By Verghese J. Chirayath, Ph.D.
When I first met Fr. Paul Besanceney, S.J., in April 1970, for my interview at John Carroll, I knew I’d met a good man. We went through the formalities, and sure enough, I received a contract to be an instructor.
(Besanceney was chair of the sociology department until the summer of 1971, when he became provincial superior of the Detroit Province. Following his term as provincial, Besanceney spent many years in East Africa, teaching at a seminary in Bussere, Sudan, returning to the States once in a while. He died at Colombiere Center in Clarkston, Mich.)
Two years later, when I decided I wanted a teaching career, I applied for a leave with pay. Bob Carver (who was associate professor of sociology and temporary chair of the department) facilitated my leave with half pay and an assurance JCU would retain my position for me. I returned in 1974, degree in hand, and was back in the classroom, all the way through 2004, when I retired. I taught part time for two more years.
Highlights of my years at Carroll are:
• two years as director of the Honors Program;
• 10 years as director of the International Studies Program;
• many years teaching in First Year Seminar (FYS);
• an opportunity to teach in Belize;
• a one-semester leave spent working with the City of Cleveland Planning Commission;
• two George E. Grauel Faculty Fellowships, and, of course;
• long associations with colleagues and shorter experiences with hundreds of students.
I’ll always be grateful for the generosity of Carroll. When I wanted our students to understand not everyone enjoyed lives like theirs, I taught a course in Belize about social and economic development. My own Jesuit training rubbed off on me. All 10 of us stayed in a cottage for $5.00 a person per night, slept on wooden cots, and shared two bathrooms and one TV. I told our students we weren’t there as tourists, even though we’d be identified as Americans.
At the end of the course, I wanted the students to relish rice and beans, and sure enough, they did. Students were assigned a day to write a journal of our activities as they experienced it. I still have those journals, which are laced with wit, humor, and personalities. Jim Reed (who was assistant dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and long-time instructor of Spanish and French) accompanied me on these trips and was a great asset.
I had my difficult times at JCU, too. When I carefully read the University’s diploma in Sophie Kus-Patena’s (who was assistant dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and is now assistant dean for academic advising) office one afternoon, I was taken aback by how haughty it sounded. I discussed it with several friends, including Fr. John Padberg, S.J., director of the Institute of Jesuit Sources, who agreed it needed to be changed. I gathered 143 signatures to rid the old diploma. The president at the time, Fr. Edward Glynn, S.J., eventually agreed, and now we have a revised diploma that was recommended by a committee chaired by Pat Mooney (who was assistant professor of philosophy). I was thrilled.
I have many happy memories of my 10 years as director of the International Studies Program. One was when Jim, Fred Travis (who was provost and academic vice president and professor of history) and I visited Sophia and Nanzan Universities in Japan. I still remember a little old Japanese woman, the owner of a restaurant at which Jim and I were dining, who didn’t succeed persuading Jim to finish all his noodles. We have pictures of a dinner in Japan with a family that my wife, Bonny, and I hosted in Cleveland. The International Studies Center secretary, Cathy Zehe, put together a book about the activities, events, and guest speakers we had for the 10 years I served as director. Among these were Itamar Rabinovich, the Israeli ambassador to the U.S., and Francis Cardinal Arinze. Cathy probably still has it.
I thoroughly enjoyed my participation in FYS. Most of the readings were new and interesting to me. One of my students, Nelson Foster ’06, continues as my good friend to this day. He graduated with a degree in sociology and works in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and is trying to get into law school. Foster and I co-authored an article we published. A minor challenge of FYS was to swim 30 laps, return home for lunch, and appear bright and ready to teach FYS. I did that for many years, as you may recall. Foster always was there as an example of a steward of swimming.
Finally, how can I forget my academic home at Carroll? The sociology department sustained me through 33 different courses I taught, mostly voluntarily, although some involuntarily. I took over John Carpenter’s classes when he was in the hospital. (Carpenter was assistant professor of sociology.) The department grew and prospered, and I was delighted to launch the Segundo Montes and Geller Lectures.
Publishing wasn’t my forte, but toward the end of my career, I realized published materials are what I’d leave behind, so I got busy. I’m glad I did. Ken Eslinger (associate professor of sociology and criminology) and Ernie De Zolt (associate professor of sociology and criminology) were colleagues who made publishing, sometimes with wine, a pleasure.
The year Fr. Besanceney, whose picture hangs in our department, hired me there were no less than five new faculty added to the sociology department. What persuasive powers! I have so many memories of him. The last time we had lunch in the summer of 2008 I had a hunch it would be the last time I’d see him. It was.
Verghese J. Chirayath, Ph.D., is associate professor emeritus of sociology. He served at John Carroll University from 1970 to 2006.