Vassar Today

Retiring Professors Honored

Amid the encouraging messages to graduating students during this year's Commencement, Dean of the Faculty Jonathan Chenette paused to honor retiring faculty members. "Today's graduates, and graduates of the past, have developed close relationships with many of these faculty members, he told the audience, and listed the faculty members' accomplishments as "teachers, advisers, research mentors, creative guides, out-of-classroom supporters, and life-long friends." Here are this year's retirees:

John Ahern
Professor of Italian

Professor John Ahern
Professor John Ahern

John Ahern came to Vassar as an associate professor in 1982, after five years of teaching at Stanford. He earned a BA from Harvard and MA and PhD degrees from Indiana University. His published scholarship on Italian literature ranges from Dante and Boccaccio up to the modern writer Italo Calvino. He has held the Dante Antolini endowed professorship at Vassar. 

“His ongoing research includes an article that poses the question ‘Is Dante’s hell eternal?,’ to which he divulged to me recently that the answer is ‘No!’, ” joked Chenette, who called Ahern a “mainstay” of both the Italian Department and the Medieval and Renaissance Studies Program. He developed a popular course called “Detectives in the Archives,” premised on the notion that “there is a magic in each manuscript,” said Chenette. Ahern has helped many Vassar students discover that magic over the decades.

Joyce Bickerstaff
Associate Professor of Education and Africana Studies

Associate Professor Joyce Bickerstaff
Associate Professor Joyce Bickerstaff

Joyce Bickerstaff arrived at Vassar in 1971 as a founding faculty member of the Education Department and the Africana Studies Program. She received her BS degree from Kent State and her MA and PhD degrees in education from the University of Illinois. A specialist in children’s literature and children’s book illustrations, she co-directed the early-1970s project Black Studies Curriculum for Early Childhood Education. She has published articles on racial-justice champion Mary McLeod Bethune and on the founder of Berea College in Kentucky, where she held a distinguished visiting professorship in Black Studies in the early 1990s. Bickerstaff has curated and edited catalogues for several exhibitions on children’s literature, including, most recently, one on illustrator James Ransome titled The Fine Art of Children’s Book Illustration (Down Home: Picturebook Paintings of Folklife in the Black South).

Elizabeth Collins
Lecturer and Lab Doordinator, Biology

Lecturer and Lab Coordinator Elizabeth Collins
Lecturer and Lab Coordinator Elizabeth Collins

Elizabeth “Tebbie” Collins received her BS from Penn State and her PhD in microbiology and immunology from the University of Virginia. She began her work at Vassar in 1984 as a research associate, became an adjunct and then a visiting assistant professor, and, since 2007, has served as lecturer and lab coordinator. Her roles include leading the development of new lab modules and coordinating and teaching in the foundational lab-oriented course “Introduction to Biological Investigation.” She has provided important service as a member of the Premedical Advisory Committee, supporting dozens of Vassar students on their paths toward medical school. Chenette noted that Collins is an avid tennis player and will have more time to spend on the courts in the coming years.

Lucille Johnson
Professor of Anthropology

Professor Lucille Johnson
Professor Lucille Johnson

Lucille “Lucy” Johnson came to Vassar in 1973 after receiving her BS and PhD degrees from Columbia University. In addition to her courses in anthropology, she has been a frequent contributor to multidisciplinary programs in environmental studies; Latin American studies; and science, technology, and society. A specialist in archaeological field studies, she has conducted surveys and excavations in Alaska, Egypt, Chile, Peru, Idaho, Arizona, and numerous locations in New York State, supported by the National Science Foundation and the National Geographic Society. Vassar students have assisted with many of these excavations. She is editor of the book Paleoshorelines and Prehistory and author of dozens of journal articles and book chapters. Chenette said, “Her campus academic leadership roles read like an alphabet soup of the college’s major committees.” Beyond the campus, she contributes service to environmental and energy nonprofits in the Hudson Valley.

