While CMC is recognized as the alma mater of well-known figures such as Henry Kravis ‘67, George R. Roberts ‘66, and Congressman David Dreier ‘88, it also boasts a number of notable faculty members in its 70-year history.
Ross Eckert joined the CMC staff in 1979 as the Boswell Professor of Economics and Legal Organization. Professor Eckert was considered a “charismatic and active professor” whose area of specialty was maritime law. His own health problems and subsequent selflessness led to his most important contributions, both for the academic community and the general public. Eckert had hemophilia, a lifelong genetic disorder in which a person’s body cannot clot blood. A seemingly small injury on a person without hemophilia would just turn into a bruise—the same injury for a hemophiliac could cause the person to bleed out. A common treatment for hemophilia was to receive blood transfusions that contained the clotting factor from healthy individuals. During one of these transfusions, Eckert contracted HIV from a contaminated blood supply. This painful news spurred him to research the various blood suppliers in the United States for contaminated blood, including the American Red Cross. Eckert became one of the very first people to warn others of the AIDS crisis and its ability to spread through contaminated blood. In the mid-1980s, he released a book, Securing a Safer Blood Supply, which details a potential solution by establishing blood registries comprised of vetted individuals. The book helped spread awareness and bring attention to the American public about this issue. A few years later, Eckert served a term on the FDA’s Blood Products Advisory Committee and testified before Congress in 1990. He would not let the issue fall by the wayside, instead making sure Congress knew approximately 4,000 Americans per year were dying as a result of contaminated blood. Eckert died in the winter of 1994 at the age of 53, but his indelible spirit and resulting contributions have had a lasting impact on countless people.
One of the more surprising professors to teach at CMC was none other than legendary comedian Mort Sahl, often coined the father of modern political satire. He did a two year stint from 2007 to 2009 at CMC, where he taught a course in screenwriting and a course titled “The Revolutionary’s Handbook.” As a professor, he was a fairly polarizing figure—his reviews on Rate My Professors is mostly negative. A common criticism was that although he was an interesting person, his teaching style was rather erratic. Regardless, Sahl is quite a notable figure to have woven into the history of CMC. Sahl broke onto the comedy scene in the 1950s with a disarming, conversational persona and a knack for political satire. Although that might not seem revolutionary in the age of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, many consider Sahl the pioneer of political satire. Woody Allen even attributed Sahl to trailblazing a path for comedians like him. His humor was always socially relevant and provocative, the same attitude echoed in his goal as a professor to “shake up [the students’] sense of comfort” and force then “to think about their role in the world.” In 1960, he became the first comedian to ever grace the cover of TIME magazine. As he continued to gain notoriety, President John F. Kennedy asked Sahl to write jokes for his campaign speeches. This became somewhat of a detour in his career: after JFK was assassinated, much of his stage material included facts or inconsistencies from the incident. For a period in the 60’s he lost some of his notoriety before experiencing a resurgence in the 70’s. Sahl still performs stand-up at the age of 89 in the Bay Area, the place he always felt most at home.
In 1968, Dr. Leo Strauss was appointed as Distinguished Professor of Political Science at what was formerly known as Claremont Men’s College. Strauss was the world’s leading classical political philosopher at the time, and had been teaching at the University of Chicago from 1949 until he left for CMC. At the University of Chicago, Strauss mentored CMC professors Martin Diamond and Harry V. Jaffa. Strauss made significant developments in the study of ancient and modern political philosophy. In addition to his account of the Bible, he wrote thorough interpretations of writings by a wide range of historical figures such as Plato, Aristotle, and Locke. As a result, Strauss is remembered for reviving the study of classical philosophy. Although Strauss only taught at CMC for a year, he certainly added to CMC’s academic stature by a “quantum leap.” According to Kevin Starr’s book detailing the history of CMC, Strauss also confirmed the College’s conservative roots. Coincidentally, Henry Salvatori founded the Henry Salvatori Center for the Study of Individual Freedom in the Modern World, CMC’s oldest research institute, the same year Strauss joined CMC’s faculty. The Salvatori Center still encourages students and scholars to study political philosophy and freedom as it relates to American constitutionalism and the American founding.
In 2009, CMC announced the appointment of nationally-acclaimed and award-winning author Jamaica Kincaid as the Josephine Olp Weeks Chair and Professor of Literature. Prior to joining CMC’s faculty, Kincaid was a professor at Harvard University in the English and African and African American Studies departments. Educated in Antigua’s British colonial education system, Kincaid later explored the themes of colonialism, racism, and British imperialism in her writing. She moved to New York City as a teenager and worked as an au pair while also enrolling at a local community college. She later quit her job and enrolled at Franconia College in New Hampshire, where she stayed for one year before returning to New York to begin writing. She also changed her name from Elaine Potter Richardson to Jamaica Kincaid in order to disguise herself. In 1990 she told the New York Times that it was “a way for me to do things without being the same person who couldn’t do them – the same person who had all these weights.” An accomplished novelist and essayist, Kincaid brought her expertise and insight to the classrooms at CMC. She taught courses such as Autobiography and Literary Imagination, The Word and the Garden, and Advanced Fiction Writing. Kincaid is currently back at Harvard as Professor of African and African American Studies in Residence in the English and African and African American Studies departments at Harvard.
Sources consulted: Commerce and Civilization: Claremont McKenna College, The First Fifty Years 1946-1996; http://www.mortsahlofficial.com; http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/strauss-leo; http://biography.jrank.org/pages/4506/Kincaid-Jamaica.html