Union College News Archives

News story archive

Navigation Menu

Sorum Named Dean of the Faculty

Posted on Aug 1, 2000

After a national search, the College has chosen a dean of faculty and vice president for academic affairs from on campus.

Christina E. Sorum, the Frank Bailey Professor of Classics and the acting dean of faculty and academic vice president for the past year, was named to the post in April.

President Roger Hull said that Sorum received the “unanimous and strong support” of a search committee that had reviewed more than eighty applicants.

“Based on her broad professional achievements, her service as a professor and as dean of arts and sciences, and her contributions to the campus as a whole, I have no doubt that Christie will provide very strong leadership,” the president said. “The years ahead hold great promise for Union, and I eagerly look forward to working with Christie to fulfill that promise.”

A native of Jacksonville, Ill., Sorum graduated from Wellesley College with honors in Greek and received a Ph.D. from Brown University (her dissertation was “Monsters and the Family: A Study of Sophocles' Trachiniae”). She was a visiting instructor at Union in 1973-1974, became an assistant professor at North Carolina State University, and returned to Union in 1982 as an associate professor and chair of the Department of Classics. She became the Frank Bailey Professor in 1992. In 1994, she was named dean of arts and sciences, a position she held until she became acting dean of faculty last fall.

In an interview shortly after the appointment, she said that one of her chief goals will be to continue to improve what the College does extraordinarily well — undergraduate research and international study. All academic departments should be able to offer their students the opportunity to do research, she said, and the percentage of students who go abroad should be increased from about fifty-five percent to eighty percent.

“Those experiences are the most transformative for both the personal and intellectual development of students, and they provide some of the best preparation for life after college — how to learn on your own, how to deal with difference,” she said.

Two other areas where she would like to see the College invest more resources are the arts and engineering.

“Participation in the arts ought to be available to every student,” she said. “Few things are more rewarding after college than having an active interest in, and participating in, the arts.”

Given engineering's strong tradition at Union, she said, “we need to ensure excellence. I want to continue to work with the dean of engineering [Robert Balmer] and the rest of campus to discover the proper role of engineering on a liberal arts campus — how it can enrich the rest of the College, and how the rest of the College can enrich engineering.”

She said the College must continue to pay attention to the “more traditional” elements of education — communication skills, quantitative skills, a grasp of the elements that comprise the culture from which we came — and pay increased attention to academic and career advising. Other topics of great interest, she said, are enhancing the diversity of students and faculty, continuing to develop innovative ways to link the residential and intellectual life on campus, and revisiting the College's general education program, now ten years old.

Fundamental to all these objectives, she said, is having an excellent faculty.

“We no longer have a world where we can have our pick of faculty,” she said. “The overabundance of Ph.D.s from the 1970s and 1980s is gone. We have to be competitive in hiring, and we have to provide our faculty with the full opportunity to develop as teachers and scholars.

“Although we pride ourselves on our emphasis on teaching, I believe that faculty enthusiasm to teach comes from being absorbed in their disciplines,” she continued. “I believe that having faculty active in a scholarly way is even more important at a small college than a large university. It's so easy to become intellectually isolated at a small place, where you may be the only faculty member teaching in a particular area. Faculty must participate in their disciplines outside the walls of the College, and we must provide the opportunity for them to do good scholarship and research. ”

Achieving these goals, she said, will depend greatly on aggressive fundraising. “Union does not have the endowment of many of its competitors, and we need to increase our resources to stay competitive. The kind of education we offer is very special, with wonderful faculty working closely with students, and I hope that those who have benefited before will see the imperative of continuing their support. I know that I and the faculty will help in any way we can.”

Read More

Advocating Simple Science

Posted on Aug 1, 2000

Ken Schick of the Physics Department says you're doing science well when you ask a question and it can be answered by a simple experiment.

Take, for example, the question, how fast does light travel? Using a set-up that looks like a metal pegboard mounted with several mirrors and a laser, Schick and his first-year physics students can measure the velocity of light accurately using the ability to measure time intervals to within one-ten billionth of a second.

“It looks so simple and is so elegant,” he says.

Schick, the Frank and Louise Bailey Professor of Physics, retired this June after forty-one years at the College. “Perhaps I'll do a little more reading, perhaps a bit more traveling …. It will be nice to have more time to do the things I love,” he says. That includes spending more time with his grandchildren and his children — Ruth '82, a professor of gender and women's studies at Otago University in New Zealand; Karen '83, an obstetrician/gynecologist in Saratoga Springs, and Louis '88, a physicist in Slingerlands, N.Y.