M Rachel Kitzinger
Professor of Greek and Roman Studies

Professor M. Rachel Kitzinger
Professor M. Rachel Kitzinger

Rachel Kitzinger occupied the Matthew Vassar Jr. Chair in Greek and Roman Studies. She came to Vassar in 1982 after receiving her BA from Swarthmore and her PhD from Stanford. A specialist in ancient Greek drama, especially works by Sophocles, she has directed productions of Sophoclean drama, including a memorable 2007 Oedipus at Colonus, which was presented outdoors in a joint effort between the Classics and Drama departments. Kitzinger co-edited the three-volume reference book Civilizations of the Ancient Mediterranean: Greece and Rome. She has published numerous articles and book chapters and given over a dozen recitals of ancient Greek poetry. Kitzinger also has filled a remarkable range of leadership roles at the college, including a term as chair of the Faculty Policy and Conference Committee and culminating in a five-year stint inventing the new position of dean of planning and academic affairs. Chenette also alluded to her more lighthearted duties. “Although the position was multifaceted, her favorite part was serving as team captain and choreographer for the student/faculty basketball game’s senior officer cheerleading squad,” he joked.

Lawrence "Larry" Mamiya
Professor of Religion and Africana Studies

Professor Lawrence Mamiya
Professor Lawrence Mamiya

Described in a recent Poughkeepsie Journal article as “a professor of few words but great impact,” Chenette said, “Larry Mamiya has been an inspiring presence at Vassar since his arrival in 1975.” A former community organizer in Harlem and voting-rights organizer in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee’s Southwest Georgia Project, he is also the co-author of The Black Church in the African American Experience, which received the Distinguished Book Award from the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion. For 35 years, Mamiya has been the guiding spirit behind the college’s prison education programs, bringing Vassar students together with incarcerated men at Otisville and Green Haven prisons for reading and discussion as these men prepare for successful transitions back into the community. Mamiya received his BA from the University of Hawaii, an MDiv from Union Theological Seminary, and MPhil and PhD degrees from Columbia University. He retires from his position as the Mattie M. Paschall Davis and Norman H. Davis Endowed Professor in Religion and Africana Studies.

Mitchell Miller
Professor of Philosophy

Professor Mitchell Miller
Professor Mitchell Miller

Mitchell “Mitch” Miller earned his bachelor’s degree from Stanford University and his MA and PhD from the State University of New York at Buffalo. He joined Vassar’s Philosophy Department in 1972, rising to the rank of professor in 1984. He served as chair of the department from 1984 to 1987, in 1988, and again from 1994 to 1996. In 2009, he was appointed to the Dexter M. Ferry Jr. Chair. Miller is broadly interested in the history of philosophy, and he has done work in areas ranging from medieval philosophy to 20th-century continental philosophy. He is perhaps best known, however, for his work on Plato. He has published two books, as well as articles, reviews, and comments almost too numerous to count. He has been a frequent consultant to departments at other institutions and has often been asked to review article and book manuscripts for journals and presses. He has served as a referee for several major granting institutions, including the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, and the Earhart Foundation.

Christine Reno
Professor of French and Francophone Studies

Professor Christine Reno
Professor Christine Reno

Christine Reno joined Vassar’s faculty in 1972, after receiving a BA from St. Joseph’s College, an MA in French from Rutgers, and a PhD in Romance languages from Yale. A specialist in late-Medieval French literature and Medieval manuscripts, she has authored, co-authored, or co-edited four books and dozens of articles on the late-14th-century to early-15th-century writer Christine de Pizan. She is also part of the research team for an innovative website devoted to Pizan’s work. Reno taught in Vassar’s Medieval and Renaissance Studies and Women’s Studies programs. For many years, she has supervised groups of students who teach French to kindergarteners through fourth-graders at Holy Trinity School in Poughkeepsie. She is completing her Vassar career as resident director of the Vassar-Wesleyan Program in Paris, teaching a course on Medieval Paris.

Tova Weitzman
Senior Lecturer in Religion

Senior Lecturer Tova Weitzman
Senior Lecturer Tova Weitzman

Tova Weitzman began teaching Hebrew at Vassar in 1986, after earning her BA from Ben-Gurion University. She completed her MA in Jewish literature from Jewish Theological Seminary. She has taught all levels of Hebrew language courses, as well as valuable topical courses such as “Voices from Modern Israel” and “Film, Fiction, and the Construction of Identity: Israeli and Palestinian Voices.” She has been a passionate promoter of cultural understanding of the Mediterranean area and of dialogue and peace between Muslims and Jews, organizing cultural celebrations, arts events, guest speakers, and film screenings. “From her home in New Paltz,” Chenette added, “Weitzman is an advocate and practitioner of sustainable agriculture, with a yard abounding in fruit trees and daily gatherings of eggs.”