Yesterday I attended the funeral of my mother's oldest sister, Anna Lisa Crone. My aunt was a blonde beauty and a warm wit who spoke eight or nine languages fluently, and left behind her upbringing in rural North Carolina to marry and live among Russian intellectuals. She got her PhD from Harvard and taught in the Slavic department at the University of Chicago for nearly 30 years. At her memorial service, held in an ivy-shrouded Gothic chapel on the campus of the Divinity School, distraught colleagues and students stood up one after the other and bore witness to her achievements as a friend, scholar, mentor and teacher. My mother, who gave the eulogy, repeated that my aunt's essential engagement with life was as an educator even when she was a little girl, drilling her baby sister in Latin conjugations for fun.
Although she contended with sexism at the beginning of her career, my aunt survived to be lauded nationally and internationally for her contributions to the study of Russian letters and even more so, to the community of scholars who loved these 18th, 19th and 20th century writers--Derzhavin, Tsvetayeva, Turgenev--as much as she did.
My aunt was a specialist. She was an expert in a concentrated area of the humanities with no immediate economic payoff, the type of department that is most likely to be targeted for cuts in an era of scarcity like today's. Her life's work was not interdisciplinary or innovative when it came to technology or a million other buzzwords. She imparted her wisdom as a teacher the old-fashioned way, through time and intense attention, face to face.
I'm working on a book about the future of higher education: cost, access, productivity, specific learning outcomes, and many other values that can be measured. In honor of my aunt's memory, and of my parents, who are both lifelong academics as well, I will be working hard to keep in mind the values of education that cannot be measured.