Video: Professor James Kee Gives Annual Rodino Lecture on the Liberal Arts

Rehm Library was filled with faculty, staff, students and alumni who gathered to hear this year’s Richard Rodino Lecture on the Aims of the Liberal Arts given by James Kee, professor of English at the College.

His lecture, titled “Waiting for Insight,” focused on the aims of liberal arts education as they appear from the perspective of interpreting literary text. At the heart of the process, Kee says, is the stage he calls “waiting on insight.”

“The phrase refers to an aspect of our intellectual lives that is overlooked or forgotten when, as is often the case, we start reflecting on liberal education by describing it in terms of critical thinking. To interpret literature in ways that are existentially meaningful, however, we must learn, not just to question the work, but let the work question us. This requires attention, disciplined imaginative play, and patient waiting.”

Kee, who has been a part of the English faculty since 1981, shares that he felt drawn to speak on the topic, which has preoccupied him since the beginning of his career and has been central to both his teaching and scholarship. “When properly understood,” Kee explains, “the topic illuminates a primary goal of liberal education: that the ‘freedom’ promised in the word ‘liberal’ depends upon seeking and attaining insights—the kinds of insights that allow us to live rooted in truth. The topic can help us to recognize the spiritual dimensions of our being at a time when education is being shaped more and more by utilitarian concerns.”

The annual lecture is devoted to the memory of Richard Rodino, formerly of the English department at Holy Cross, who made a large impact on the College before his untimely death 25 years ago at the age of 41. A colleague and close friend of Rodino, and one of the few faculty members left on campus who knew him well, Kee was particularly grateful to have the chance to recall what Rodino meant to the College on the 20th anniversary of the lecture.

The lecture gave Kee the opportunity to reflect on the nature of undergraduate liberal arts education in the Catholic and Jesuit tradition, which he says has preoccupied him from the day he arrived at Holy Cross, and even from his days as an undergraduate at the University of Notre Dame.

“Even as I have recognized that teaching and scholarly excellence requires a highly specialized faculty, I have been concerned with ‘that sense of the whole’ and with the ‘fundamental religious and philosophical questions’ to which our mission statement refers. In this, my last semester at the College before retiring, I was grateful for the opportunity to share some final reflections on these matters with my colleagues and students.”

In introducing Kee, Margaret Freije, vice president for academic affairs and dean of the College, relayed a few of the many roles Kee has played during his time at Holy Cross, including serving as the interim vice president for academic affairs and dean of the College (spring 2006), the acting dean of the College (1995-1996), the associate dean of the College (1989-1995), and the chair of the English department (1999-2001, fall 2005).

Of all the roles he has taken on, most significant has been his role as an educator at Holy Cross. In 2007, Kee receive the Distinguished Teacher Award for demonstrating the College’s commitment to teaching and personalized instruction, making ideas come alive for students both in and out of the classroom. Kee left a lasting impact on his students in the myriad of courses he has taught, which include “The Tragic View,” “Comic Visions: Dante & Shakespeare,” “Ways of Knowing,” and courses on Chaucer, medieval romance, contemporary literary theory, and first-year Monterrat seminars.

“‘To participate in the life of Holy Cross is to accept an invitation to join in a dialogue about basic human questions, to be challenged, to be open to new ideas, to be patient with ambiguity and uncertainty, to combine a passion for truth with respect for the views of others,’” said Freije, quoting the College’s mission statement. “For 35 years, Jim Kee has accepted that invitation and in turn extended it to his students and colleagues. This is his immeasurable gift to all of us and to his students. He models what is best about Holy Cross and welcomes us all to join him in our shared endeavor.”

The Rodino Lecture is annually sponsored by the Office of the Dean of the College.