Is there anything people would be surprised to learn about you?
Most people tend to categorize academics as "book worms". I tried as a child to worm my way through the Public Library with considerable success. However, recognizing that the prime American contribution to world culture is baseball and jazz, I passionately filled my life in pursuit of both. My personal skills as a shortstop, honed on the rocky sandlots of the Bronx, remained with me throughout my life both as an avid fan and eventually, as a coach of the NYU baseball team, a position I enjoyed for several years. Contrary to the assumption that a "Bronx boy" would be a devoted Yankee fan, I became a rabid fan of the Detroit Tigers and of my role model, Hank Greenberg, affectionately known as the Hebrew Hammer. And to address my love of Jazz, I was viscerally connected to my trumpet which I practiced with fervor and which resulted in my being able to play professionally in swing and Latin bands.
How long have you been at NYU and at Liberal Studies?
My teaching career spans better than 60 years. I have taught every grade from the fifth starting in 1957 through graduate school. As an evolving teacher, I practically replicated my own long educational experience. I was tenured as a professor of mathematics at C.W. Post, but ultimately I abandoned mathematics for philosophy. I taught my first course at NYU in 1967, as a visiting adjunct and eventually was tenured in the Philosophy Department and served it in a host of ways including Department Chairperson and Director of Undergraduate Studies. Upon my retirement from the department in 2007 I moved to the Liberal Studies Program and the Stern School of Business until my final retirement at the close of the current semester.
What have you taught over the years and what has been the most fun or rewarding to teach?
I have taught a very wide range of courses. When in mathematics my areas of concentration were Mathematical Logic, Probability and Statistics and the History of Mathematics. I was initially hired by the Philosophy Department to teach logic on many levels but my varied interests took me far afield. Over time, I taught every period in the history of the philosophical discipline, from Ancient to Modern. The eclectic array of courses I've designed and taught over the years include American Philosophy, Practical Reasoning, War and Morality, The Philosophy of Law, The Philosophy of Education, The Philosophy of Humor, The Philosophy of Sports, and Philosophy and Literature.
What changes have you observed throughout your time in New York City and at NYU?
This question is too large to deal with in a few lines. The city has devolved into a place that makes stark the gross inequality of income, a problem that continues to influence the student body. Manhattan has become a playground for a privileged elite. Rents have skyrocketed and small businesses that resided at the heart of neighborhoods have been squeezed out by amazonian mega-stores altering, to its detriment, the profile of the city. On a positive note, NYU has seen its student body transformed from a tri-state commuter school to one demographically diverse. Another most radical change is in how students learn and it is reflected in student life. The new technologies have penetrated and altered all aspects of the culture including educational processes. Retention, writing skills, and reading habits have all been impacted, negatively in my view. But don't get me started...
What you'll miss the most about teaching:
Initially, I suspect that I will miss my daily passion of creating a dynamic learning environment. The ultimate challenge we as educators face is the preparation of persons to live in a future world whose contours and dynamics are unpredictable. I've taken up this challenge for many decades, and I will surely miss its absence in my life.
Additionally, I will miss the interactions with students that have enriched my life and have contributed to my perspectives as well. My connection to the NYU student body has been forged by my inclusion in student life beyond the classroom. In addition, I look back fondly on my sixteen years as the Faculty in Residence in the Third North dormitory. No more of the fun bagel brunches that I hosted during exam days! My belief is that teaching is often a theatrical process and I have always loved doing my "stand-up" role over the years. One student paid me a cherished compliment in a course evaluation: "Getting taught by Gurland is like getting taught by George Carlin." Alas, through retirement, I will lose my audience and the opportunity to air my ideas and arguments. In addition, I will miss preparation for class. Crafting my lectures involves expansion and examination of my own ideas, thus promoting my personal intellectual growth.
My life, in the main, has been played out in the classroom. To leave its environs involves an irreplaceable loss. But I will always be grateful to NYU for providing me with the opportunity to participate in "passing the torch" and for offering me a platform to insinuate myself into the personal and intellectual lives of so many young persons.