Life - Skalnik
Two members of the Moravian community recently published
their first books: one a scholarly monograph, the other a
novella. Neither they nor their authors could be more different.
If you want to find Jim Skalnik, look around
campus for a Greek fisherman’s cap: a natty little
black number with a visor. Jim may not be the only man in the Lehigh Valley to
wear one, but he’s certainly the only one at the College.
Until two years
ago, he was a professor of early modern European history. In 2001, he came
to Moravian to “give deaning a try,” as he
puts it, and joined the Office of Academic Affairs as assistant
dean for academic advising.
But he still belongs, in soul if not in body, to history, and has been a member
of the search committee for a medievalist to succeed Janet Loengard, who is
Now he has turned his dissertation (earned
at the University of Virginia) into a treatise on an early
modern European philosopher, which has quickly found its way
into the collections of scholarly libraries around the
country. Ramus and Reform is a study of Peter Ramus, a.k.a.
Petrus Ramus or Pierre de la Ramée, a 16th-century
educational reformer who died in the St. Bartholomew’s
Day massacre of Huguenots on August 24, 1572, in Paris.
“He devised a system of education that
had an enormous vogue in Europe in the late 16th century,” Jim
says of Ramus. “He influenced everyone
from Comenius to Milton” — who translated one of Ramus’ books
from Latin into English— “and his system was used in the early
years of Harvard University.”
According to Jim, Ramus had interesting
ideas but was not rigorous enough to carry them out and was too cantankerous
to persuade others to adopt them. By
the end of his life, he was already known as a vulgarizer or popularizer,
not much appreciated by those who clung to the classical
foundations of higher
education. His criticism of Aristotle, whom he said was unsystematic and
failed to follow a proper method, and his rewriting of the liberal arts curriculum
was very influential in France until the 1570s, in Germany and England into
the middle of the 17th century—just at the time that Congregationalists
in New England were establishing the first institution of higher learning
American colonies, Harvard College.
In his heyday, Ramus propounded radical
ideas: that a professor should be appointed on merit and not because his
father had been a professor or his
had bought him a chair; that education should be participatory rather than
that the king should support universities, removing them from the payroll
and the restrictions of the church. His ideas on participatory learning
come from his Huguenot beliefs (he converted from Catholicism)
and he spent the last part of his life arguing for a participatory
structure in the
Church—but this brought him into conflict with Theodore Beza, successor
to John Calvin in Geneva.
Ramus also believed that learning should
be conducted in the vernacular (in his case, French) rather
than Latin, and he invented
a new phonetic
French in which every letter stood for just one sound— something
that generations of students, bewildered by the multiple colors of French
wish had stood the test of time.
“He discouraged me at first,” says
Jim, “because he really was an
intellectual giant. No one’s been quite sure what to make of
Jim’s own background slopes gently toward academic pursuits. He grew up
in the Washington, D.C., suburb of Falls Church, Virginia. His father was an
intelligence analyst for the U.S. government, his mother a member of the Women’s
Army Corps. Jim went to Yale University and then to U.Va., where he worked with
H.C. Erik Midelfort, one of the great names of early modern European history.
He taught for eight years at the U.S. Naval Academy, then moved to the Lehigh
Valley when his wife, Ronda Cook, a classical historian specializing in Greece,
joined the faculty at Muhlenberg College.
“Marriages are better when you’re
in the same city,” says
Jim with a smile.
He began teaching at Allentown College, which
he left the summer it
became DeSales University. So Moravian found an experienced professor
in its own back yard.
Jim submitted the Ramus study to its publisher, the 16th Century
Essays & Studies
series at Truman State University in Missouri, in 2000. But in the busy year
of 2001, he might be forgiven for losing track of where it was in the publishing
“Life got in the way,” he says. “We
were changing jobs, parents were dying—all kinds
The finished book—and very elegant
it is, too, with its navy leather binding and gold-tooled
lettering—arrived on December 22, 2002: “just
in time to give as Christmas presents to various people,
who were absolutely astonished,” Jim
says. “Including my wife.”
Ramus and Reform: University and Church
at the End of the Renaissance by James Veazie Skalnik. 16th-Century
Essays & Studies, Vol. LX. Truman State
University Press, 2002. 172 pages. $39.95
Life - Skalnik:
Two Moravians publish their first books. James Skalnik,
assistant dean for academic advising, a scholarly
monograph on a 16th-century French educational reformer.
Life - Wacker:
Moravians publish their first books. George Wacker
'03, a novella about a young man's search
Winners of 'Campus Idol' entertainment talent show
and broadcast coverage of the college