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Mount Holyoke College News and Events Vista The College Street Journal Archives

May 24, 2002

Three Faculty Members Retire as Emeriti

At its May meeting, the College's board of trustees approved emeritus status for three retiring faculty members: Michael Burns, professor of history; Jeanne Brownlow, senior lecturer in Spanish; and Viktoria Schweitzer, lecturer in Russian and Eurasian studies.

Michael Burns

Michael Burns taught and wrote on many areas of modern and contemporary European civilization during his twenty-two years in Mount Holyoke's history department. He also won awards for the French and English editions of his book France and the Dreyfus Affair: A Documentary History (Bedford/St. Martin's Press, 1999) and earned praise for clear, riveting lectures, which one listener described as, "like listening to Demosthenes in a very small room." Burns's retirement actually marks the end of two distinguished careers, as Burns is also well known for a twenty-year career in television, especially for the role of Barnaby West on Wagon Train, a western weekly that ran from 1957 to 1965.

History professor Carole Straw makes note of Burns's "capacious mind" and "notorious optimism and charm," qualities that are evident, she says, in the title of his forthcoming narrative history, This Side of Paradise: A Global History of 1900–1950, to be published in W. W. Norton's Global Century series. Straw also alludes to Burns's gracious civility, about which department chair Harold Garrett-Goodyear said, "My colleagues and I shall miss not only Michael's always intelligent and penetrating analyses of issues, but also his invariably gracious manner in our discussions, discussions of sometimes highly contentious choices and decisions. He kept us mindful that ‘civility' was not simply a nice addition to serious debate, but a core ingredient of responsible and productive collegial decision making."

Now living in Danville, Kentucky, Burns will keep busy with Cambus-Kenneth, a 540-acre cattle and thoroughbred horse farm listed on the National Register of Historic Places. He is a member of the board of directors of the Bluegrass Conservancy, and with his wife, Elizabeth Topham Kennan '60, MHC's sixteenth president, he has recently completed restoration of the farm's main house, a project that was awarded Kentucky's annual Preservation Project Award for Historic Restoration.

Jeanne P. Brownlow M.A. '81

Jeanne P. Brownlow M.A. '81 retires from Mount Holyoke's Spanish department after twenty-three years of "inspiring generations of students to love and understand the literature of Spain," writes Alberto Castilla, professor of Spanish and chair of the Spanish department. "Her accomplishments in teaching, service, and scholarship as well as her long-standing dedication to the department and to Mount Holyoke were exemplary," he said. "Her personal qualities are equally outstanding. Jeanne Brownlow is liked and respected by everyone. She will be missed."

Brownlow came to the College in 1979, starting in the Spanish department as a secretary, and quickly finding her way into the classroom as a master's student and teacher. She gradually earned a doctorate at the University of Massachusetts and ultimately found herself teaching the very courses she had taken at Mount Holyoke. "I just took each step as it came," she said, "taking on each challenge to see if I could."

In addition to teaching Spanish language and literature at all levels, Brownlow helped revise the Spanish curriculum at Mount Holyoke and represented the College on the Five College organizing committee for the National Forum on the Future of the Spanish Departments. She edited books on Spanish literature, published essays in professional reviews of national and international repute, and was invited to present papers and chair conference sessions at national and international congresses. Her awards include a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the NEH Fellowship for College Teachers.

Brownlow has no shortage of retirement plans. Her long list of what she calls "little projects" includes finishing a book on Spanish novelist Pérez Galdós, teaching English to adult immigrants in Springfield, helping first-time criminal offenders repay their social debts through the Greenfield court program Reinventing Justice, traveling abroad, and reading "a tremendous amount."

Viktoria Schweitzer

Viktoria Schweitzer retires after twenty-two years in Mount Holyoke's Russian and Eurasian studies department, where, writes Professor Edwina Cruise, "through her engaged and engaging questions to students about their lives and aspirations, she has artfully endowed them with the courage to make the frightening leap into the Russian language and to revel in its linguistic power."

In addition to teaching, Schweitzer gained an international reputation for her scholarship, most notably her work on the Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva, one of many nineteenth- and twentieth-century writers absent from the curriculum of communist Russia. Schweitzer's work on Tsvetaeva, which began in 1954 with the collection of rare and archival materials, resulted in Bytie Mariny Tsvetaevoi, a groundbreaking biography first published in Paris in 1988 and eventually published in two different Russian editions and in English, Dutch, Italian, and Swedish translations. This year, Schweitzer completed a major expansion of that biography based on new materials.

Enriching the Mount Holyoke community with what Cruise calls "an encyclopedic knowledge of Russian culture" and "long, thoughtful, tea-drinking conversations that are the heart of Russian intelligentsia culture," Schweitzer also contributed much to the cultural development of her native Russia. Most notably, she organized in 1966 the "Letter of Sixty-Three," in which sixty-three prominent Russian and Soviet writers expressed opposition to the government's arrest and persecution of dissident writer Andrei Sinyavsky. This letter, for which Schweitzer was fired from her job at the Union of Soviet Writers, was a watershed in the Soviet dissident movement, contributing to the underground society that would emerge into the open twenty years later.

Schweitzer's retirement plans include transcribing and publishing the memoirs of her late husband, Mikhail Nikolaev, whom she met in 1968 after he had served a fifteen-year prison term for opposing the Soviet government.

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