October 28, 2020

More Beloved Professors Retire Early

By Mattie Schoenfeld '21

Gordon students returned from a long break to a smaller faculty.

The college implemented a voluntary early retirement program for eligible faculty and staff “to offer the College budget savings for fiscal year 2021,” says Rick Sweeney, the college’s vice president for marketing and external relations. Sweeney attributes the need for the program to lost revenue from summer programs canceled due to COVID-19, as well as Gordon’s ongoing financial difficulties.

Although the program was voluntary, the participants were most likely “motivated by the ability to help their colleagues in a budget-constrained environment,” remarks Sweeney. Four professors—John Skillen, David Lee, Richard Stout, and Bruce Herman—left Gordon. All four are highly accomplished in their respective fields and served the Gordon community for a combined 126 years.

Dr. John Skillen came to Gordon as a student, then returned after doctoral studies at Duke University to teach in the English department, launch the Orvieto study abroad program and eventually advise the Global Education department, among many other roles and professional accomplishments. On his retirement, Dr. Skillen said: “I trust that I was devoted to my students, but what dissolves any trauma about retiring from Gordon is that my abiding friendships with other of my faculty and staff colleagues will assuredly continue. Gee whiz, a small group of us have been breakfasting once a week (mainly at the Depot Diner in North Beverly) for longer than present students have been alive.” Dr. Skillen and Gordon will not part ways just yet, however: he will continue to support the college’s M.A. in Leadership program. He says, “Gordon College is woven deeply into [my] family’s life.” Similarly, Dr. Skillen’s influence is woven deeply into the fabric of Gordon.

Dr. David Lee’s retirement came at a difficult time for the physics department, where he served as chair. Dr. Lee came to Gordon by way of Princeton and Caltech after a successful career in material science research and development. His impressive credentials granted Gordon physics and engineering students access to internship opportunities, and his passion for the Christian liberal arts made him a fierce fighter for Gordon’s STEM programs. Physics major Nate Hillyer comments, “I came in feeling like I had a ‘physics family,’ but sadly it has been split up, which was finalized with Dr. Lee’s retirement. We knew he was always fighting for our major behind the lines, and I’m sure we will never truly know how much he did. He was a fighter not just for our education, but for the beauty and importance that physics had to offer us.”

Another STEM professor who retired over the summer, Dr. Richard Stout, came to Gordon from Pennsylvania State University to “join a special community of Christian scholars who were committed to looking at each discipline within the framework of the Christian faith.” At Gordon, Dr. Stout explored pure mathematics and the abstract foundations of math, along with sharing his love of higher math with students. Dr. Stout remarks on Gordon’s atmosphere when he began teaching: “In those days Gordon was a lot smaller and perhaps a bit eccentric, but it was a vibrant community with a reputation as a place where students and faculty had the freedom to pursue honest questions and look for answers in light of their faith commitment.” As Gordon goes through financial hardship and change, reminders of our roots become more important. Dr. Stout continues, “Some of us, especially those who remember the older days, fear that the college, in an effort to respond to those changes, might be losing some of the qualities that distinguish it as a special place. My hope is that Gordon can recapture [these] characteristics.”

Hopefully, this parting wisdom of Dr. Stout will inspire the administration, just as he inspired his math students.

Professor Bruce Herman’s vision played a key role in developing Gordon’s esteemed art department. As a new Christian, Professor Herman arrived at Gordon determined to “[establish] a robust program of visual arts pursued in the context of committed biblical faith.” Professor Herman comments, “I am profoundly grateful for the love, support and challenge that life and work at Gordon has been for more than three and a half decades—for the thousands of visible and invisible ways that everyone at the school serves the Lord and one another, making Gordon ‘a place we love to call home.’ It has always been a place where I’ve learned and grown and gradually developed my twin calling as an artist and art educator.” Although Professor Herman has stopped teaching at Gordon, he will continue to curate the gallery and manage the art collection. His contributions create a lasting impact on Gordon’s art community.

These professors leave behind an outstanding legacy, and though their premature departure from Gordon is lamentable, we honor their service to Gordon and wish them blessings and peace as they move on to the next chapter of life.

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