Published May 6, 2016
As a young man with a new doctorate from Oxford University, Claude Welch had two immediate job offers.
One, from the U.S. state department, would have required him and his young family to move to a new posting every few years.
The other, from UB, would allow the family to locate near his wife’s parents in Rochester. And as an academic, Welch would have the freedom to express his views, rather than “parroting the line” of whatever U.S. administration was in office at the time.
Besides, UB paid more.
Five-plus decades later, it’s been a long, accomplished and thoroughly enjoyable run for Welch.
The SUNY Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science is retiring at the end of the semester after 52 years at UB. He has served in a variety of roles since joining the faculty in 1964: He’s been an administrator, award-winning teacher, groundbreaking scholar, dedicated leader for faculty governance and even a student, regularly auditing classes taught by other faculty.
The consummate university citizen, Welch will receive the UB President’s Medal in recognition of extraordinary service to the university during UB’s 170th annual University Commencement on May 15.
“As an academic, Claude is an inspirational model for young faculty as someone who has made distinguished contributions to UB’s research, teaching and service missions,” says political science associate professor and department chair Harvey Palmer. “What makes Claude’s contributions so special is the passion he brings to his work and the broader scope of the impact those contributions have made.
“Just as Claude establishes lifelong connections with his students,” Palmer says, “he has devoted himself fully to improving UB as an institution and Buffalo as a community, and to increasing awareness of human rights issues.
“In short, Claude has made a lasting impact on society, as well as UB.”
The UB Reporter recently sat down with Welch in his corner office on the fourth floor of Park Hall to talk about his long and distinguished career. The space offers a view of two parking lots, the requisite bookshelf-lined walls, numerous filing cabinets and just enough room for his bicycle — Welch was commuting to campus by bicycle long before it became fashionable and has the battle scars, including a mended collarbone, to prove it.
During the hour-long conversation — how do you cover a half-century in an hour? — Welch talked about his varied roles at UB.
The study of human rights within the field of political science was in its infancy when Welch turned his research focus to human rights in Africa. Now, 35 years later, prominent colleagues in the field — some of whom were on campus last week to attend an academic panel and reception to celebrate Welch’s retirement — call him a “pioneer” and “one of the founders of the field.”
His work has earned him Lifetime Achievement and Distinguished Scholar awards from such noted groups as the International Studies Association and the American Political Science Association, plus TIAA-CREF and the SUNY Research Foundation.
His interest in human rights began at an early age. He was greatly influenced by his eighth-grade teacher, Spike Downes, “an incredibly dedicated New Deal democrat,” and by his great uncle, Joseph Nye Welch, who was the chief counsel for the U.S. Army in the 1950s during the investigations of alleged communist activities in the federal government led by Sen. Joseph McCarthy. (It was Welch who asked McCarthy that famous question — “Have you no sense of decency?” — that many consider to be the beginning of the end for McCarthyism.)
Joseph Welch, grandnephew Claude said, was “an incredibly important figure for standing up for civil liberties, the rule of law and rational discourse.”
As an undergraduate at Harvard, Welch wrote his thesis on self-determination for Namibia, which at the time was under the rule of South Africa. He “became acquainted with international law and international human rights.”
Oxford, he said, was a great place to study for his doctorate, given the number of Africans at the university and the ample opportunity for interaction and fieldwork in Africa.
His first book focused on human rights, “Human Rights and Development in Africa” (SUNY Press, 1984), sprang from a conference he organized on the topic at UB. An edited book of original essays, it was selected as one of the outstanding academic books of 1984 by Choice, the academic unit of the American Library Association.
Of his 14 books, he is most proud of “Protecting Human Rights in Africa” (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995), which was named by Choice as one of the outstanding books of 1995 and also short-listed by the African Studies Association for its highest book award. The book focused on the roles and strategies of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), which for many years, Welch said, were not allowed to function under dictatorial regimes.
He received funding from the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Fulbright Foundation, as well as sabbatical support from UB, to go to Africa to do fieldwork for the book. He spent a month each in Namibia, Ethiopia, Nigeria and Senegal, and additional time in Switzerland at UN headquarters. Welch originally envisioned writing a chapter on each country. While partway through his fieldwork, he decided to organize the book according to topics, rather than geography. He ended up with six themes: documentation, democratization, development, education, enforcement and empowerment, and selected an interesting NGO or two to illustrate each topic.
“I really loved writing this book; that was the best,” he said, adding, “It was the fieldwork that made the difference.” That fieldwork, he noted, came at a very critical junction in time: The Cold War had ended, civil society was much more open and NGOs could start to flourish.
Welch has been cited numerous times for his teaching — the long list includes the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching (1974); the Milton Plesur Award for Teaching Excellence from the undergraduate Student Association (1974, 1999 and 2010); the Outstanding Teaching Award from Pi Sigma Alpha (2010), the national political science honor society; and the Lisa Hertel Award for outstanding professor (1997, 2005 and 2009) from UB’s Political Science Undergraduate Student Association.