A native of New York City, Schick graduated from Stuyvesant High School, a specialized school for mathematics, science, and technology. He received his undergraduate degree in physics from Columbia University, where the two required years of humanities and social sciences “was a wonderful awakening. Whether you were interested in science or not, you had a very strong background in liberal arts.”

Schick even considered a career in sociology at the urging of noted sociologist C. Wright Mills. “That was fun, but I really liked the science best of all,” he says.

“Physics has a very rapidly changing scene, and what I like about it is that it gives me insight into the nature of things, and I find that very exciting.”

He received his Ph.D. from Rutgers in 1959 and began teaching at Union the same year.

Part of the fun he has had comes from the advances in technology, which have meant new questions and answers. Whenever he prepares a course, he gathers new information by searching the Web, talking to colleagues, and reading up on the latest research. He then shares what he finds — and his obvious enthusiasm about it — with his students.

Schick's own research has been in biophysics, investigating single nerve fibers in a frog and trying to understand how they work on a molecular basis. He has also done research with Jay Newman, R. Gordon Gould Professor of Physics, on actin, a molecule contained in muscles that is crucial for muscle contraction.

Cosmology has been an avocation that has filtered into his classrooms, especially in “Intelligent Life in the Universe,” a general education course aimed at non-science majors that examines the possibilities of extraterrestrial life. The course, he says, reflects his belief in the importance of sharing science with non-science majors, helping them realize that many scientific ideas are comprehensible. One of his most memorable classes, in fact, was a general education course called “VITA and the Developing World,” a collaboration with Volunteers for International Technical Assistance. Students completed projects designed to help people in third-world nations, such as a baby scale to help measure and monitor infant growth, a bicycle-powered electric generator to run a slide projector in villages that were not electrified, and a manual on the importance of keeping water supplies separate from waste.

Schick plans to return to campus on a regular basis to continue his discussions and arguments about cosmology and physics and to meet with colleagues to discuss current articles and ideas.

Read More

Open for Business

Posted on Aug 1, 2000

From the condition of Jan Ludwig's office in the Philosophy Department, you might not fully appreciate the depth of his interest in books.

Sure, the shelves are lined with hardcovers and softcovers, but basically the office is not out of the ordinary for a Union faculty member.

At his home, though … well, that's another story. Ludwig began acquiring books when he was an undergraduate, and now he has somewhere between 8,000 and 10,000 (he isn't exactly sure how many).

It should not be a big surprise, then, to learn that as he retires as a professor of philosophy, he is going into the book business. He and his wife, Karen (who recently retired after teaching high school English for thirty years), are the proud proprietors of Waverly and Rugby Books, named for the two streets that border their house a few blocks from campus. Specializing in books about philosophy, the history of science, the history of ideas, and some psychology, the business will be primarily a Web-based activity (waverlynrugbybooks@earthlink.net).

A native of Harrisburg, Pa., Ludwig was the first in his family to go to college. Interested in science, he entered Drexel Institute of Technology as a chemistry student. While in a work-study program, however, he came across a book about philosophy. Captivated by the subject, he quickly arranged to transfer to Gettysburg College, where he could dig more deeply into philosophy and the humanities.

It was at Gettysburg that he had the perfect part-time job — night clerk at a motel. “I worked on my studies, slept, and only occasionally was interrupted by a truck driver in the middle of the night,” he says.

And it was there that the book collecting fever took hold. “I suppose I had 400 to 500 books when I was a senior,” he adds.

Graduating summa cum laude, he won both a Danforth Graduate Fellowship and a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship. While earning his Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins (his dissertation was “The Logic of Function Statements”), he taught for two years at the American University in Washington, D.C., before joining the Union faculty in 1969.

One of philosophy's fascinations for Ludwig is that “there are always new angles on old texts.” But he recognizes that the appeal he sees is not an easy sell to eighteen-year-olds.

“Philosophy is difficult, doesn't have any obvious immediate utility, and has the reputation of being something that egghead intellectuals do,” he says. “It's not at all surprising, then, that so few in the freshman class say they want to study it. But we always graduate eight or ten or twelve majors — students who choose it after having been in college a couple of years. Perhaps because they're self-selected and good students, they're a pleasure to teach.”

