Those Were the Days

by minton on April 22, 2019


There are some advantages to being over 60 years old. I can play golf from the senior tees, and get the senior discount at the cafeteria. I saw Jimi Hendrix in concert. That might be it.

Roanoke College math lecturer Claire Staniunas was hired by Ron Walpole. In RC history, Walpole has the star power of Hendrix (substitute Tupac if you don’t know Jimi). He was the long-time chair of the precursor of MCSP and was the author of the best-selling introductory statistics book in the U.S. He hired Claire to teach an evening statistics class in 1984. That gives Claire the longest RC employment record in the department. Claire and I recently talked about some of the changes in the teaching profession, the department, and the RC campus.

The teaching job has acquired a large layer of structural duties. Claire showed me a syllabus from 1984 that barely filled half a page. I couldn’t reciprocate because I wrote my “syllabus” on the board the first day of class. Current syllabi run 3-5 pages. Part of the information explosion is due to improvements in typing technology. After fighting with WordPerfect back in the day, we had little interest in producing lengthy syllabi which were difficult to print. Claire and I both taught classes with three tests and a final exam making up 100% of the grade. Classes now are littered with homework and projects and presentations. When Claire taught her first class at RC, Walpole greeted her with his statistics book (on loan, and faithfully returned at the end of the semester) and a drawer in a desk for her “office” space.

At Roanoke College, introductory statistics courses were hard. Stat 101 used to account for more than 20% of the F’s on campus. Math 103 (Elementary Functions) created another 10% of the F’s. I taught Math 102 (Finite Mathematics) on Tuesday-Thursday 8:00-9:30 (yes, classes started at 8:00) and had a class GPA of 1.0 (a D average). Math 102 included formal logic, and an early student of Claire’s gave the summary, “Logic isn’t logical!” Students were expected to (and sometimes did) memorize the statistics or calculus formulas they needed. INQ 240 is a very different statistics course, with projects and technology giving much-needed aid to the students.

The department was much smaller in 1984. Interestingly, both Ron Walpole and Bill Ergle had PhD’s in statistics. Ken Garren and Jane Ingram completed the big four faculty in math/stat, but by 1984 Ken had moved into the Dean’s office (eventually becoming President of Lynchburg College). Sue Glass and Susan Smith were full-time teachers; both, by the way, were outstanding tennis players. Physicists Lee Anthony and Jerry Adams had moved on, leaving Bob Hudson to fend for himself. Ron Walpole died suddenly in 1985, leaving the mathematics program also shorthanded. When I was hired in 1986, the department also hired mathematician Jeff Spielman, physicist Frank Munley, and computer scientist Patti Ollar. Almost half the department was new! Fortunately, MCSP is much more stable now.

Trexler was not new in 1984, but with fewer faculty there was more room. It just wasn’t usable, as much of it was devoted to storage of machine parts and physics equipment. One of Claire’s “office” assignments was at the end of a lab table, accessible only through careful navigation of stacked equipment. The room was kept very cold to keep condensation from raining onto the equipment. A later office was in a computer storage room, usable after shoveling off a space on a table. The rest of campus was not much better. If you taught in the basement of Miller, you had to be careful after a hard rain because the chalk trays would fill with water and turn the chalk into mud. Trout Hall was missing air conditioning and plumbing. A three-hour final exam could be a challenge on many levels.

Claire has weathered the cold offices, storage rooms, muddy chalk, and other calamities with her characteristic good humor. Facilities have improved, paperwork has expanded, and students have changed, but Claire continues to provide the same great service to Roanoke College.