For Wesleyan’s Retiring Faculty, a Moment to Look Back

Jeff HarderMay 22, 202414min
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When John Bonin first joined Wesleyan’s Department of Economics in 1970, he discovered a down-to-earth leader in President Colin Campbell, and an academic culture that was comparatively unusual. “I learned quickly that faculty at Wesleyan were encouraged to speak out and assert agency unlike what my contemporaries at other institutions were experiencing,” Bonin said.

On May 26, Wesleyan’s retiring faculty members—Bonin, Chester D. Hubbard Professor of Economics and Social Science; Bernardo Antonio Gonzalez, professor of Spanish; and Jeffrey Schiff, professor of art—will receive emeritus status at the University’s 192nd Commencement Ceremony. Ahead of the occasion, Bonin, Gonzalez, and Schiff reflected on their decades of contributions to the University—and provided a glimpse of what’s to come.

Bonin’s approach to scholarship and teaching was shaped by his time on campus as well as sabbatical experiences in North America and abroad; thanks to his first sabbatical, he published his research in the American Economic Review as an assistant professor. Meanwhile, hosting visiting faculty at Wesleyan in the 1980s spurred his scholarship on banking and financial reform in Asian and transitioning European economies. Along with spending a decade as editor of the Journal of Comparative Economics in its editorial office at Wesleyan, Bonin bookended his teaching career with stints as a tutor in the College of Social Studies. “During my 54 years at Wesleyan,” Bonin said, “I was fortunate to work with many intellectual children—and even a few grandchildren—who have gone on to successful careers in academia, as well as in the public and private sectors.”

As he eases into his next chapter, Bonin has begun studying the ownership structure of the craft beer industry in the U.S. and Québec, a subject he explored during his final sabbatical and that he plans to sustain during retirement. “As an economist,” Bonin said, “I will likely be required to do some sampling.”

Bernardo Antonio Gonzalez, a California native, was hired by the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures in 1979 and was one of the first Spanish professors to rise to the rank of tenure at Wesleyan. “Professionally, it was a very welcoming, warm, and supportive environment,” he recalled, with colleagues across departments bonded by a strong sense of community. “. . . My home has really been at Wesleyan as much—or maybe even more—than in my department.”

The Wesleyan community offered space where he could harness his varied interests and background, which also encompassed theater, social theory, and intercultural studies. As he honed his scholarship in modern Spanish literature and theater, he also became director of international studies, helping establish Wesleyan’s first centralized office to manage study abroad experiences as well as language immersion programs in Puebla, Mexico; Bologna, Italy; and Madrid, Spain, where he spent several years living in with his family and furthering his involvement in Spain’s vibrant theater world. “I was happy to bridge my teaching scholarship and service, and for me they became increasingly intertwined.”

In 2015, Gonzalez helped found the Fries Center for Global Studies (FCGS), working with architects to align the center’s programmatic needs with its physical space in a renovated Fisk Hall, then serving as the center’s first director. Gonzalez speaks glowingly of FCGS has evolved under Stephen Angle, who recently stepped down from leading the center. “A very talented, very bright colleague has been able to take it on and develop it in his own ways,” Gonzalez said. “And that’s really what you want: you want to create a child that has its own feet and legs, and thrives as it travels down its own road. It’s all about sustainability.”

With retirement afoot, Gonzalez has a long to-do list—at the top: finishing a book about a 1930s Spanish theater director he’s been chipping away at for years. And along with sharpening his amateur photography skills, he has designs on studying Arabic and Greek. “Language learning is something that really sharpens our mind,” Gonzalez said, “and it opens up new doors and windows unto the world and it provides a deeper understanding of ourselves.”

Jeffrey Schiff arrived at Wesleyan during a hectic period: a decade into his career as a freelance artist, he was juggling several sculpture commissions—then, two weeks before teaching his first class, his twin sons were born. Despite this frenetic beginning, he found perennial pleasure in fostering his students’ growth over the 36 years that followed.

“Sculpture is something that people have a little bit less experience with when they come to Wesleyan,” Schiff said. “It’s more opaque than painting or drawing or photography, so one of my challenges was to make it palpable and immediate—and, also, really intellectually stimulating.”

He sought to offer “an arena of questions, along with a means to explore those questions in sculpture,” and he enjoyed watching his students pursue their creativity in unexpected directions: each semester, he offered a project in which students carved incomplete depictions in plaster, an emulation of Michelangelo intended to search for “the dynamic between the revealed and the concealed,” he said.

