For many of the nine members of the Arts and Sciences faculty who retired from teaching during the 2020-2021 academic year, retirement is just a beginning—an opportunity to refocus their energy on new research and creative projects.
Each of the nine—Associate Professor of Religion Ehud Benor; Edward Hyde Cox Professor and Professor of English Patricia McKee; Professor of Mathematics Thomas Shemanske; James O. Freedman Presidential Professor in Economics Jonathan Skinner; Ira Allen Eastman Professor of Biological Sciences Roger Sloboda; Professor of Studio Art Esmé Thompson; Dewalt H. 1921 and Marie H. Ankeny Professor in Economic Policy Steven Venti; Professor of French Keith L. Walker; and Robert 1932 and Barbara Black Professor in Asian Studies Wen Xing—“contributed significantly to scholarship in their fields, and they’ve taught and mentored hundreds of students during their tenure,” says Dean of the Faculty Elizabeth Smith.
Noting that more than half of the retirees have been faculty members for more than 40 years each, Smith says, “The impact of their contributions will be felt for many years to come, both at the College and in the lives of their students.”
Associate Professor of Religion
When Jewish studies scholar Ehud Benor joined the faculty to teach the only courses in Judaism the religion department then offered, his expertise was in medieval Jewish philosophy.
“I recognized a challenging opportunity,” he says. “Being the sole instructor for Judaism, I could either add eclectic courses to my expertise in medieval Jewish philosophy, or I could become a methodological generalist whose field of study would be Judaism as a whole.”
The shift toward this more holistic, interdisciplinary approach became a “career-defining reorientation of my intellectual identity”—a project that took more than 20 years, culminating in the publication in 2017 of Ethical Monotheism: A Philosophy of Judaism. The work, Benor says, “was developed through engagement with some of Dartmouth’s best students in the course ‘Magic, Science, and Religion,’”—a course that continues to exist in a set of 26 lecture videos, which he plans to edit for online access.
Professor of Mathematics
“Dartmouth provided a wonderful environment in which to do research and engage with curious and talented students,” says Thomas Shemanske, whose field is “algebraic number theory with particular interests in the theory of modular forms, quadratic forms, and the arithmetic of orders in central simple algebras and applications of affine buildings.”
Throughout his four decades at Dartmouth, he cultivated a love of teaching that complements his research interests. “It is difficult to think of anything more exciting than drawing an audience in and having them experience the wonder of what you see,” he says—and he considers his positive impact on students to be “the greatest privilege of having been a faculty member.”
In recent years, Shemanske has worked with Dartmouth colleagues to develop open-source curricula that can be “offered freely to all with the license to take them and expand them further”—a project he hopes to continue into retirement.
James O. Freedman Presidential Professor in Economics
A member of the National Academy of Medicine and a research associate and director of the Aging Program at the National Bureau of Economic Research, Jonathan Skinner joined the faculty in 1995. His research—which includes large-scale interdisciplinary collaborations at Dartmouth and partner institutions—explores, among other things, the role of geography in health inequality, how technical innovations in medicine get implemented, and the effect of the quality of health-care providers on population health.
“I have appreciated the ability while at Dartmouth to work seamlessly across the College, working closely with faculty in economics and the Geisel School, as well as clinicians from Dartmouth Hitchcock,” he says.
Now, Skinner says, “I am looking forward to continued research funded by the National Institute on Aging and continuing my work on the economics of aging at the National Bureau of Economic Research.”
He also hopes to have “more time for exploring New Hampshire’s ski and hiking trails and Maine’s coastline,” he says.
Ira Allen Eastman Professor of Biological Sciences
In a 44-year tenure that included five years as dean of graduate studies and 11 as associate provost for research, Roger Sloboda has sustained a fascination with the protein building blocks of cells known as microtubules, and with how cells assemble cilia out of these microtubules and other proteins.
“The flagella in the green alga Chlamydomonas”—an organism Sloboda uses as a model system in his lab—“are identical in protein composition to human flagella, i.e., sperm tails, and cilia, yet humans are separated from Chlamydomonas by over 2 billion years of evolution. This fact leaves me almost speechless,” he says.
