In her 46th year as a political science scholar, Virginia Sapiro sits in front of her laptop at the kitchen table at her New Hampshire farm, a 90-minute drive from Boston University, and writes about it she learned and observed about teaching, researching, “deaning and provosting” —and gardening.
These, and other memories, thoughts and detours – on everything from demystifying the job of a college professor to instilling in shy and reluctant students the confidence to speak up in the classroom to grow vegetables. in the Granite State – can be found in the blog of Sapiro, Retirement letters: thoughts on a year before leaving.
For anyone navigating academia or just curious about the inner workings of a great urban research university, Sapiro is a seasoned guide. She began her career in the era of handouts and 50-minute lectures, enthusiastically followed up interactive and more conversation-oriented classes, embraced the Internet at the turn of the century, and finished, in her 69th year , launching itself in Zoom.
“Actually, I really liked to send students to breakout rooms to work together, then come back and talk, ”she writes.
A new teacher worried about fitting in
After earning her undergraduate degree in public administration from Clark University in Worcester in 1972, Sapiro did her graduate studies in political science at the University of Michigan, where she felt lucky to be part of the interdisciplinary stew. exhilarating egalitarianism of academics from the Center for Political Studies at the Institute for Social Research.
In the fall of 1976, she was newly appointed Assistant Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, with a joint post in political science and the emerging field of women’s studies, which she helped create. Fearing to be confronted with a class of students barely younger than her, she assumes that a “very experienced and knowledgeable” male colleague has got it all – until he apologizes, in the middle of it. ‘a conversation, to go throw up before his first lecture. .
Fast forward to 2007: after 31 years at Madison, where she held an endowed faculty position and served as vice-president for teaching and learning and acting vice-president and vice-chancellor for business academic, she arrived at BU as the College’s reformist dean. and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences – and finds her work-life balance in the rocky land of New Hampshire. “The garden was physical. The dirtier and sweatier I got, the healthier I felt, ”she writes. “A few varieties of tomatoes have become more and more, eventually settling in around 40.” Not to mention various potatoes (“for my English husband,” she writes) and four kinds of basil.
With his long list of awards for research, writing, leadership, service, and mentoring, not to mention being elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Sapiro’s resume spans pages. She is already Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Associate Vice-Chancellor Emeritus of the University of Wisconsin and Dean Emeritus of the BU of Arts and Sciences.
“That’s a lot of honors for one woman,” Sapiro informs his readers.
Blog, teach, run a farm and business, volunteer
His blog begins on June 30, 2020, in the first months of the global coronavirus pandemic, with a year before his retirement from formal education. She makes it clear that she will continue to research, mentor and write. She is immersed in a book project, a massive history of higher education in the United States and its relationship to American political and social development. She also runs a small farm and a bakery business, and is involved with the local farmers market she helped start and a non-profit organization that offers classical music performances at homeless shelters. Oh, and she wants to travel.
“Mostly,” she wrote on her blog, “as the great Maxine Waters once said,“ CLAIMING MY TIME!
Now, blogging five days a week – except when things like the kale harvest or a visit from relatives or the Democratic TV convention kicks in – she seeks a different voice, one that listens to a general audience rather than of a scholar. She comes and goes through time, her thoughts going far and wide:
She was in her sophomore year at Clark in the spring of 1970, when the United States announced airstrikes in Cambodia. As campuses nationwide become hotbeds of anti-war protests, National Guards kill four student protesters at Kent State University. At a mass meeting in Clark, students draft resolutions promising to fight imperialism, racism and class oppression. Sapiro, who is there in the crowded auditorium, is stunned when one of his classmates reads aloud an additional resolution – to combat sexism – and the men, some of whom are his friends, “burst out laughing” . Sapiro and a few dozen other women come out. “We all tried to figure out what just happened and why, and why we were all livid now. So that’s the day I became a feminist, ”she writes.
