After a 50-year career as a professor at Binghamton University — spanning back to when the school was still called Harpur College — history professor Gerald Kadish is set to retire at the conclusion of the semester.
Kadish’s office reflects his long career, decorated with replica swords and sarcophagus-themed trinkets, and filled with history books covering every part of the room — lining the walls and even blocking the windows. After his retirement, Kadish will be given a one-year grace period to keep his office and eventually face the challenge of cleaning out his library and the collection he has compiled through many years and several positions at BU.
“I was chairman of the history department, once for three years and once for one year. I was chair of classics for five years, and I’ve chaired a number of major committees on campus.” Kadish said. “I’m also a procrastinator of all sorts.”
Despite his self-proclaimed dawdling, Kadish has accomplished many things during his time at BU. In his 50 years, Kadish studied five different languages, taught a medley of courses and published a variety of papers, with an interest in future publications.
“I’ve taught all of the ancient histories: I’ve taught Greek and Roman history and other related subjects, ancient Mesopotamia and things of that nature, and then Egypt is my primary field of interest,” Kadish said.
Interestingly enough, Kadish’s lengthy stay at BU was never part of the plan.
“I remember vividly that when my ex-wife and I came into Binghamton on Labor Day 1963 from Chicago, we looked around and said ‘two years, three years, five years tops,’” Kadish said. “She’s gone but I’m still here!”
Over the years, professor Kadish gained the respect of many of his colleagues and fellow faculty members.
“When you go and talk to alumni, you go and talk to donors, one of the people that’s frequently mentioned by them as someone who was very influential is Gerry Kadish,” said Donald Nieman, provost and vice president for academic affairs. “Gerry is enormously respected by faculty on the campus. They recognize him as someone who is a person of complete integrity, who is devoted to the highest quality undergraduate education and who has a wonderful sense of humor. He’s fun to talk to and has vast knowledge, so he’s the colleague that everyone likes.”
Nieman remembers Kadish as the very first person to greet his wife, professor Leigh Ann Wheeler, when she came to BU to apply for a job.
“She came here to a campus interview before I’d ever been here,” he said. “And the person who picked her up at the airport was Gerry Kadish. And when she came back home, she talked about this lively, wonderful man who picked her up at the airport, and was really so devoted to undergraduate teaching that it was a breath of fresh air and gave her a real insight into the campus and the culture of this campus.”
Kadish recalled being interviewed by Glenn Bartle, the very first president of Harpur College.
“One of the first questions Bartle asked me was, ‘I see you’re divorced.’ And it was clear it worried him a bit,” Kadish said. “In those days there was a notion that universities stood in the place of parents and they have certain responsibility for the well being and moral rectitude of students. And I think he was concerned about predatory faculty, and I reassured him that I was about to get married, and he immediately relaxed.”
He also remembered taking part in “stepping on the coat,” a BU tradition which signified the end of winter.
“It was an annual spring celebration on campus in which students, sometimes faculty, ritually step on the coat of a student who had left it here years and years ago, and it was a sign that winter was over,” Kadish said. “That was a great deal of fun — we had music and speeches, and I gave one of the orations for stepping on the coat. It was a spring festival where everyone was tired of the goddamn winter.”
Kadish made a habit of interacting with professors and staff from all across the University.
“I typically have lunch with faculty of different departments,” Kadish said. “The other day, recently, at the table there was geologist, one chemist, one English professor, and one person from the computer center.”
Although Kadish gets hundreds of emails from alumni every year, his door is always open to the current student body as well. Jacky Ly, a junior majoring in history, said that he was a very social professor.
“He is extremely approachable both by email and in person,” Ly wrote in an email. “You can sit down and have a chat with him, about anything, really.”