Rhoades on the Road to Retirement
Dr. John Rhoades, Professor and Chair of the St. John Fisher College Department of Anthropology, will attend his last Commencement this year, as he will retire after 36 years of teaching at Fisher.
Rhoades received his bachelor of arts degree from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and went on to receive his master’s degree from California State University at Los Angeles. He then earned his Ph.D. from Syracuse University in 1976, the year he joined the Fisher faculty.
Dr. Rhoades with his daughter Kimberly in 1976. Kimberly is a 1995 graduate of the College.
On Wednesday, March 28, Rhoades delivered his Last Lecture, "Anthropological Thinking: Ambiguity and Value." The lecture described his journey from a middle-class, first-generation college student who had never heard the word "anthropology," to an epiphany that humans could be studied for themselves and as themselves, that language was understandable as a human system of symbolic organization, and that cultures had to be understood on their own terms.
We asked Rhoades to reflect on his time as a teacher and his time at Fisher:
What has been your favorite part about teaching in general, and what has been your favorite part about teaching at Fisher?
It has always been primarily about the students, in particular the ones who wanted to learn—not necessarily the ones who received As.
One of my good memories was about a young man who struggled in my linguistics class and received an F. He left school but returned after a year, retook the course, received an “A” and went on to graduate with a good academic record. He told me that this had helped him get a focus on his academic responsibilities and showed him how to study.
What would you say have been the most significant changes at Fisher since you started?
Certainly the increased size of the school has been a significant change, and the corresponding growth in administration and academic programs.
How has “the student” changed – from when you began until now?
In many respects, there has been no change. I had some very good students when I started and I have some very good students this semester.
My sense is that there has been a decline in the amount of time that students devote to reflection on course content. Certainly part of this is the greater amount of time that students tell me that they must work. This is unfortunate, but I don’t know what the solution might be. I do know that mastery of a subject has to be based on reflection, comparing and contrasting various approaches to a topic, and simply the work of slowly and steadily figuring out topical relationships. I understand that there is also a greater amount of readily available distractions from coursework.
What are your plans after retirement?
I will re-engage in several interests such as astronomy, model building, woodworking, and reading.
If you could sum up your time at Fisher in three words, what would they be?
Building, supporting anthropology.
Dr. Rhoades with Anthony Wallace, former president of the American Anthropological Association, prior to his presentation at the 2010 Applied Anthropology Lecture.
Dr. Rhoades with members of the Anthropology Club at the group's 2010 spring party.