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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Faculty alums recall frisbee laughs and the middle class

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While most Carls who graduate manage to escape the tundra-like confines of Northfield, Minnesota, a special few continue to call Carleton College home. And no, this is not because Carleton won’t release them until they pay off student debt. In fact, these former Carleton students chose to join the ranks of faculty, nineteen of which still teach in Carleton classrooms today. Last week, I interviewed Professor David Lef kowitz for the Carletonian. This week, I spoke with Andy Exley ’03, Susannah Ottaway ’89, Annie Bosacker ’95, and Eleanor Jensen ’01.

Some basic statistics on these professors: their class years have a spread of 18 years, between 1989 and 2003. As professors, they teach in the Studio Art, Computer Science, History, and Biology departments. They occupy professor, associate profes- sor, visiting assistant professor, and lecturer positions. But despite their variety of backgrounds and experiences, the Carleton they describe is all too familiar. Their narratives reveal a surprising (or unsurprising) amount of common stories.

First and foremost among thesestories is the greatest of Carleton cliches: frisbee. Whether you consider the sport an unhealthy obsession or a worthy heritage, the majority of these professors mentioned frisbee as having a notable impact on their student experience, and contrasted it with the frisbee culture today.

Professor Exley, the youngest of the professors, describes the frisbee scene during his time as a student as “more of the people’s sport”.

“I played a lot of intramural and everyone did,” said Exley. “It was more popular, and more inclusive – a bigger part of a general campus experience.”

Indeed, the current one league of intramural frisbee stands in contrast to the three leagues of Exley’s day – soft core, midcore, and hard core. Exley theorizes that the increas- ing success and importance of club teams – CUT, Syzygy, GoP, Eclipse, The Hot Karls, and Nova – drained frisbee’s most enthusiastic play- ers from the traditional intramural crowd.

Professor Ottaway corroborated Professor Exley’s story. “It seems like now with Syzygy and CUT and [the club teams], its all about intercollegiate. But when I was a student it was all about intramurals.”

Ottaway, who helped found Syzygy her senior year and was its co-captain, described a time when the team hung out all weekend at the Hill of Three Oaks playing pick-up. Ottaway nostalgically reminisced on “that whole IM culture of–you know, you play your IM game and then you play pick-up for five hours after.”

Part of this change, theorizes Ottaway, resulted from “a less-driven and focused student life.” The implication here isn’t that former students took their studies less seriously–Ottaway herself wrote over 100 pages for her comps, as the history department had yet to establish a page limit. Rather, Ot- taway explains, “I think we just didn’t have as many activities. Now I feel like most of my advisees have five different activities they are involved in.”

However, extra-curriculars and frisbee aside, these professors drew parallels between the academic culture of Carleton today and yesteryear. Eleanor Jensen of the Studio Art department believes that “the curiosity and engagement with learning remains the same. This is a very stimulating place to be. I think that Carleton continues to foster idealism, and I feel that is an important quality of a liberal arts education.”

Professor Ottaway also noted that “The Carleton classroom feels very similar to me as a professor as it did as a student. I think there is a sense of that unashamed enjoyment of learning here that I really liked.”

My interviews with these professors told more than just what has changed at Carleton, however; just as noteworthy is the change in their perspectives, transitioning from student body to faculty.

Professor Lefkowitz stated the expected changes – a greater awareness of administration and college business.

Professor Exley, however, expected a greater culture shock than he received. “I am surprised that – at least for [the computer science] department–things worked kind of like I imagined them.”

Exley went on to say that “After experiencing academia at some other places, it’s like ‘oh well, there is probably some politics and some other stuff’, and there really is not that much of that here, if any. So actually, I was not disillusioned, I was re-illusioned.”

Experiences at graduate universities also changed the perspective of Professor Ottaway. After studying for her masters and PhD at Brown University, she realized just how big of a commitment Carleton professors made to being available for their students. “I think I had no idea of what it really meant for fac- ulty to have the kind of open-door policy that we often do.”

Each professor I interviewed appeared enthusiastic to have returned to Carleton. Professor Bosacker even likened teaching at Carleton to an extension of her experience as a student: “I still think of my time in Carleton years. Like, I’m in my third senior year. Then I get to start fresh again in the fall!”

But this is not to say these professors saw Carleton through entirely rose-colored glasses; Professor Lefkowitz, for example, worries about the rapidly rising cost of tuition.

Tuition is approximately six times greater than when Lefkowitz was a student. Additionally, Professor Ottaway wondered if community cohesion has remained as strong as it once was. She described the day she and her fellow history seniors collectively turned in their comps projects, marched out to the front lawn of Leighton, and drank an entire case of champagne. Ottaway admits that she is no longer fully aware of student life outside of the classroom, which makes comparison difficult.

And of course, there is always room for nostalgia of bygone traditions.

Professor Exley lamented that the administration slowly extinguished the cherished tradition of painting the water tower.

A particularly memorable instance of a water tower mural has stuck with Professor Jensen. “Friends of mine painted Bill Clinton’s face on the water tower the night before he spoke at graduation,” Jensen recalled. “That effort was appreciated by him, but not by campus security.”

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