Casual Conversation: September 21, 2021

It’s fall and time to go back to school.  Welcome to the new season of Casual Conversations with Dartmouth faculty and classmates.  And our next guest has been chosen for us by, of all people, Professor James Heffernan, Professor Emeritus of English, a fabulous guest who regaled us with 90-minutes of enthusiastic memories, insights on how he came to teach James Joyce, and a recitation of one of his own poems.  He also gave a strong recommendation that we next speak with Classics Professor Emeritus Edward Bradley, Professor Heffernan’s tennis buddy.

And so we shall.  Professor Bradley has generously agreed to speak with us on Zoom on September 21 at 5 pm Eastern time (US), shortly after his return from a summer abroad.  He was, and remains, a committed teacher who is grounded in the humanities.  Without denigrating the other disciplines, our richest sessions with faculty and classmates have focused on what we can discover about our shared humanity, from the Medievalist Professor Cynthia Gaposchkin and the Jewish Studies Professor Susannah Heschel to Dimitri’s life in making our hearts sing through his metal sculpture and Arnie Resnicioff’s moving discussion on the spiritual vocation of being a Navy Chaplain.  Perhaps it is the time for us, in our eighth decade, to turn contemplative and consider what truly matters in life.

So, now to Professor Bradley, as “old school” a humanist and teacher as we can likely find.  Here is an article from The Dartmouth on the occasion of his retirement in 2006: .

From ten years later, when he was interviewed by the Dartmouth Review:

“I think that students in the 1960s and seventies were much better informed socially and politically and certainly had a livelier curiosity about the world outside of Dartmouth College. There isn’t as much interest in social engagement nowadays. People are very much focused on their own lives here, and I just don’t sense that there is much real interest for what is going on socially, politically, or militarily in the outside world. In class, whenever I bring some of these things up, students are polite and attentive, but there is no real reaction. And when I ask questions about things, about whether they’ve heard of this that or the other, I have to ask myself whether they read newspapers or listen to news or watch it on television.”

Of course we were the best!  And read what he had to say about Hanlon:

“I will just add this: When Hanlon first came here and organized faculty office hours, I went to either the first or second office hours he had. So I thought naively that I’d just go over there and he’d be available. Well he had about an hour allotted, and so I signed up for my time slot and waited. And eventually Hanlon came out of his office, and ushered me in. I had written to him before going about questions of sexual assault, and I wrote to him that I had been here for a long time and had some perspective on this and that I had some ideas that I wanted to discuss with him. So, I went into the office, introduced myself, and he said, “What do you have on your mind?” And I said, “Well I wrote to you about sexual assault…” then he cut me off and lectured me for for ten minutes. He didn’t allow me one word, didn’t ask me why I’d come or what my thoughts were.  At the end of ten minutes, he got up and he said, “By the way, what department are you in?” and I told him. And that was it.

Now if a student comes to me and says: “May I see you? I have something I’d like to talk with you about,” I wish to think I would respond, “Well, Johnny, what do you have in mind?” But it didn’t happen. I think he is a person who is a financial manager, but he has really no thorough vision of what a liberal arts institution should be. I think he has some ideas, but they are really quite superficial. So Carolyn Dever is the one who is working these things out for him, and she is gunning for a Presidential position [at another university], so she’s speaking the jargon and such. Her official communications are highly jargonistic. But, they are acting pretty much to the exclusion of a lot of the core curriculum of the institution, particularly the humanities. I don’t think they really understand what the humanities are about. I really don’t.”

(The entirety of the interview can be accessed here: .)

The oral history Dartmouth created with Professor Bradley includes this comment about co-education:

“The presence of women changed…  It seems so evident now that it’s scarcely worthwhile rehearsing it, but the presence of women changed inalterably and immeasurably for the better the environment of learning. It was literally a transformation. It took us out of the night into the day. And it’s taken some time, but my own sense is—and certainly was during the last many years of my tenure on the faculty— that this is a place where women have made their place, have created their space and their experience, and that this is their home as much as it was and is for men. It is truly a mature community of men and women. It means that then it is possible for people to engage in serious learning in the circumstances that we most honor.”

(That oral history can be found here: .)

A thoughtful man who speaks his mind, who cares about his students, and about the humanities.  What more could you want?  If you wish to be part of a stimulating 60 to 90 minutes or so with Professor Bradley on Tuesday, September 21, at 5 pm Eastern time (US), email me at by the end of the day on Sunday, September 19.

See you all soon to listen, speak, and learn.

Arthur Fergenson