He also collaborated with students on works like The Library Project, a 2003 temporary installation at 500 sites around Middletown featuring vinyl letters displaying call numbers of books from Olin Memorial Library. (“You could look up the call number and find a book that would tell you something about the very place you saw that call number,” Schiff said.) Helping students with senior sculptural thesis exhibitions, Schiff said, was a particularly gratifying dimension of his work. “It gave them a sense of the power they have as speakers, in the medium of art and sculpture, to really be in conversation with their culture.”

As he departs from the University, Schiff said, “I feel lucky because I felt like the kind of students I had at Wesleyan were a great fit for me. I felt very rewarded by my friendships with colleagues, and by the avid students I had who were up to the task of really exploring what it would be to make an artwork.”


John P. Bonin

Chester D. Hubbard Professor of Economics and Social Science
Professor of Economics
Tutor, College of Social Studies
Professor, Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies

Bonin is Chester D. Hubbard Professor of Economics and Social Science at Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT. Bonin has published more than 65 articles in economic journals; he has authored three books and co-translated four French microeconomic theory books. His recent papers focusing on banking and finance in transition and Asian countries are found in Journal of Banking and Finance, Comparative Economic Studies, Economic Systems, Journal of Comparative Economics, the Oxford Handbook of Banking, Journal of Asian Economics, and World Economy. Bonin was the editor of the Journal of Comparative Economics from 1996 to 2006. He has served twice as president of the Association for Comparative Economic Studies, most recently in 2009.  Bonin has consulted for the World Bank, the United Nations, the U.S. Treasury, the Institute for EastWest Studies, the WIIW, and the 1990 Institute. He was an expert witness in an international banking case: Ceska Sporitelna a.s. v. Unisys Corporation.

Bonin obtained a B.A. in economics from Boston College in 1966; he earned a M.A. (1969) and a Ph.D. (1973) in economics from the University of Rochester.  Bonin’s fields of specialization in graduate school were Soviet economics, mathematical economics, and applied microeconomic theory.

Bernardo Antonio Gonzalez

Professor of Spanish

As a scholar of Spanish literature and culture, Bernardo Antonio Gonzalez studies theater, film, and the performing arts in relation to politics and society in modern Spain. In his publications and teaching, he treats the stage and screen as a site where Spaniards seek to process the dominant challenges they face as a society: how to reconcile minority and dominant national discourses in accordance with democratic values; what role new or foreign modes of thought and style should play in reshaping cultural identity; what strategies to adopt for making amends with the legacy of fascism or for reconciling distinct cultural traditions with an increasingly fluid and interconnected world. He states in his essay on the maquis in Antonio Martinez Ballesteros’s Tiempo de guerilla, for instance, that: “The foregone conclusion that the act of remembrance constitutes a reality unto itself, one that supersedes the past experience from which it issues, has special meaning at the dawning of Spain’s 21st century.”

Gonzalez is currently working on various projects, including a book on Cipriano de Rivas Cherif, a world-class pioneer in stage direction who helped renovate Spanish theater during the avant-garde era (1920s) and advance the cause of democracy during the Spanish Second Republic (1930-1939).

Gonzalez has taught at Wesleyan since earning his Ph.D. in Romance Languages and Literatures from the University of California–Berkeley, in 1979. During this period, he has directed Wesleyan’s Program in Madrid several times and he has spearheaded the creation of new programs at the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, the Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá, Colombia, and the Università di Bologna, Italy. In 1992, he was appointed to set up the university’s Office of International Studies, an operation he has overseen on different occasions. In 2015, he was appointed to establish and direct Wesleyan’s new Fries Center for Global Studies, a project designed to bring intercultural competency and foreign language proficiency to the heart of Wesleyan’s liberal arts education.

Jeffrey Schiff

Professor of Art

Jeffrey Schiff is a sculptor/installation artist. He has received numerous fellowships, including The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship, the Rome Prize from the American Academy in Rome, a Senior Scholar Fulbright Fellowship to India, a Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Residency, and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York Foundation for the Arts. Schiff has exhibited his work widely, in New York City at the Sculpture Center, Stux Gallery, and Bose Pacia Gallery; in New Delhi at Nature Morte Gallery; and in institutions such as the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art, the Boston Institute of Contemporary Art, Real Art Ways, and the Katonah Museum of Art. He has produced permanent public commissions at the Boston South Station Railroad Terminal and New Britain Courthouse. In 2003, he collaborated with Wesleyan students to produce The Library Project at Wesleyan University. His work is in the collections of the City of New York, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst.