Prof. John Heineman (History) and Prof. Rebecca Valette (Romance Languages), whose combined tenure at BC is almost 80 years, saw BC go through one of its most significant periods of growth. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)
The retirees will be honored along with employees who observed their 25th year at BC during 2002-03 at a May 22 dinner hosted by University President William P. Leahy, SJ [see list].
Individual legacies of retiring employees, such as those of Prof. John Heineman (History) and Prof. Rebecca Valette (Romance Languages and Literatures) - tallying nearly 80 years combined of teaching in BC classrooms - cast a revealing light on University history.
Valette joined the BC faculty in 1965 as director of the language laboratory. In the ensuing 38 years of service as teacher, textbook author and member of numerous University committees, she has seen some drastic changes.
"Back in those days, Father [John] Murphy ran the bookstore, was University treasurer, wrote all of the checks and all of the purchase orders went through him," she recalled. "One person did everything. That's not the Boston College of today; that's not any university today."
Heineman cited the recent surge in campus technology as a major change that he has witnessed in his 40 years in Boston College classrooms. "It has, for me at least, added a whole new dimension of what it takes to prepare a lecture," he said. "In the past I would scribble out a few notes, come in and give the lecture from those notes. Now, I'm preparing slides, I'm preparing PowerPoint presentations and I tend to compose my lectures at a computer at home.
"I am not so sure, frankly, that my lectures are better now," Heineman, the 1997 Phi Beta Kappa Teaching Award winner, said, "but I think they are different. Education has become very heavily, in my sense of the word, 'entertainment-oriented.' We have to keep the attention of the class. The idea of someone simply getting up in front of the class and exciting them by means of ideas expressed well, we hope, and argued cogently doesn't cut it any more.
"I think I used to do very well, but I think I do the 'gimmicks' well, too," he added. "I think it's just a different approach."
Like many of their fellow retirees, Valette and Heineman have made out-of-classroom contributions to the University that will endure long after their full-time careers end this semester.
As faculty moderator of Pi Delta Phi, the French honor society, Valette worked with students and faculty colleagues to establish a campus labyrinth, a medieval meditation exercise that takes place on a circular winding path and symbolizes a spiritual pilgrimage.
Valette's group was responsible for the installation of several temporary labyrinths at several campus sites in the past four years. She hopes that eventually a permanent pathway, patterned after the famous labyrinth of the Cathedral in Chartes, France, will be constructed on University grounds.
"The labyrinth is in many different cultures," Valette said. "It is open to people of all beliefs and cultures. It's available day and night and it's available in all kinds of weather.
"It's also a way for BC to reach out to neighbors," she added. "It's nice for the neighbors to see that Boston College is responsive and welcoming to everyone around it."
In addition to his teaching, Heineman figures he "has served on every committee that has ever existed at Boston College.
"It's been a very enjoyable 40 years," he said, "but I am going because it is time to go. Perhaps, even more critical, is that I have made my contributions to the shaping of Boston College, which is an on-going, evolving process of dialogue with faculty and administrations.
"One of the things that I have enjoyed most about Boston College is that I was given the opportunity to be involved with a host of people whom I treasured and admired - administrators, faculty, colleagues and students. Participation in that world - which is technically called 'governance' now - in my day was considered being part of the academic community. I certainly have enjoyed many, many hours of doing that even though it is not always too pleasant.
"What I have contributed there - and I hope I have contributed and I hope that my contributions have been appreciated - will probably not be surpassed by anything I could add in the future," Heineman said. "It's time that I left and let other people have an opportunity to go ahead and do what I so enjoyed doing in the past."
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