Of his time at Dartmouth he says, “I am most proud of the effect I have had on my students’ interest in biology and their career paths. It thrills me to have a student tell me how their experience in one of my courses or in the lab has changed their life.”
While he and his wife plan “to up our travel time,” Sloboda says he’s not totally retiring. He’ll continue completing a research grant from the National Institutes of Health, which is developing a program aimed at enhancing local middle school science education.
Professor of Studio Art
Painter Esmé Thompson has seen the evolution of studio art at Dartmouth over four decades from the then-Department of Visual Studies that she joined as an assistant professor in 1979. Over the years she has taught drawing, painting, collage, and the senior seminar.
“It has been a privilege to work with a diverse group of students and watch them grow and thrive as artists,” Thompson says. “I am proud to have worked with many wonderful colleagues to create a department that focuses on the individual intellectual, spiritual, and creative growth of these students in the studio.”
Though she is retiring from teaching, she plans to continue her focus on painting and mixed media. “My paintings embody the celebratory qualities of color and design that give meaning to life in so many cultures,” she says. “Over the years I have worked with a variety of media, from installation/environments painted on hanging plastic screens to multiple-panel metal wall reliefs. Currently, I am exploring the combination and overlay of shaped wooden panels.”
Dewalt H. 1921 and Marie H. Ankeny Professorship in Economic Policy
“I consider myself lucky to have been a member of the Department of Economics,” says Steven Venti, who joined the faculty in 1982 and has been part of the transformation of that department into “one of the best in the nation.”
Venti studies “the retirement security of older Americans, in particular the efficacy of policies that promote saving for retirement and that preserve assets after,” he says. His research has also focused on how shocks—such as a health crisis, death of a spouse, or divorce—affect the financial security of older households.
“My tenure at Dartmouth has been a joy, in large part due to the vitality of my colleagues and the generations of students that have passed through the department,” he says.
As for retirement from teaching, Venti, who is also a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research and a fellow of the National Academy of Social Insurance, considers it “the beginning of a new adventure.” He plans to continue his research program—and also to enjoy more travel and time with his family, including his grandchildren.
Professor of French
Keith Walker is a specialist in colonial and postcolonial Francophone literature and culture, and particularly the work of Martinican poet-politician Aimé Césaire—a founder of the 20th-century literary movement known as Négritude.
Walker helped bring a broader Francophone studies focus to Dartmouth’s French curriculum, establishing two core courses—“French 21” and “French 70”—that included study of Quebec, North and Sub-Saharan Africa, the Caribbean, and the Indian Ocean.
As chair of the African and African-American Studies Program, he oversaw the creation of the program’s three-track major in U.S., African, and Caribbean and Diaspora studies.
Of teaching at Dartmouth, he says, “I appreciate a certain Dartmouth mens sana in sano corpore ethic or romance that welcomes the intellectual and the athlete,” as well as the institution’s “commitment to teaching Western and Eastern languages and to foreign study programs.”
Among his planned research and writing projects, he hopes to complete an autobiography.
Robert 1932 and Barbara Black Professor in Asian Studies, Emeritus
A scholar of traditional Chinese art, literature, history, and philosophy, Wen Xing specializes in texts inscribed on ancient Chinese bamboo slips, bones, bronzes, jades, ceramics, and silk manuscripts.
“Ancient inscriptions and paintings preserve the original handwritten information unchanged by later people for various cultural and political reasons,” making these artifacts a more direct way to encounter ancient ways of thinking, he says.
Xing first came to Dartmouth in 1998 to participate in an international conference on a discovery of fourth-century BCE bamboo slip manuscripts, organized by Preston Kelsey Professor of Religion Emeritus Robert Henricks. He returned as a tenured associate professor and was later promoted to full professor.
“I feel so privileged to have the opportunity to encourage and instruct students to reflect on their own and other cultures,” he says.
In recent years, Xing has become increasingly interested in interdisciplinary methods, “in particular, mathematical approaches to traditional Chinese art and culture,” he says. He is working on a book on mathematical art history informed by artificial intelligence and data science.
Patricia McKee, the Edward Hyde Cox Professor and Professor of English, is among the retirees, but did not wish to be interviewed for the story.