Markgraf, O’Connor, Booth to retire after years of service

Three members of the faculty and staff, Vice Provost David Booth, Ebenezer Fitch Professor of Chemistry Hodge Markgraf and Mark Hopkins Professor of Intellectual and Moral Philosophy Daniel O’Connor are retiring at the end of this year after decades of service. These three are among the most respected professors and administrators on campus. President of the College Harry C. Payne said, “They represent an amazing amount of time and service to the college.”

Booth began his Williams career in 1960 and has worked in the Provost Office for most of the past 38 years. He served as assistant provost and associate provost over his term at the school, and is also a lecturer in political science.

Markgraf, now a professor in the chemistry department, is also the senior member of the faculty. He began teaching at Williams in 1959, and during his tenure as a professor he was department chair for seven years, provost for three years, vice president from 1985-1994, and is presently marshall of the College. Markgraf also attended Williams as an undergraduate, graduating with the Class of 1952.

O’Connor, who joined the philosophy department in the summer of 1961, has been the department head several times during his tenure at the College and also served as dean of the College from 1978-1985. He is presently the philosophy department head.

Roughly contemporaries, the three men spoke highly of each other and of the school. Each also hinted that retirement is a bittersweet milestone.

“Retirement is a chance to take the roads not taken earlier,” O’Connor said. “I have many interests and hobbies,” he said, “such as a huge garden, hiking, a strong interest in music and a few grandchildren I’d like to get to know better. And I will continue modest scholarly activity.” He plans to stay in Williamstown, and he spoke of a project entitled “Life Attitudes,” which he has been thinking about for many years. “It is a study of authors important to me—Spinoza, Neitzche, Goethe, Emerson, Dewey and so on—my own personal group of intellectual heroes. I want to ask: what have I learned from them? What does life mean to someone?”

“For me—well, it’s not going to end tomorrow,” O’Connor laughs, “but it’s late in the day. It would be a summing up of what I’ve learned about life.”

Booth also is planning to stay in Williamstown, and he too finds that he will have more time to pursue different interests. In addition to taking courses he missed as an undergraduate and attending the cultural events that take place around the campus, Booth will volunteer to use his administrative capabilities in the town. In addition, Booth spoke of his love of hiking. “I have also been hiking in various National Parks in the past few years, and I would like to keep that up in my retirement. My goal? I’d like to go hiking in every National Park.”

In addition to these goals, Booth discussed a sense of nervousness about retiring. “Am I really going to be able to do these things? I think that there is all sorts of stimulation in the town, but there’s the question of health. It looms very large in the mind of people my age. But I’m optimistic.”

Booth also talked about the national program for retirement benefits, called TIA/CREF. “It’s one of the best things that every happened to the academic world,” Booth said. “It forces you to save from a very young age,” and by the time a professor or administrator retires, the financial situation can be less of a worry.

Markgraf is staying in Williamstown as well. “I plan to indulge my passions,” he said with a grin. Markgraf will keep his research laboratories open and will continue to produce scholarly work. Next spring he will take a research post at the University of Houston for several months. In addition, he is planning a new course for Winter Study, he wants to sit in on courses in many departments, attend musical and cultural events, and stay involved in the community. As with O’Connor and Booth, Markgraf expressed a concern about his health in passing, but remained optimistic. “There’s no reason to stop reading chemistry journals vociferously and stop my lab work, except for infirmity, which I don’t anticipate.”

The fact that all three are planning to stay in Williamstown comes as no surprise. “I want to be on the edge of a college campus,” Markgraf said, “and I want access to the concerts, films, libraries, recitals and so on. It’s a tremendously gracious college. You can’t get any more generous than this school, and you have access to a world of great ideas.”

Their retirement affects several different arms of the college, both academic and administrative, but all three remained optimistic. “It’s a natural cycle,” Markgraf said, “and the strength of this faculty is maintained over the years—it is a very dynamic faculty.” He said that both faculty and staff have a close relationship with each other and with their institution, and that this sense of place is certainly not ending.

It is the policy of Williams to fill senior administrative roles with members of the faculty, who after serving for a few years return to teaching. All three retirerees spoke highly of this policy.

