A Conversation With Associate Academic Dean, Emeritus, J. Ronald Spencer

By Brendan W. Clark ’21

Professor and Associate Academic Dean, Emeritus, J. Ronald Spencer

Editor; History Major 

Professor and Associate Academic Dean, Emeritus, J. Ronald Spencer ’64 has long been a fixture of Trinity College and for more than forty years taught the history of the Civil War, among other topics, in the Trinity College History Department.

While at Trinity, Spencer studied history and took a class colloquially referred to as from “Christ to Khrushchev.” Spencer notes that during his early years as a history major, United States history was relatively weak in comparison to the European canon. Spencer recalls that that changed when former Professor Edward “Ted” Sloan, Charles H. Northam Professor of History, a graduate of Harvard and Yale, arrived on the campus.

Spencer was also involved in The Trinity Tripod, working for two years as news editor. Further, Spencer also held an internship with the now-defunct Hartford Times while a student. After gaining his master’s degree from Columbia University, Spencer was invited to come back to Trinity to lecture in history. After serving full-time in the History Department, Spencer was quickly promoted, eventually becoming the Associate Academic Dean for 28 years and serving in the Dean’s Office for 37 years.

Spencer stepped down from his role as Dean in the spring of 2009 and continued to teach part-time. Despite his role as an Academic Dean, Spencer recalled fondly that “there was never a semester in 41 years that I didn’t teach.” As Dean, Spencer was a self-described “jack of all trades,” serving as Secretary of Curriculum Committee, encouraging the creation of the American Studies and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Departments, championing the creation of the Cities Gateway Program and the Interdisciplinary Science Program (ISP), and leading the establishment of the Leonard Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life, among many other activities. With such extensive work, Spencer characterized his role as “at least a 6 day a week job.”

Further, as a lecturer in history, Spencer taught courses in the history of the Civil War, his specialty. He also had the pleasure of teaching a course with his mentor, Sloan, and for his last years in the History Department taught courses on the “Coming of the Civil War” and “The Civil War and Restoration.”

When asked about the students and the current state of Trinity, Spencer added that the “quality of the student body has always remained consistent. There has always been a fraction of extremely bright students, lots of interested students, and a fair share of goof-offs.”

On his love for Trinity, Spencer recalls “walking through the Downe’s Arch and seeing the quad,” knowing from that moment on that he would forever love Trinity College. Spencer himself lived for many years at 71 Vernon Street, the current location of the Greenberg Center, and remains an active presence on this campus.

In his retirement, Spencer has published a book on Gideon Welles, who served as President Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of the Navy and has remained active in local historical boards within the Hartford region. Spencer is also a frequent guest at the monthly Faculty Luncheons sponsored by the Greenberg Center.

For the current Trinity student, Spencer reminds us of the importance of enjoying our time as undergraduate students. Indeed, says Spencer, “Four years of college are an opportunity to pursue the kind of friendships and relationships you wish to cherish for all of your life.” Spencer has and continues to remain a prominent figure whose contributions to Trinity College are worthy of commendation and merit.

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