January 29, 2004

Rawlings Returns as Prof.

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President Emeritus and Professor Hunter R. Rawlings III is glad to get back into the classroom.

“The reason I entered academia was because I love teaching and scholarship. After many years of administration, I wanted to go back to what drew me into this in the first place,” he said.

Currently, Rawlings is teaching two classes in the classics department, Periclean Athens, an undergraduate class, and Advanced Readings in Greek, a graduate-level course.

These classes are certainly not Rawlings’ first experience in teaching. He originally began teaching classics at the University of Colorado in 1970, taught at the University of Iowa as president, and co-taught three classes while serving as Cornell’s president.

In previous years, Rawlings had co-taught Periclean Athens, or Classics 258, with two other professors. He had to share the responsibilities because his time and travel commitments as president prevented him from teaching the course on his own. However, now free from his administrative duties, he has taken over the class and is teaching it independently.

He hopes that his students will learn about ancient Greek and apply this knowledge to the present.

“I’m trying to get the students to think in depth about another democracy and the ideas that led to its formation and development,” he said.

Although she’s only had one day of class, Kathleen Devlin ’05, seemed to be excited about the curriculum.

“I think it’s really cool that we’re doing a reenactment of the trial of Socrates for the class,” she said.

To prepare for his return to teaching, Rawlings traveled to Greece to study in his area of expertise. He said that he studied ancient Greek literature and history while there and read several Greek texts in the original language.

“It was a good push … to regain familiarity with some ancient texts,” he said.

Beyond brushing up on his ancient languages, Rawlings said the transition from president to professor was fairly smooth. He said the main changes he dealt with were gaining familiarity with his computer and a new generation of students.

“It’s hard to characterize this generation of students,” he said.

Even though he hasn’t had much trouble adjusting, Rawlings described several differences between his former and present positions beyond mere job duties. He listed the amount of traveling, the number of constituents, and the type of decisions as the main changes.

“As president, you’re responsible for a lot of decisions of all kinds — financial decisions, personal decisions, academic decisions,” he said. “As a professor, you have a more limited range of decisions, but the decisions are much more direct and immediate.”

When asked which position he liked better, Rawlings replied that he could not make that choice. He said that the position of University president, while it had its downfalls, had its benefits as well.

“As president, it’s very exciting to meet so many people from all over the world. Cornell is really a global university,” he said.

However, he said that the pace of being president could be overwhelming at times. He hopes to have more time for scholarship and reflection in the future, but between interviewing new faculty and graduate students, he hasn’t yet had a reprieve.

While Rawlings is excited to return to teaching full-time, the classics and history departments are glad to welcome him into their full-time faculty.

“The faculty is thrilled to have him in the department,” said Prof. Barry Strauss ’74, history. “He brings a unique perspective to the study of history. A university president has much more hands-on experience [making major decisions].”

Strauss said that there has been a positive student reaction to the class so far, and students seemed to confirm that observation.

“He seems enthusiastic about teaching and ancient Greece,” said Andrew Potter ’07, who is in Classics 258.

Although Potter said he took the class only because of his personal interest in the subject, Devlin said that having Rawlings as a professor influenced her decision.

“I thought it would be cool to have a class with Hunter Rawlings,” she said.

Archived article by Shannon Brescher