Booth said “most administrators at other colleges and universities aren’t able to fathom the entire school, see where they fit in, and what’s going on. As the staff member in the Provost’s office here, I’ve been able to see what goes on around the institution. This is one of the most distinctive features of Williams—key people in the administration come out of the faculty and cycle back in.” He noted that this system was developed by President John Sawyer in the 1960s, one of the most respected college presidents of the century.

Markgraf also held that the years under Sawyer were some of the formative years of the institution today. “I think that the respect for a Williams diploma now is much greater than in the past. In the ‘60s, we really went on a breakaway, and we’ve stayed ahead ever since.” Markgraf credited Sawyer and several legendary teachers, including coach Clarence Chaffee.

O’Connor, who served as Dean of the College for many years, also spoke highly of the relationship between the administration and the faculty. “I was glad to have the chance to be in the Dean’s office,” he said. “You become aware of how complex the College is. As a teacher, you look at your specific department, but then as an administrator you have a general view of the school with all of its complexity and problems. It opened my eyes.”

“This is one of the reasons Williams has this policy,” O’Connor went on to say. “The faculty have been administrators and the administrators have been faculty. It’s a great strength that keeps the faculty and administrators closely related.” Markgraf agreed. “It has a wonderfully civilizing effect.” But he made note of the problems with the policy. “Of course, the downside is for the loyal civil service officers, for there’s a new ‘boss’ every few years and they have to compensate for the faculty members that shuttle in and out. And it requires the faculty to suit up for those ‘tours of duty.’”

Booth, in contrast to O’Connor and Markgraf, was an administrator first and a teacher second. The provost is the chief financial officer at the school, and the post has a hand in admissions, financial aid, the library, computing, art museum and intercollegiate athletics.

Booth was the staff member on the committee that designed the Winter Study Program. “Williams was one of th
e first institutions to put in a program like the WSP.” Installed in 1968, Booth sees it as one of his accomplishments. He also was heavily involved in the genesis of the Student Course Survey. “It was a creature of the faculty, to be certain, but I worked on it as well.” After serving as a teacher as well as an administrator, he was able to bring his distinctive perspective to the design and implementation of the Survey.

Booth is grateful that the Williams system gives him a chance to teach. “Teaching was a great experience that made it much easier to be an administrator, because I had hands-on experience as a teacher. I didn’t want to be a pure administrator, and Williams gave me an opportunity.”

Reflections on teaching were bright for all three. O’Connor spoke about refining his teaching style, even relatively late in his career. He has been teaching introductory Philosophy classes recently, and requires students to write a short paper on the reading assignment for each class. “I think that it improves student’s writing and thinking skills,” he said. “It teaches you many important skills for a student’s beginning college years: close reading of the text, practice writing, structure time. It also leads to better discussions.”

During his tenure at Williams, O’Connor was responsible for developing the Williams at Oxford study abroad program. In 1985, President Chandler bought real estate in Oxford, and it fell to O’Connor to take advantage of the opportunity. For two years, he taught a seminar on the history of British intellectual thought and set the program in motion.

O’Connor also mentioned his greatest time commitment at Williams as the philosophy department. “I’m proud to have had a role in shaping a terrific department at Williams—I think that it’s one of the best in the country. It’s a good feeling to have taken part.”

Markgraf also looked back on “a lot of fond memories, great colleagues and excellent students. One of the best things a student can do is surpass the teacher’s achievements. That’s one of the joys of teaching.”

The fact that Booth, Markgraf and O’Connor have each been at Williams for virtually 40 years speaks for itself. “Williams is a great employer and has a wonderful location,” Booth said. “I raised my family here.” He asked himself why he had been here for so long, but answered quickly: “One of the great advantages of being at an institution like this for as long as I have is that you see programs evolve and develop over time. The people are smart and public-spirited—students, faculty and administrators. They care about this place. This is what is so distinctive about Williams. It leads to a rich, human environment that adds to the beautiful environment with the buildings and natural location. It’s the human environment that sets the school apart.”

Markgraf asked himself the same question, and again answered it without pause. “In four decades,” he said, “the student body just keeps getting better, the course offerings are broader, and so on. I’m pleased to have been here. Williams is a splendid college, with great students, and a wonderful faculty. To have been here for four decades. . .it’s unbelievable.”

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