Alum Lawrence Levine, Professor of Humanities Gordon “Mike” Michalson and Professor of Philosophy Aron Edidin, also an alum, talked to the Catalyst about changes in campus culture throughout their time here.
“It was always a very accepting place, and so from that perspective I don’t see anything that’s changed other than certain social backgrounds have changed a little bit,” Levine said. He entered in 1992 and graduated in 2013 after a 16-year intermission, gifting him with a unique 21-year perspective. Levine came back “purely for education” as he already had not only a thriving company at the time, but a wife and child on the way.
“In some ways I feel like [New College] was more open and accepting then than it is now,” Levine said. “Some of it’s understandable, some of it probably has to do with the culturally appropriate emboldening of groups of people that were otherwise really held back. There are lots of different groups of people not just one group of people, that have found their voice, and I think that’s great. Ultimately it’s nice to see that everybody feels comfortable having that voice on campus.”
Levine added, “Some of the cultural shifts really don’t have to do with New College at all, they are much more societal.” He goes on to note that New College has always been “incredibly liberal” on the social spectrum, but that the meaning of liberal has changed since the 90s. “What it means to be Liberal in the early 90s, and what it means to be Liberal in 2015 are similar,” Levine commented. “But there’s also a lot of differences and there’s been a lot of advancements in those agendas, and I’m glad because it means there’s a lot more openness, and people are culturally – not always, but usually – more accepting of each other.”
Professor of Humanities and previous dean, Warden and president Gordon (Mike) Michalson, also commented, via email interview, on a similar subject “Although we still have a lot of work to do to have a truly diverse campus, we seem to be more open about this problem than we were 20 years ago,” Michalson wrote. “Of course, there were only 490 students at New College when I got here, so increasing the size of the student body has helped.” Both also mentioned the huge change enacted by New College’s independence from the University of South Florida.
“One other interesting facet, we were under the University of South Florida in the 90s, and it was like being under the thumb of a horrible oppressive regime,” Levine commented. “We have to fend for ourselves now, but on the other hand we’re able to chart our own course. I am really proud of us because this situation is much better for the students.”
Michalson agreed, “The most significant cultural shift occurred when New College became independent in 2001, which meant that we would no longer share the campus with USF-SM”.” The ‘weaning’ period that took several years, before USF-SM actually moved to its new location, was a very challenging and testy period, since both schools wanted to be identified with the historic campus. It’s much easier being neighbors than being roommates.”
Edidin commented via email on his unique perspective on cultural changes as an alum as well as current professor. He said major changes have occurred in attitudes toward student retention and support.
“Even when I was a student, there was a sense that this was a ‘sink-or-swim’ sort of place, and that students who left probably shouldn’t have been here in the first place,” Edidin wrote. “But we’ve come to realize that plenty of students who belong here don’t automatically find what they need to thrive here, and that supporting them doesn’t mean babying them but rather just keeping up our part of the bargain as educators and advisors.” Edidin credits, among others, Professor of Music Maribeth Clark as Associate Provost, and Dean of Studies Robert Zamsky.
Levine ends by commenting that one specific relationship that has noticeably changed is interactions between students and the New College police. “I’ve seen a marked change in the student-police relationships.” Levine notes that the Cop Shop used to be located in HCL1 and so was more central to campus. “My sense of the police force in the 90s was that they were perceived as a very altruistic force, people that you could really go to and count on their help in situations. It wasn’t about worrying about whether you were gonna get in trouble, it was worrying about if everyone was gonna be okay, make sure that everyone was in good shape, whatever the situation was.” Levine said there was even an officer who received an honorary degree. “Hugh Rorty was so beloved by the student body that when he retired everyone banded together to give him an honorary New College degree.” Levine believes that the current officers are no doubt doing their absolute best, but notes that the same sentiment is lacking. “That sort of closeness is something that I think was a real asset at the time, and I think that working toward that same closeness would be an asset now.”