Sunday, April 8, 2007

Richard Finkelstein

Dr. Richard Finkelstein:

Using Variety to Stay Fresh

By: Michael Reiff & Joseph W. Norman

Dr. Richard Finkelstein is an intriguing persona whose activities and interests take him beyond the classroom, particularly at SUNY Geneseo where he is the Chairperson of the English Department. Growing up in Queens, New York, he says he “was always one of those kids who read a lot, and kind of lost himself in novels.” This pleasure has taken him far both personally and professionally. In fact, it developed a universal skill that has served him well in his diverse set of interests. A distinct combination of skill and vigor for a variety of pursuits keeps Dr. Finkelstein fresh.

Outside of the classroom, Finkelstein enjoys an interest and aptitude for working the economics side of Not for Profit organizations. He has volunteered for and served on a range of boards, including a private school and the Campus Auxiliary Services food board, which operates in Geneseo and occasionally sends Finkelstein far a field to do work. In fact, in the near future, CAS has Finkelstein, president of the CAS board, touring the food service operations of both Hamilton College and SUNY Cortland.

Finkelstein’s office is spacious, roomy, and impeccably precise. This is emblematic of his drive to achieve, which is further developed by listening to him discuss his past, his present, and even his day to day workings. Finkelstein began his college education at Williams College in Williamtown, Massachusetts where he initially studied biology. In fact, he even graduated with a near double major, but did not take his senior seminar for biology. Another fun fact, after graduation he attended medical school for a year until he realized it was not for him; working briefly after medical school gave him time to contemplate his academic future.

A view of one side of Dr. Finkelstein's office

It is interesting to consider that Finkelstein arrived at his current passion for Shakespeare almost by chance. He originally went to Williams College to study medicine, with aspirations of becoming a doctor. It was in fulfilling his literature requirements that he chanced upon Victorian literature, a course which sparked his interest in a subject which would later become his area of expertise. Later, Finkelstein passed on his medical career to fashion his graduate and doctorate work in Chicago, at one point under the tutelage of renowned Shakespearean scholar Dr. David Bevington.

At the University of Chicago Finkelstein obtained his Masters and Ph.D. in Renaissance Drama. This fine American institution is known for its prowess in this field. When reflecting on his decision to go to Chicago, Finkelstein stated that he enjoyed living in a city. His other choice, the University of Virginia, another place well known for its strength in his desired field, seemed “too much like Williams College,” he said. Not that he had anything against his experience at Williams, in fact he thoroughly enjoyed it, but he simply wanted to get back into a city.

Today, Finkelstein is someone who balances his paid and volunteer work with grace and dedication. He attributes some of his success at Geneseo to his ability to listen to colleagues and keep problems and arguments in perspective. One of his primary roles as Chairperson of the English Department, in his mind, is to “Listen closely to what colleagues priorities are, what their needs are, and make the individual priorities department priorities.” He has done quite well with that focus during his tenure. In fact, one of the desires of the staff was to increase the opportunity to teach film courses. He was successful in moving his staff towards creating a film minor for the department, in response to his colleagues’ desires.

Another shot of the office

Beyond his professional work, his personal interests range widely as well. Finkelstein is an avid opera fan, professes a love for the early works of Pedro Almodovar, and enjoys a range of talents in the kitchen (including a pride-inducing aptitude for making soufflĂ©s). In fact, he states, “I can whip up a really great soufflĂ© in a very quick period of time.” His strong skill set in old style French Cooking leaves him a little arcane, so quips his wife, but still very effective. Elaborate homemade sauces are another staple on the Finkelstein family menu.

Finkelstein cites his success in part to his strong relationship with his wife, and when he mentions his biggest influences, she comes out on top. He reflects on her influence in respect to such qualities as “temperament, value, and style.” The latter point, style, refers to her way of looking at things and thinking them through. The couple has been happily married since 1980.

Dr. Finkelstein, a father of two, is able to stay involved in their lives even with his numerous responsibilities, sometimes still driving his daughter, 16, and their current exchange student, to school in the morning. Finkelstein’s son, 20 years of age, is a sophomore in college and enjoys writing film reviews.

While at home, Finkelstein also has a great love for gardening; as spring arrives he contemplates returning to the garden for another season of using his well-honed green-thumb. In respect to his other interests, Finkelstein loves to travel. When he was seventeen he traveled with friends to Europe, and since then this passion is nearly as unwavering as his love of Renaissance drama. Now that his children are growing up, he has more of an opportunity to visit some extravagant places with his wife and children.

Finkelstein does not follow sports, but avidly exercises: this constant drive towards physical self improvement seems to extend into his other realms of life as well. Finkelstein’s work moves him beyond the classroom and into a web of varied and worthy tasks and activities. He advocates a life of being open to the options that are available to everyone, and this is something that not only he has lived by, but is what he hopes everyone, especially the college students he interacts with, will remember as they live their own lives.

Joseph, Dr. Finkelstein, and Michael (Team VIP)

Dr. Richard Finkelstein

SUNY Geneseo
Professor of English
Department Chair
Welles 220

Brief Bio: