The ‘Slote-file’: a dynamic Allegheny duo

The Slotes arrived at Allegheny College in a blizzard. 

Even through the cold and snow, one thing was clear to Ben Slote: Allegheny was no ordinary school. 

“I was just very impressed about how both smart and unpretentious the people were that I was meeting — students, but also the potential colleagues,” he said. “I remember calling Susan that night saying ‘this place — I really like it here.’”

Susan and Ben Slote met in graduate school and were starting their family when Ben was hired at Allegheny in 1990. Now, after 30-plus years of service as professors of education and English respectively, the couple is retiring, though they’re hesitant to use the word. 

“I kind of hate the word retirement because it’s so not what we’ll be doing; it sounds like rocking chair, blanket-over-the-knees kind of thing,” Susan said from a rocking chair. “But for us, it’s an opportunity to try some new things, and to keep doing other things that we’ve really loved.”

“Never retired before,” Ben joked. “You can’t rehearse this. I’ve taught classes before but retiring, it’s the first time.”

The Slotes are no stranger to first-times; though they are humble to not take the credit, they’ve implemented a variety of impactful programs on campus.

Ben helped implement the Journalism in the Public Interest minor alongside Professor of Communication, Film and Theatre Arts Michael Keeley.

“We thought it made a lot of sense for us to formalize as a minor,” Ben said. “What we thought was unique — and still think it’s unique about the program as we conceived it — is that it’s both course work and hands-on doing of journalism.”

Now, in his absence, the JPI minor will be migrating away from the English department and into Communication Arts. Rather than focus on the political and historical aspects of journalism, as Ben Slote did, Keeley will be part of introducing video media to the program.

Susan, on the other hand, was instrumental in implementing the education minor and making it into what it is today.
“In a strategic planning decision in 1997, that (the education minor) was decided to be closed,” she said. “But we’ve never stopped having students who were interested in education and wanting to be educators.”

In affiliation with the University of Pittsburgh, students were able to complete prerequisites at Allegheny before transferring to complete the program. With Susan’s help, the fully-established education minor has flourished on the Allegheny campus.

“During the first year (2014-2015) that we graduated a class of seniors, we had four,” Susan said. “Now we have 75 minors, and Allegheny continues to be graduating incredibly gifted and committed educators in the world, in all different kinds of educational careers. So I’m super proud of them.”

The pride that the Slotes take in their students, past and present, is evident in what they choose to highlight about their careers. They both formalized minor programs, introduced new curriculum — like a children’s literature course from Susan — served on committees, and Ben even served as Associate Dean for four years. But what they’ll miss most?

“I know that we will miss the students tremendously — that’s number one,” Susan said. “But in some ways there’s a silver lining in that, too. It would be bad if we were walking away thinking, ‘Oh, I can’t wait to get away from the students.’ I mean it’s a sign that this has been the right place for us and the right professional calling for us.”

The connections made with students are what will remain with them beyond the classroom.

“I love that — to connect with people. I mean literature is the pretext … of the conversation, but it isn’t just about that,” Ben said. “It’s being with young people. That’s gonna be a bummer, just being with two old people together. But it’s been a lot of fun.”

Both Susan and Ben have had the chance to interact with hundreds of students over their time at Allegheny. The work they have done in the classroom is something they will miss, but the behind-the-scenes work is something they are not as sad to leave behind.

“Susan will say Friday, Thursday: ‘what’s your weekend look like?’ And what that means is, how much grading do you have, or how big a prep do you have?” Ben said. “There’s no shortcuts.”

“There’s a lot of invisible work that faculty do,” Susan added. “And I have learned a tremendous amount from those opportunities. But they have their burdens, too.”

On the horizon is a trip to Scotland next fall, more community involvement and plenty of time to reflect on their time spent at Allegheny.

“Being dedicated and mattering to students and mattering to the institution — I’m actually pretty sure that that’s the thing that, as we move into retirement, I’ll be both most grateful for and most proud of,” Ben said. “I don’t think it was like this noble, altruistic thing. It was the way the job made sense for us, as who we are. So it was really a nice fit between who we are and how we could be helpful and matter to this place.”

Susan emphasized that both of them are committed to the liberal arts vision.
“We both deeply, deeply appreciate and value the opportunity to work with Allegheny students particularly,” Susan said. “I guess I would identify that specialness as students who approach learning with a fair amount of openness and humility and also who have an incredible desire to learn but also a real heart for making a difference in the world, and that is a huge privilege to have in a classroom.”

“What she said,” Ben added.