Date: April 27, 2015
Interviewee: Brian Greenberg
Interviewer/Transcriber: Professor Melissa Ziobro
“It was when I came, and has remained, a very good Department.”
Dr. Brian Greenberg came to Monmouth University’s Department of History and Anthropology from the University of Delaware, where he’d been teaching for almost a decade. There, he headed a joint program between the Hagley Museum and Library and the University (though he himself has a traditional academic, not museum, background). Certain tensions arose between the two entities, leading Greenberg to consider other career paths. He applied for, and won, the Jules Plangere Chair of American Social History here at Monmouth in 1990, becoming the first to hold the endowed position.
Coincidentally, Dr. Greenberg’s brother, Michael, taught with the Department as a lecturer in the 60s/70s. It was a time of considerable upheaval on our campus, as it was on many, due to the Vietnam War. At one point, Michael’s contract was not renewed (despite the protests of the History Department). This action was linked by many to a disruption during an event on campus with General Maxwell Taylor (see interview for further details; this event is also referenced in Phil Donahue’s interview). Greenberg was a bit nervous about coming to Monmouth, given his brother’s experience, but Monmouth faculty member Dr. Ken Campbell (whom Greenberg had known at Delaware) assured him that the climate on campus had changed. Few realized, when Dr. Greenberg was interviewing for his position, his connection to the campus. When some faculty, who had been around during the Vietnam Era, learned of the connection, they felt a certain vindication. Greenberg has had no regrets, noting, “it was when I came and has remained a very good Department.”
Upon arrival at Monmouth, Greenberg noted that our student body lacked racial diversity (something he feels that we still struggle with, despite good faith efforts to recruit a more diverse population). He did, however, feel the population was “diverse” in terms of preparedness for college. He felt poised to assume this challenge, given his varied teaching experiences. In addition to Delaware, he’d also taught at the City University in NY, at Princeton, and at SUNY Albany. He also noted that, especially when he arrived, the students seemed rather politically disengaged. 3-4 years ago, this changed a bit as students connected with anti-Iraq/Afghanistan War sentiment and the Occupy Wall Street movement, but there’s been a lull since then.
Although Monmouth is a private school, Greenberg thinks it unfair to characterize all or most of our students as affluent or even comfortable. He said he believes many make sacrifices to come here, and that they often have “intense” schedules as they try to attend class and work to support themselves in their endeavors.
A particularly interesting point in the interview, for those interested in the History and Anthropology Department, will be Greenberg’s discussion of various organizational realignments impacting the Department over the years. When he arrived on campus, it was to join the History and Political Science Department. At some point, Political Science spun off. Then, anthropologists began to consider leaving the Social Work, Psychology, and Anthropology Department. They joined forces with the historians and became the History and Anthropology Department that we know today. Greenberg feels we make this construct work, although it is not the norm in academia.
Greenberg counts among his favorite classes the US survey courses, The Worker in America, The Changing Meaning of Work, Law in American Society, History and Public Policy, and the Rise of Young America. When asked about the General Education reform that allowed undergraduates to take only one, rather than two, semesters of Western Civ, Greenberg is contemplative. On one hand, he watched his daughter navigate her curriculum chart and heard her express her frustrations that there was not more room to take courses specifically related to her major because she was required to take so many general ed classes. On the other hand, as an educator, he believes college should be a “special occasion” where you get to see/hear/learn things you may never be exposed to again!
With regards to Western Civ, Greenberg also points out that when he arrived in 1990, the Department was debating how to teach the class—should it be world history rather than western history? Why were we so Euro-centric? Those against moving to world history argued that it was nearly impossible to properly teach western civilization in 2 semesters, never mind the history of the entire world. The “middle ground” struck by Department faculty called for a revamp of our western civ offerings. We began to teach Western Civilization in World Perspectives, the construct still used at the time of this interview. In this model, one non-western area is selected by the instructor of every western civ class to allow for comparative analysis throughout the course of the semester.
Another, later Departmental debate focused on reducing the number of credits required by our graduate programs from 36 to 30. According to Greenberg, we didn’t have much of a choice in this because our peer institutions were offering MA degrees for 30 credits. We had to make the change in order to remain competitive. This has probably impacted students who want to write a thesis (versus taking exams) the most. They might, according to Greenberg, benefit from taking a few more classes before they have to commit to a thesis topic. Of theses, Greenberg notes that they are “a lot more work” than the exams- especially for the many of our MA students that have full-time jobs and families.
Dr. Greenberg, who was here when Monmouth became a University, recalls that it was “a very big deal.” Still, Monmouth has remained a teaching University. Therefore, we offer students significantly smaller class sizes (and just enough scholarship money) to make it worth them coming to us rather than a state school.
Throughout the course of his interview, Greenberg also comments on past Presidents Magill (1980-1993), Stafford (1993-2003), Gaffney (2003-2013), and Brown (2013-present). Other topics discussed include academic rigor at Monmouth, student athletes, faculty/administration relations, STEM, the academy’s use of adjunct and contingent faculty, and technology in the classroom. He concludes with a discussion of the misconception that academic jobs are “easy” because they are not 9-5, calling it a complete misunderstanding of the reality of balancing teaching, scholarship, service, and one’s personal life.