On August 19, 2020, she wrote: “Why did I commit to teaching in this field? The “broken promise of gender equality” has helped her get through nearly half a century of teaching. “I thought knowledge is power. Or at least a lack of knowledge is a lack of power… I wanted to make sure that people who care about democracy don’t just care; I wanted them to have knowledge.
When teaching the history of women’s suffrage, she asks students what they’ve learned about this 51-year battle in other courses on related topics. The usual answer: little or nothing. “It makes them angry,” she wrote. “They believe they have discovered an injustice. The students ask him, “How can you teach this year after year and not burn with anger? ”
His response: “Anger is unproductive. Using the energy of anger productively is constructive and makes a difference.
She also writes on “the delicate but important matter” of helping young people, especially women, find their voice in public places. She meets privately with students who are afraid to speak out in class. Once they are comfortable talking with her, she makes a proposal: “In the next class, I’ll ask you to say anything, anything. If they have a trusted friend in the classroom, she suggests that when they talk, they look at their friend and “let everyone else go.” If no friend is there, they should just watch Sapiro. His strategy has been successful for years.
“Why did I bother?” she writes. “As I tell my students, they will come out into the world and have to make a difference there. It requires communicating with people in public, often in situations that can be risky, where they know they are stretching. As a political science professor concerned with civic and feminist engagement, I will be damned if I haven’t done anything to help them achieve it.
A career at the service of “young people and their dynamic minds”
It is September 2, 2020, the first day of teaching his last class at BU. She didn’t expect to finish her run on Zoom. Students in his campaign internship are excited about the Massachusetts US Senate primary race between incumbent Ed Markey (Hon.’04) and Joe Kennedy III. The discussion crackles: why did young voters support veteran Markey over young Kennedy? Students say it’s foolish to assume that young people automatically favor the youngest candidate. Sapiro goes to the Electoral College; students are also excited about it.
The teacher remembers what she will miss. “Although this is my last formal class, and I chose this, and I’m glad I did,” writes Sapiro, “oh, my God, I love working with these young people and their vibrant minds.”
On October 8, 2020, she is concerned about another fall milestone: “Tonight it’s supposed to come down to 31,” she wrote. “It’s time to move on to the next season.
She harvested the tomatoes and potted the rosemary and other herbs to bring them back inside. Today, she walked through the rows of her garden, putting peppers in labeled paper bags so they could ripen in a cool place in the house, and cutting up armfuls of dahlias.
As she does every fall, she thanks her plants “for the season, for pleasure, for sustenance, for beauty”. Her new garlic seeds arrived a few days ago and she will be planting them before the end of October. There are lessons here about the life of an academic. “Nothing is ever done,” she wrote. “Complete a course, then start over. Arrive at the end of a research project, but another is already underway … “
“Perfectionism beyond a certain level is an enemy,” she writes. It’s hard to know when a student “isn’t going to complete that graduate degree”. The same goes for “knowing when it’s time to abandon the garden to frost.” But it is an essential part of the next season. And, of course, you have to know when it’s time to retire.
Two months later, she published: “Election Day, 2020. I am a political scientist because democracy is very important to me …” But even after nearly half a century of studying political science, elections and politics. psychology, fragile democracies are. Not until this year.
In February, she celebrates her 70th birthday.
Then it’s spring and she hears from a former colleague at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Katherine Cramer Walsh, who won a distinguished professorship with this twist: “You can nominate the chair in the honor from someone who has inspired you professionally, ”Sapiro tells readers. Walsh, whom she had mentored, wrote asking permission to “give my name to her teaching position.” No false modesty here. I started to cry.
On June 30, 2021, one year to the day after starting his blog, Sapiro, who is now professor emeritus of political science at the BU, writes his last article.
There is so much more to say.
But it is about time.
And good night to the old lady who whispers “hush”.
Sapiro, however, is barely done. Shutting down her laptop, she gets to work baking loaves of Italian, French and Greek bread, and two kinds of cookies, coffee chocolate chips and patriotic mint windmills (red, white and blue for July 4), which she promised for the Farmers’ Market.
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