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Professor expands history of RIT

RIT was moving toward its 150th year when Dane Gordon took on the task of documenting the institute’s past.

In the early 1970s Paul Miller, then president, asked Gordon to write a history.

Dane Gordon, professor emeritus in philosophy, is updating his book on the history of RIT.

“It took me 10 years,” says Gordon. “It proved to be a much bigger task than I anticipated, but I am glad to have done it.”

Gordon’s scholarly, 428-page book, Rochester Institute of Technology: Industrial Development and Educational Innovation in an American City, was published in 1982 by Edwin Mellen Press. He is now writing a version that will bring the RIT history to the present. He anticipates it will be published by mid-2005. (In the meantime, the first version is available through RIT’s Campus Connections store and other book retailers.) He accepted the project at the request of President Albert Simone.

Since he began in September 2000, Gordon has immersed himself in institute committee reports, minutes, reports, letters, institute publications, books, journals and newspapers – whatever he can find that is relevant. He has conducted almost 150 interviews. Gordon spends several hours each day working on the book in his office and in the RIT archives.

“A great deal has happened in the past 20 or so years,” Gordon notes, and he has witnessed it all from his perspective as a faculty member in the department of philosophy, acting dean and administrator of the College of Liberal Arts.

A native of England, Gordon studied history, theology and philosophy at the universities of Cambridge and London in England and at the University of Rochester. He and his first wife, Elizabeth, who was American (she died of cancer in 1987) moved to Rochester from England in the early 1950s. He and his second wife, Judy, also American, continue to live in the area.

He has written numerous books. In 2003 he co-edited Epicurus: His Continuing Influence and Contemporary Relevance (Cary Graphic Arts Press) with his colleague David Suits, professor of philosophy. In 2002 Gordon wrote A Feeling Intellect and a Thinking Heart, (Rowman & Littlefield), and in 1998, Philosophy and Vision (Rodopi Bv Editions).

Of the many important events of the past quarter-century at RIT, a controversy that arose in 1991 over the RIT-CIA connection was one of the most significant, in Gordon’s view. He has devoted more time to that than to any other topic in the book. But as divisive as the episode was, Gordon believes it led to positive changes. “In certain ways,” he says, “it matured the institute.”

The long list of milestones and accomplishments of the past 25 years has transformed RIT. “It’s in a much bigger league now,” says Gordon. “We have become a powerful technological university,” says Gordon.

At the same time, he notes, “RIT has always been more than a technological place. From its beginning it has had concern for the whole life of the student. That remains true.

“What RIT is now is the result of a long, slow growth,” says Gordon. “It could not be where it is without what was done before” – a point, Gordon feels, that is often overlooked by those who do not give attention to the university’s history.

With Gordon’s new book it will be possible to revisit every step along the way.