Outside the classroom, Ludwig has been a faculty trustee, a member of the executive committee of the Friends of Schaffer Library, co-chair of the College's Bicentennial Celebration, chair of the Philosophy Department from 1973 to 1990, and president of the Alpha chapter of Phi Beta Kappa. He will continue to teach an occasional course at the College, finally finish reading Tristam Shandy (which he has never been able to get through), and really learn how to play golf.

Read More

The Physicist as Photographer

Posted on Aug 1, 2000

Since the walls of Chris Jones office are covered with photographs, and since he has taught such courses as scientific and technical photography, it should come as no surprise that “photography” is one of the answers when he is asked what he plans to do in retirement.

Not that it's the only answer — he also looks forward to gardening, reading, cooking, traveling, and sharing time with children and grandchildren. But photography, a hobby that has dovetailed with aspects of his career at Union, will continue to be a big interest.

Jones arrived at Union in 1967 with “two kids in the back seat, smoke coming out of the car, and two quarters to rub together.” Soon afterwards he was teaching an unusual general education course in photography, Using a variety of methods, from x-ray diffraction to lasers and even a simple pinhole camera, he and his students produced abstract images of endless variety.

Jones was a natural to teach the Physics Department's course in optics, and he developed experiments in Fourier transform spectroscopy and Fresnel diffraction. He has also contributed diffraction and interference photographs to a number of textbooks.

“I'm an experimentalist,” he says. “I like to work with equipment and do labs; I like to find out how things work.”

Indeed, over the years he developed a number of advanced laboratory exercises for the department — elastic scattering, channeling, proton induced X-ray emission, Rutherford backscattering, Laue diffraction of X-rays, gamma-p reaction studies, and the statistics of nuclear counting.

He has also been active in what he calls the “almost continuous effort” to redesign and rediscover effective teaching apparatus for students in elementary courses.

Jones grew up in northern New Jersey, where his father was an administrator at Drew University. He attended Hobart College, earned his master's at John Hopkins, and returned to Hobart for two years as an instructor in physics. “That's what convinced me that college teaching was what I wanted to do,” he says.

He came to Union right after earning his Ph.D. at Iowa State University, and thirty-three years later he says he still doesn't have a “formula” for teaching.

“Teaching is a matter of chemistry,” he says. “Like most teachers, there are days when I think I'm doing marvelously well, and then there are days when nothing seems to get going. It really depends on the mix of students and professor.”

Jones will continue to teach a junior lab course, and he will continue his long-time interest in maintaining physics labs. “It's been great here,” he says. “Most of the time I've liked most of what I'm doing, and how many can say that?”

Read More

A ReUnion to Remember

Posted on Aug 1, 2000

With alumni from all classes invited back to campus, ReUnion 2000 made for a happily-crowded campus.

Four alumni were honored at the Alumni Convocation: Stanley R. Becker '40, Wayne M. Davis '49, Lewis T. Buckman '60, and Taryn Howard '79.

The citation accompanying the medal to Becker noted, “Your dedication and generosity to Union has made a difference for scores of students — from the thousands who visit the Admissions Office that you made possible to the handful you support each year with your scholarship.”

Davis, a longtime member of the Alumni Council, was praised for the time and energy he has given to the College in many areas, including class president, ReUnion chairman, head agent, club officer, phonathon worker, leadership agent, career resource alumni, and admissions interviewer.

Buckman, who has attended nearly every ReUnion and Alumni Council event since his graduation, was praised for his “constant commitment” to the College. His activities have ranged from ReUnion volunteer to class treasurer to class representative on the Alumni Council.

Howard is a former president of the Alumni Council, where she represented “a vast and diverse group of alumni who have high goals for their alma mater.” She was also cited for her work in strengthening the New York City alumni chapter.

The Faculty Meritorious Service Award was presented to J. Douglass Klein, professor of economics and associate dean for information technology. In his new role, Klein is working to enhance teaching and learning through technology. His citation noted that he was being recognized for “all that you do to further the traditional mission of the College, in sometimes untraditional ways.”

As for the traditional ReUnion parade, the Anable Cup (to the class with the greatest number in the parade), the McClellan Cup (for highest class percentage), and the Van Voast/Class of 1941 Cup (best costume) all went to the Class of 1950.

Read More