For many Oles, time on the Hill is at least partly defined by the many clubs and organizations that they join. It is odd, however, to think of professors and staff as being able to do the same thing.
The Language and Literature Group has been around for 92 years as a place for professors in the humanities to share intellectual ideas and gourmet treats. Professor Anne Groton of the Classics department, along with fellow scholars, has been working to keep this rare organization for professors alive.
The group started on Oct. 8, 1920, to give professors a chance to share their professional work in a friendly environment. Rumor has it that when the college was founded, the majors were split into divisions, each one with a group which would meet for that very purpose. Today, only the Language and Literature Group remains.
In the beginning, it was limited to current professors of language and literature, and they met in a professor’s home.
Back in the day, when professors were traditionally men, the wives would bring desserts, and allegedly, an unwritten competition to make the best desserts began. Possibly because of the fewer opportunities to share research professionally, all professors were sure to attend.
They kept meeting minutes, which tended to be longer and more eloquent than even the meetings themselves because, of course, they were in the language department. The old meeting notes are somewhere in Rolvaag for the intrigued student to search out.
Throughout time, however, the group has evolved. In the last few years, it has gone through a revival and become an inclusive group, including current and retired faculty and staff in Arabic, Asian studies, classics, English, German, Korean, Norwegian, the romance languages, Russian, history, philosophy, religion and the library, as well as a smattering of Carleton professors.
Most of the meetings are held on campus, rather than in homes, to make them more accessible, and there are no minutes any more. On average, there are 20 attendees a month, usually in the “fishbowl” room, Tomson 316. The meetings have become less academic and more of a time to welcome newer members of the faculty and socialize with veteran and retired faculty.
But don’t think that this group now just sits around, drinks tea and eats scones. They still bring in speakers, researchers and faculty presenters and engage in panel discussions. The speakers’ topics vary greatly. In one meeting, Professor William Bridges spoke on Japanese literature and Professor DeAne Lagerquist talked about Boe Memorial Chapel.
“The goal is to find something they have in common, a common denominator,” Groton said. “It is still a precious opportunity to try out an idea before it is perfected. People tend to be kind; they don’t rip your paper apart.”
The group meets one Friday afternoon a month, and since “people are too tired to do anything anyway . . . they might as well get food for thought as well as refreshment,” Groton said. The group is closed to students except by special permission.
It is only fair that the professors, an essential element of the St. Olaf campus, have the option to form organizations like the student body.