After nearly 40 years at Oberlin, Grover Zinn, a William H. Danforth
professor of religion and former associate dean of the College of Arts and
Sciences, has decided to retire.
What time period of Oberlin do you look back on most fondly?
liked my whole career. Every time has its good part and bad part; each decade
has its characteristics. One of the notable things during the time I’ve
been here has been the increasing diversity within the faculty and students.
Any favorite Oberlin memories?
[Myself as] the young radical, standing
at noon with a line of people hand in hand — circling Tappan Square
completely — in protest of the Vietnam War. Teaching in the London program
in the fall of 2000 with Professor Longsworth in the English department; we had
taught courses together before, but the experience was probably one of the
highlights of my teaching career. Mentoring students in honors projects, because
it gives you a chance to work closely with outstanding students who do very
creative work; having the opportunity to come to Oberlin and teach in the first
undergraduate department to teach religion as a humanistic discipline rather
than as a theological undertaking — that changed my whole approach not
only to teaching but to my research. Walking across campus with my dog during
fall leaf colors — so beautiful; Oberlin, in terms of the village, has
been a great place to live and raise a family. And I’ve always enjoyed the
give and take in the Oberlin classroom and in Oberlin seminars because students
are always not just curious but well-informed — they pursue issues in an
How would you compare the experiences of being a dean versus being a
They’re both extremely interesting, but very different. As a
professor, you’re in constant contact with students in and out of the
classroom. You’re concerned with teaching in your area, with nurturing
students, with seeing them go on through their careers and graduate school. You
also have the time to pursue research in a serious way. You’re engaged
with committees that are concerned with College governance and College issues.
When you move into the dean’s office, you know two things: you really
don’t have, at least in your first years, time to teach, and you’re
not going to have a lot of time for research. You’re immediately put in a
situation where you have to grasp the work of the College as a whole and the
relationship of the College with the Conservatory. I think one of the most
exciting parts of working in the dean’s office is having the opportunity
to participate in building programs in the College and to participate as a dean
in the hiring of the next generation of Oberlin faculty.
What direction do you see Oberlin moving toward in the future?
hope Oberlin will do is build on its strengths, but have the vision to move into
the changing future of higher education. I think what this means is to keep the
traditions, but be open to the opportunities and needs that arise in the future
as technology continues to expand. The subjects we study continue to multiply
and the approaches we use continue to change because these approaches are not
What’s next for you?
My wife and I intend to travel until our
knees give out. I’m in the process of editing a book entitled The Abbey
of Saint-Denis, Near Paris, France. I’ll be the editor of a series of
translations of writings of 12th century Christian mystics into English and some
colleagues and I are starting a new series of publications dedicated to the
medieval interpretation of sacred texts. I’m working on a long-term book
project on 12th century mystics, I have some other writing projects and I plan
to spend time with my children, one of whom is in Germany, another one is in
L.A. [My wife and I] plan to stay here in Oberlin.