my faculty experience

President, and Professor, Tom Galligan Heads Back to Class

It is minutes before 8 o'clock on a Monday morning. On the second floor of Colgate, History 101 students, most of them first years, are filing into a classroom overlooking the quad. Almost every one of them totes a beverage, whether coffee, Gatorade or even Coke.

Their professor enters, smiling and greeting them by name. He asks about their weekend and finds out how they're doing. He waits for a few latecomers, then claps his hands and says, “All right, let's roll.” For the next hour and fifteen minutes, he conducts the class as a maestro would, pointing to different discussion groups to present their conclusions, drawing answers out of individuals so that they connect with the material, and building to a crescendo when a student exclaims, “I never knew that!”

While in many ways this is just like any class at Colby-Sawyer, with its small size, engaged students and lively classroom discussion, the man at the front of the room is not just the students' professor, but also their college president.

Tom Galligan, former dean and professor of law at the University of Tennessee College of Law in Knoxville, previously taught at the Paul M. Hebert Law Center at Louisiana State University (LSU) from 1986 to 1998. At LSU, Galligan was named the Dr. Dale E. Bennett Professor of Law and was honored by the students as the Outstanding LSU Professor six times. After 20 years of teaching, he knew that he would miss the classroom when he moved into the president's office last year.

During that busy first year, President Galligan got what he calls his teaching fix by guest lecturing for various Colby-Sawyer professors. After leading a discussion in Professor Randy Hanson's class, Hanson asked if the president would teach his American history course while he was on sabbatical. The president agreed, and began preparing to teach his first undergraduate course, U.S. History to 1877: The Struggle to Create a Nation.

Welcome to History 101

“Teaching this material is like meeting old friends,” says President Galligan. “I've always loved history and have been an avid reader of it throughout my life, and my approach has been to teach a relatively text-based U.S. history course with an emphasis on careful reading, which is, of course, a particularly lawyer-ish trait.”

His students are also writing in quantities most never encountered when they were in high school just a few months ago. Now they're turning in position papers every other week, working on longer research papers, and preparing for the final, which will be an essay.

Jill Dunn '11 from Andover, Mass., plans to major in history and says, “Professor Galligan really takes it a step up from high school; this is a college-level course, and he treats us like college students. He is a good teacher because he interacts with the class, and asks our opinions. He really makes us feel comfortable and explains things that we have no clue about. President Galligan is probably my favorite and best professor.”

Amanda Connors '11 from Northborough, Mass., whose intended major is Nursing, agrees. “His course is so different from high school courses. In high school, we just read the chapter, discussed it, and were tested on it. President Galligan makes it interesting. He connects times and people and their ideas. He gives reasons for wars and tariffs that we never covered in high school. Tom is the most animated of my teachers. Even though his class is early in the morning, I never feel the urge to fall asleep.”

The President Knows My Name

While most students didn't expect to walk into the very first class of their college career and find the president handing out the syllabus, in the classroom President Galligan is Professor Galligan, full stop.

“I didn't know President Galligan would be teaching the course, and at first I was nervous,” says Connors. “Then I realized how awesome it was to have the president of the college know me by name. He doesn't often remind us that he's the president, and he doesn't act in a stuffy manner. Mostly, I forget he's as important as he is. In class, he's just Tom, or Professor Galligan.”

If having their president grade their papers changes students' ideas of what a college president does, interacting with the same group of students twice a week for a semester sheds a little light on the student experience for the president, too.

“The classroom experience, in many ways, is much more real than other interactions I'm able to have with students,” Galligan says. “I don't mean that when I walk around and say hi to people, or watch an athletic event that it's not real, but working with students in the classroom, I see and experience much more the challenges they face in the academic environment. I see much more of the typical student experience.

“When I walk across campus I'm going to connect with the people I think are having a good day because they'll be looking up and smiling, but in the classroom I'm going to deal with them over an extended period of time,” he adds. “I'm going to get a feeling for what's easy or hard for them, and for the academic cycle of the semester. It also, though I'm only teaching one class, gives me a small idea of what the faculty here experience. Basically, I am just trying to do what all our great faculty and adjuncts and staff do all day, every day, which is to personally and positively influence the students' experience at Colby-Sawyer. I only get to be with my history students for two and a half hours a week, though, so it's what everyone on this campus contributes to those students' days that makes this wonderful college and their education what it is.”

The Journey's Just Begun

With four years to follow this group of students' journey through higher education, President Galligan is looking forward to seeing how they change and grow at Colby-Sawyer. At this point, having barely left high school, the first-year students show a range of preparation, both in terms of overall academic experience and in their particular background in history.

“I think I may be more linear than some of the students are used to from their high school classes,” says President Galligan. “I may be more obsessive about the information and how it fits together instead of just picking an interesting topic and talking about it. Some of them probably have had a more topically based history experience, where they spent a lot of time on one thing. Obviously when we find something of interest to them we focus on it - we spent a whole day on Frederick Douglass's book - but I'm more interested in looking at the whole picture.”

The whole picture seems to be quite clear to the students, and the course will stay with at least some of them for a long time. Natalie Whaley '11, from Deep River, Conn., calls Professor Galligan's course her favorite, and wants to be a history teacher. Xanthe Hilton '11 of Greencastle, Penn., is a History, Society and Culture major, and was excited to find out she'd be in the president's class.

“He constantly asks students to come to their own conclusions, even if he guides us to them by charades,” Hilton says. “I really like the class.”

Though the president holds office hours, he gets get less traffic than he would like, and speculates that it may be because of his administrative position.

“It may be harder for students to come into the president's office than if I were any other faculty member with my door open,” he says. “I think that next time around, I'm going to work on impressing upon students that they should come through here. I may do that by requiring them to meet with me here. Then they'll see this office and that it's just a mess and not a huge deal. I hope they treat me the same as they treat their other professors.”

Hilton, who was already active on campus just weeks after arriving and is intensely interested in politics, tries to take advantage of the opportunity to talk with the president.

“I try to attend office hours often, because that is time he sets aside for students, even if I am not going in to talk about class,” she said. “He is still the president, so I make sure he knows how I feel on certain issues.”

Returning to the classroom and working consistently with the same group of students has confirmed for President Galligan what he already knew and lauded about Colby-Sawyer students – that they are really nice, good people.

“They don't laugh at each other, and that may sound like an odd thing to say, but in law school I've had a student raise his hand to talk and witnessed a complete lack of respect from the other students in the room as the speaker tried to make his point,” he says. "That happened more than once, but you never see that here, never. It's a very supportive group, they're just wonderful.”

With the early-morning class leaving the rest of the day free to run the college, President Galligan may have just found the perfect balance in his life at Colby-Sawyer.

“While I love the administrative and leadership role, I also love to teach. I get energy from it,” President Galligan said. “I get to talk to 2,000 people at Commencement, and in front of different groups throughout the year, but the classroom is the most important place that I can hope to talk.”