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Alumni Life: Faculty Fave

Calling it a Career

A grateful campus salutes one of its most influential teacher-scholars after five decades of service

In Their Own Words: UB alumni share thoughts as Claude Welch retires.

By Ann Whitcher Gentzke

When SUNY Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science Claude E. Welch Jr. announced his retirement after a 52-year career, the news resounded among the legions of alumni who attended his lectures and experienced his expansive worldview as an Africanist and human rights scholar. Responding to a call from the UB Alumni Association for anecdotes, former students remembered his vigorous teaching style and commitment to them as individuals. Welch’s remarkable career—14 books, service on 60 dissertation committees, repeated awards for pedagogical excellence—was feted throughout the spring. A retirement celebration in April brought together leading human rights experts, and in May, Welch was honored with the UB President’s Medal at the University Commencement. Yet one suspects the heartfelt comments of his students, a selection of which follows, are the best tribute of all.

Claude Welch at his retirement party in April.

Claude Welch at his retirement party in April.

Faranack N. Benz (MA ’15)
Amherst, N.Y.

One of my real-life experiences was fleeing from one country to another for political reasons, and coming to the West with the help of the UNHCR. I couldn’t talk about these experiences openly until Dr. Welch made them part of our class program. With his help, I could explain the whole journey and feel safe. Later on, he helped me to choose the South Caucasus region as a focus area for my studies. Today, as a PhD student, I am continuing my journey. Thank you.

Frank Bradley, BA ’93
New York, N.Y.
After taking African politics with Dr. Welch, I actively sought out other coursework with him. You had to bring your “A-Game” to keep up. He was challenging, good humored and inspiring, and he took some fairly heady topics and made them immediate and real to his students. To this day, I find myself rereading texts from his civil-military relations course.


Melissa Chester, BA ’90

Denver, N.C.
I had heard that Professor Welch challenged students’ minds, so I took my first class with him my second semester—and boy, was I challenged. The work was not the thing—he made me think and then re-rethink my opinions about all kinds of things. He made my mind truly work.


Paul J. Cornish, PhD ’95, MA ’91

Grand Rapids, Mich.
Professor Welch was my first supervisor when I started as a graduate student teaching assistant in 1989. His lectures in African politics were truly remarkable, and his commitment to the study of human rights inspired me to continue the work I had started as an undergraduate. He is a great educator and a true gentleman.


Paul Fisk, BA ’66

Albany, N.Y.
Professor Welch stands out in my memory as one of the best informed, most caring and highly respected of a great assembled cast of poli-sci professors. And he was a very good teacher.

The young professor

The young professor


Carolina Guity, BA ’09

Ner York, N.Y.
It seems like yesterday that you supervised my 2006-2007 internship with the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs, and I will forever be grateful for your faith in me; if it wasn’t for that opening door, I wouldn’t be where I am now, at the Department of Justice in the Executive Office of Immigration Review. Hearing cases regarding different countries around the world takes me back to conversations I had with classmates who took your world civ class.


Mark W. Huddleston, BA ’72

Durham, N.H.
Claude Welch was my mentor and role model when I was an undergraduate at UB (and a dear colleague when I returned to teach some years later). Claude supervised my senior thesis and inspired me to pursue an MA and PhD in African politics. Indeed, it was Claude, more than anyone, who inspired me to become an academic.


Marc Hurwitz, BA ’97

Miami, Fla.
Congratulations, Dr. Welch! You were a great mentor, and your values on human rights guided me throughout my tenure in the government. Your inscribed book has stayed a part of my library through my many moves.
 

Waverly Jenkins (BA ’68)
Berkeley, Calif.
I am indebted for your plumbing all your considerable intellectual resources on my behalf as your student ... and from dissuading me from Oxford and Cambridge when selecting an institution for graduate study. (Ed. note: Jenkins went on to earn a master's at Berkeley.)


Nantang Jua (PhD ’82)
Columbia, S.C.
Arguably, Ruyard Kipling was imagining Professor Claude Welch Jr. when he wrote his epic poem “If—.” And so, it is befitting to proclaim, d'après Kipling, “my son, you are man” at this juncture where Dr. Welch takes his place in the pantheon.