Welch’s work as a scholar has permeated his role as a teacher: In fact, he said, scholarship is intertwined with teaching.
“The best scholars can be the best teachers,” he said, “if they bring in the latest results in their field and if they make it interesting, and especially, relevant to those students.”
In the end, it all comes down to having an impact on students, he stressed.
He recalled as especially memorable students Aaron Krolikowski, who took an honors seminar Welch taught on African politics through novels and films that “shifted his entire outlook on life.” Krolikowski switched his major from engineering to political science, Welch said. After attending Oxford University on a four-year postgraduate Clarendon Scholarship, Krolikowski is back in Buffalo, working with an international NGO on water.
And Jori Breslawski, whose senior thesis Welch and his wife, Jeannette Ludwig, associate professor of French, supervised. Breslawski has gone on to do “brilliant graduate work at the University of Maryland,” he said.
And then there’s the letter Welch received from an employee of the Tonawanda highway department who took a class from him 25 years ago. “He said he really liked the class, but more important, he appreciated the time I spent talking to him before he ever came to UB,” Welch said.
“That’s the kind of thing that really makes a difference — it’s the human touch.”
That’s one of the reasons Welch said he continues to work with undergraduates — not many senior faculty members can say they taught World Civilization — a basic undergraduate course — for nearly 20 years.
He also enjoys auditing undergraduate courses to see how others teach and to learn about different subjects. He’s just finishing courses on American cultural history and African-American history taught by history professors Tamara Thornton and Jason Young.
“I’ve had the privilege of sitting in with some of the finest teachers at UB,” he said, singling out in particular Carole Emberton (Civil War) and Shaun Irlam (African literature), as well as Thornton and Young. “I took Stacey Hubbard’s course on modern poetry. That was fabulous,” he said, adding he has attended the Buffalo Film Seminars, an English course taught by faculty members Bruce Jackson and Diane Christian, for a decade. He plans to sit in on an intro to geology class in the fall.
“That keeps me fresh — the students and other courses. That’s, in part, why it was hard to retire.”
Ask Welch about his university service and he points with particular pride to his work with the Faculty Senate. He served two terms as chair — from 1985-87 and from 1995-97 — and over the years has been a member of or headed numerous key senate committees, including Budget Priorities, Governance, Academic Planning, Student Affairs, Academic Integrity and Teaching Effectiveness.
“I really feel very strongly about faculty governance … faculty participation as well-informed advocates and advisers to the administration.”
He strongly supports the new shared governance initiative led by current senate chair Philip Glick and Professional Staff Senate chair Domenic Licata.
He also served as a member of the President’s Review Board for nine years, including three as chair. Welch believes it fit well with his interest in governance and advocacy. Sitting on the board was a “fundamentally important place to be,” he said, noting it offered “a way to learn more about the rest of the university.”
Service to the university — and the broader community — remain important to Welch.
“Why earn $25 to lecture at Baptist Manor on Nelson Mandela to senior citizens? That’s a community service,” he said. “I think we as members of the university are publicly supported and we should be doing such things. And as part of the community, we should rejoice in the fact we have a fine university in a reviving city and that working together — city, suburbs and university — we can go on to even better things.
“I like to think I’ve contributed a bit in all of those areas.”
Ludwig will retire after the fall 2016 semester and then the couple plans to travel — the list includes the Iowa State Fair (Ludwig grew up in Des Moines), some national parks and U.S. presidential homes — and teach courses at the Chautauqua Institution, where they own a small condominium. They both love traveling overseas — they taught in Singapore during the spring 2015 semester — and plan to spend more time outside the U.S.
He’ll continue giving talks in the community, and also will teach human rights as adjunct faculty in the fall.
And there’s another book in the wings, one he’s been working on, off and on, for 15 years. Selected chapters already have been published in Human Rights Quarterly. Titled “Protecting Human Rights Globally: Roles and Strategies of International NGOs,” it concentrates on the impact of small, international human rights NGOs on major long-term and “seemingly insoluble” global human rights issues including contemporary forms of slavery, racism, impunity from major international crimes and discrimination based on descent.
Welch has kept up the pace for more than 50 years.
“I don’t like cruising along,” he said. “It’s basically inner drive and love of the institution.”
Perhaps Welch’s longtime UB colleague, political science professor Frank Zagare, said it best: “Claude is the one person in the Department of Political Science who simply cannot be replaced. He will be sincerely missed by both his colleagues and his ever-loyal students.”
Claude has been an inspiration and a model for my understanding of what it is to be a university professor — a scholar, a citizen, an adviser, a teacher, a student and a member of multiple communities.
He is irreplaceable.
We wish Claude a continued rich life with the health he's biked for, the mind he has nourished, the friends he has gathered, wonderful Jeannette and the evolution of all the many things in which he is uniquely great! Cent'anni!
Fr. Pat Keleher