On April 28, Dr. Sanford Kessler, our outstanding political theory professor, gave his last lecture at NC State. As the spring semester was finishing off, I had the opportunity to sit down with our department’s own Dr. Sanford Kessler to discuss his career, what he’s learned from his time here at State, and his future plans.
After 41 years as a valued member of the NC State community, Dr. Kessler has seen and learned a lot. His experience, he says, has been great. As he recounted with fondness: “I find people friendly and wonderful to work with… Many departments are divided and people are bitter towards each other but here there’s just a lot of good feelings. I feel extremely fortunate.”
When I asked Dr. Kessler about the impact students have had on his life and career, he reminded me that teaching is not a one-way street. “I feel that each time I come to class it’s a really exciting time for me. I don’t know who I’m going to meet, how they’re going to influence me, and how I am going to influence them. After teaching for so many years I find I’ve learned a great deal from my students. But I also feel that it’s a privilege to be able to teach the things I teach and hope that I’ve been able to have some effect on students in the way they’ve had an effect on me.”
Through all his years here, Dr. Kessler recalled two favorite memories. The first was the moment he found out he received tenure and that he would be able to grow his career at State. The second speaks to his love of teaching and the connections he’s made with students over the years: “I ask students that I’ve worked closely with to keep in touch and let me know how they’re doing, and they come back and I get to see them and that’s always a really nice feeling. Also, when my classes go really well and I really feel we’ve all learned something together… It’s funny, since I feel that I’ve had such a wonderful career, most of my memories are good.”
There are two pieces of advice Dr. Kessler would like to offer to students. First, he would remind students that college is a valuable time in their lives and they should take advantage of the opportunities it offers: “… Of course that means have a bunch of different experiences but in an academic sense it means taking challenging and interesting classes—not shying away from hard classes, not worrying too much about grades although I know that’s hard. They should make the most of their time here because if they don’t they will regret it in the future and if they do they will be happy in the future.” More specifically, he was adamant about the importance of avoiding online classes in favor of in-person lectures. Unless absolutely necessary, he believes there is no learning alternative that can replace the in-class experience: “People assume online classes are good because they are convenient but I think they are selling themselves short when they do that. There’s nothing that takes the place of interaction between students and teachers.”
As for his legacy? Dr. Kessler wants people to realize that political theory and great political thinkers are not time-bound and their teachings are still relevant to our daily lives. Knowing that political theory classes can be intimidating and often students don’t know what to expect, Dr. Kessler always aims to reach students with different levels of knowledge and spark their interest in the subject: “If I can make people happy that they’ve taken political theory and they get something out of it, that would be my greatest accomplishment.”
When asked if he would have done something differently, there is one program in which he wished he had become involved in sooner. After volunteering time teaching classes at Central Prison as a part of the Humanities extension program and working as a faculty advisor for the Park Scholar program, Dr. Kessler finally got involved in NC State Osher Life Long Learning program. What made him get involved after years of saying ‘no.’? “They were doing a series on the 150th anniversary of the Civil War and they wanted someone to teach a class on Abraham Lincoln and since I knew something about that I couldn’t say no.” That was five years ago, and to this day he is still involved in the program for adult learners: “One of the things I found with that program was that it was an enormous amount of fun and I’m still doing it. If I had to do it over again, I would’ve started doing that much earlier.”
After he retires, Dr. Kessler will be moving with his wife to New York to support her work. His daughter also resides there. “It’s a family decision,” he said. “If it were up to me, I’d continue teaching here.” Even though Dr. Kessler is leaving NC State, he doesn’t plan to stop teaching “I’m going to try to continue teaching and continue to matter. I still feel full of energy. I’m not retiring because I’m losing steam.”
Dr. Kessler has and always will be a valued member of our department. His impact on students is everlasting. We wish him the best of luck in New York and with all his future endeavors. No matter where he ends up teaching, we know he will bring that same passion he brought to class and his students here at NC State.