot. He stopped to tell me solemnly, but smirking, that I would not be teaching any more sections of Western Civilization. How petty can one get?! (And, no, I never did.)
The major blow-up with the Dean is summed up in these newspaper articles at www.nolan-pingpank.com/nolan/misc_rnolan.htm - "When Success Is Stifled" (Hartford Courant, 1983);
"Eating Away at Royalties" (Hartford Courant, 1983); ".... Seeking Teacher's Royalties" (Hartford Courant, 1983); and “Professor Takes Credit ..." (Hartford Courant, 1984). Other articles reported on the matter in the Waterbury Republican and The Chronicle of Higher Education, but currently their online searchable archives do not reach back to 1983 and 1984. I never understood why the interim president did not step in, but I prevailed in all of this - with a new attitude. (A few years later, a member of the Board of Trustees told me at a non-college social event that they knew the Dean was off the wall, but that the president valued the Dean’s love of paper pushing – which took that burden off of him. The Board member also said that they knew the Dean was desperate to be president of one of the State’s community colleges, but there was absolutely no possibility of that ever happening. To which I asked, “If the Board knows how detrimental he is to the college, why hasn’t he been dumped?” The reply – “That’s just not the way things are done.” A diocesan bishop told me pretty much the same thing about ineffective, even suspiciously behaving, rectors.)
The paragraph accompanying the newspaper clipping “Harvard (1976)” reports an even earlier episode about my presidentially supported, Board-denied sabbatical, which was later remedied.
This Dean-inspired event did it! My new attitude was such that loyalty to the college was all but crushed. Feeling betrayed, I cruised for nearly ten years until retirement, but without sacrificing any quality in my classroom teaching. I founded “The Litchfield Institute” (See www.nolan-pingpank.com/bob_rich/cv_rnolan.htm - reference to the Institute under “Doctoral Dissertation ....... “ ) and from that time on, my books and public lectures associated me with the Institute, not the college. Outside the classroom, my professional goal as a professor was to develop a pension package that would enable me to retire at age 55 with the best available retirement package. And, that is exactly what happened. (Do please read www.nolan-pingpank.com/bob_rich/mcc-emeritus.htm for the complimentary granting of emeritus status, as composed primarily by colleagues.) In all of those ten years preparing for retirement I stuck to the letter of the contract.
Despite the nuisances, I have never regretted my long-term position at Mattatuck, now the Naugatuck Valley Community College, which may be visited at www.nvctc.commnet.edu! Notwithstanding two certifiably wacky department heads, and a manic-depressive-like, petty Dean, I thrived in the classroom and in an astonishing number of “outside” positions. My formal evaluations were always excellent. I cannot think of any other institution of higher education that would have permitted me so much independence. And, most importantly, the college was less than a half hour’s drive from our home!
As you might suspect, there were some other less memorable, unimportant, off-putting incidents along the way. To some, I might have contributed to their volatility. In any case, when “stuff” happens, each of us must decide how to respond. Sometimes no response is wise. On occasion, a reaction – formal or informal – is appropriate and/or necessary. As is said, though, “Choose your battles wisely.” The small stuff can be allowed to linger inconsequentially or evaporate in time. Whatever the case may be, there is nothing inherently “Christian” about willingly surrendering or maintaining silence in all circumstances. Justice for oneself (as one loves oneself and one’s neighbor) might require forceful action – with all its risky, positive and negative possibilities.
Finally, A CV does not reveal discouraging or sad, personal incidents. In my case, the deaths of Bob’s parents and grandmothers as well as the deaths of my father and my grandmother – along with beloved parishioners – and Mom’s Alzheimer’s disease and demise at 90 after I retired. A CV does not disclose one’s joys and special occasions; for me, they were frequent. (Some of these occurrences are noted in our SOUL MATES .... .) In fact, “CV” is a misnomer. Meaning curriculum vitae (Latin for “the course of life”), it is a summary of one's education, professional history, and job qualifications. As you would expect, one’s actual “course of life” includes far more than occupational data!
Enough! I trust that readers of this report/essay will have not only have a more accurate picture of my CV at www.nolan-pingpank.com/bob_rich/cv_rnolan.htm, but also an understanding of all CVs as the bare bones of one aspect of life. The next time you hear (or read) someone’s professional life trumpeted (or disparaged), keep in mind that most likely there were bumps along the road and, hopefully a multitude of joyful accomplishments. Furthermore, and most important, the quality of one’s personal life is not evident in a CV.