Toast Offered by Provost and Dean of Faculty Marilyn Schuster
Sue Joan Mendelson Freeman
joined the Department of Education and Child Study at Smith
in 1974. Always ahead of her time, she wore black nail polish
for her interview with Larry Fink and Ray Ducharme even though
she wasn’t sure it would sit well with these august senior
men. Apparently it did.
Sue had completed her B.S. in
psychology at Rutgers University where she graduated cum
laude and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. She completed her
PhD in Educational Psychology at the University of Wisconsin
at Madison just before arriving at Smith.
themes in her teaching, research and considerable service
(to Smith and to her profession) have been moral development,
leadership, the advancement of women and the integration
of work, family and social values.
I remember hearing her
talk about her work in the nascent Project on Women and Social
Change in 1978 when she discussed the unacknowledged gender
bias in Lawrence Kohlberg’s stages
of moral development, based in large measure on Piaget’s
work. This was several years before Carol Gilligan started
to publish her work on Kohlberg that argued that the use
of privileged, white male subjects limited his claims to
a theory of universal stages of moral development.
one of the original members of the Project on Women and Social
Change and she was also one of the first faculty members
in 1981 who volunteered to advise students who wanted to
design a major in women’s studies; her name appears with
the first mention of women’s studies in the catalogue in
Sue has received numerous grants
to support her research on moral reasoning, education and
women’s leadership. I want
to mention two of her most cited publications, her 1990 book
called Managing Lives: Corporate Women
and Social Change,
published by the University of Massachusetts Press, and a
volume on power and leadership that she co-edited with Susie
Bourque and Chris Shelton and to which she made several important
contributions: Women on Power: Leadership
by Northeastern University Press in 2001.
Several of Sue’s
friends and colleagues told me that what they appreciate
most is Sue’s ability to listen, to give sound advice. In
addition to her work in the education department and on numerous
college committees (Faculty Council, Committee on Mission
and Priorities, Tenure & Promotion), Sue has spoken to many
Smith alumnae groups, has served her profession and has managed
to have a successful private practice in Northampton since
1977. One of her colleagues said Sue’s love for her children
has been the “central and defining passion of her life.” Even
though her son Owen has graduated from Amherst College and
works as a financial planner and her daughter Emily graduated
from Barnard in psychology, married a year ago and lives
in Santa Barbara, the family answering machine still says “This
is the home of Sue, Evan, Owen and Emily.”
Another friend pointed out that
Sue had the good sense to marry a man who is a good cook
and who wanted to play a major role in raising children.
Sue and Evan also have been wise enough in recent years to
spend the worst of the winter in Key West and the best of
the summer at their home on a lake in Goshen. Sue’s
devotion to her family has been extended in recent years to include Amber, a
somewhat gangly and loveable dog who follows Sue and Evan to Key West each winter
and to a local dog park every day where the two-legged and four-legged visitors
all know each other.
Perhaps the most telling story
about Sue’s teaching is the
request she made to Rosetta Cohen and Susan Etheredge about how to mark her retirement.
The greatest gift, she said, would be to have news from her former students;
she composed a letter to former students that Susan sent out in the fall. Here
is an excerpt:
I did not go to Smith.
In my early years students often asked me if I did,
and I demurely replied, “No,” without revealing my
public school undergraduate roots. . . My claim to
fame was that I attended the same high school as Philip
Roth. In retrospect I realize that several of my high
school teachers had advanced degrees, even a few doctorates,
and most were quite intellectual and devoted to us.
It was a happy place for me.
Coming to Smith was an
eye opener. I had no idea what I had been missing.
. . Everything was different here. I was learning so
much about selective liberal arts, residential colleges.
I learned about the students, my colleagues, a faculty-governed
institution, and much valued alumnae. From my perspective,
alumnae have been the reward. The work of scholarship,
teaching and research, has its ups and downs. . . but
when meeting with alumnae I was invariably reminded
of why we do what we do at Smith. It was so gratifying
to see students now further along in the world, grappling
with work and life, contributing to the world in unpredictable
ways. More than ever I saw how Smith students matured
into even more interesting, engaged, committed women
making a difference.
When contemplating what
I wanted as a marker of my retirement. . . I soon realized
that what I wanted most was contact with Smith alumnae.
I knew that a gathering in the flesh was unrealistic.
However, thanks to technology I could hear from alumnae
without having to fuss about schedule or travel.
am asking for a gift from you, but not in the usual
sense. The gift is you and your news. I always turn
to the ‘news of the classes’ first in the Alumnae Quarterly.
I want to know how you are, where you are in life,
what you are doing, your thoughts and feelings, how
you are faring. I have invariably learned from Smith
alumnae. I continue to be your student and look forward
to learning once again from you. I thank you for this
and all that has come before.
Etheredge says they have received about 50 thoughtful responses
from former students that will be bound together in a book
to be presented to Sue at a departmental celebration at the
end of May. Let’s raise a glass to Sue to honor her achievements,
to honor her love for her students and her family and to
honor the example of a caring, integrated life that she has
given to all of us.