Rasel Mpuya Madaha (MA ’12)

Tanzania
I left UB in June 2012 to proceed with my PhD study at the University of Dar es Salaam. Dr. Welch advised me as a graduate student and was the first professor to welcome me to UB. I am also glad that I had an opportunity to bring him a cup of coffee in one of his classes I attended. The paper I produced in his class enabled me to travel to Senegal in 2011 and to Vancouver in 2015. After nearly three years at the University of Dar es Salaam, I discovered that I couldn’t diverge from the ideas he instilled in me. I had no choice but to send him a 400-page PhD thesis. He reviewed the entire thesis and my two Tanzanian supervisors subsequently approved it. Professor Welch is trustworthy and sticks to his word. I am lucky to have studied under him at UB. 


Esther Misrahi (BA ’78)
Monroe, N.J.
Dr. Welch was my African politics teacher in 1977. He was a dynamic and very participatory professor. He made a class that I thought would be dry and boring, interesting and vibrant! He made the whole class engage in conversations about the subject material and was really a great teacher. I never forgot him! 


Vivian Wiesner Mittleman, BA ’74
Baltimore, Md.
Dr. Welch had a tremendous impact on my life and my career; he nominated me for Phi Beta Kappa and recommended me for admission into the London School of Economics for a semester abroad. He challenged me to think and taught me to analyze. I recently retired as a judge for a federal agency, and I owe a good deal of my success to him.


Kenneth Murray, BA ’84

Buffalo, N.Y.
I took a course on Third World politics with Professor Welch in the early 1980s. We had to subscribe to The New York Times and were responsible for anything in it that related to the developing world. It was quite the challenge, but, because of Professor Welch, it turned out to be one of my favorite classes.


Nicholas P. Nicoletti (PhD ’13)

Joplin, Mo.
Dr. Welch is a distinguished scholar, an amazing professor and a wonderful person. While I never had him as a professor, I had the pleasure of attending several workshops where he shared his vast knowledge of teaching with the graduate students in the political science department. His insights were invaluable and many of them helped me to become the professor I am today. Conversing with Dr. Welch in the halls of Park Hall about research and teaching was a memorable part of my UB experience. I wish him the best and I am proud to have graduated from the department for which he was an instrumental part. 

Welch and law professor Virginia Leary presenting a citation to Jimmy Carter in 1989.

Welch and law professor Virginia Leary presenting a citation to Jimmy Carter in 1989.


Joan Photiadis (BA ’91)
Buffalo, N.Y.
My son Gregory had been a student of Claude Welch 20 years before I enrolled in his classes. Not only is he an extraordinary professor, a fine human being, a prodigious author and a great mentor and scholar, but he warmly welcomed a returning grandmother into his classroom.


Christopher Pucella, EdM ’02, BA ’97

Lowell, Mass.
Professor Welch was a phenomenal instructor who showed his passion for both the curriculum and the students. He introduced me to the politics of Africa, most notably the Nigerian author Chinua Achebe. Achebe’s novel “Things Fall Apart” has stayed with me, especially during my time as a high-school history teacher.


Eric Stegman (BS ’86)
Ridgefield, Conn.
I never had Professor Welch for a class, but I had a roommate who did freshman year. The fact that I still remember the name over 30 years later should tell you something. 


Bennett Stevens, BA ’92

Schenectady, N.Y.
Professor Welch traveled the world absorbing information, and he seemed to be able to have a personal interest in all his students. I was an older student who returned to school after active service in the Army, and he surprised me with his knowledge of the military as well.


Sherry Matthew Tasselmyer, BS ’89

Dryden, N.Y.
In a lecture hall of well over 150 students, Professor Welch knew who I was. One day I said, “You don’t know me, but I am in your sub-Saharan Africa class.” He replied, “Of course I know you. Your name is Sherry, you usually sit three rows up and you currently have an A.” Best wishes in your retirement. You made learning interesting and engaging. Most importantly, you genuinely cared for your students.
 

What’s next?

“I don’t like cruising along,” Welch told the UB Reporter, and his post-retirement plans underscore this philosophy. He is working on book No. 15, and will continue to teach and give talks in the community. After his wife, Jeannette Ludwig, associate professor of Romance languages and literatures, retires at the end of the fall 2016 semester, the couple plan additional travel in the U.S. and abroad.

Through great teaching, SUNY Distinguished Service Professor Claude Welch introduces students to new ideas and helps them become critical thinkers.