On Teaching at Yale


Publication History:

“On Teaching at Yale,” in Book for Mary. Festschrift for the 70th birthday of Mary McLeod, edited by Joan Ockman et al., 106-110.  Private print run, 2020

The text posted here may be different from the published version. Please only cite from copy in print

Just a few weeks ago I learned that Mary McLeod recently served as the Vincent Scully Visiting Professor of Architectural History at the Yale School of Architecture. I held the same position a number of years ago, and I remember my time at Yale fondly; it was one of the high points of my career as an educator. However, pas de rose sans épine, the procedure for my appointment to that position was laborious. I was then teaching full-time in a French school of architecture; tenure in French universities came with civil servant status back then (it still does, mostly), and I knew that my application for a leave of absence would have to navigate various echelons of the French civil service all the way up to the office of the minister who would eventually, if I was fortunate, sign off on it. This is to say that when the then dean of the Yale SoA first called me (he actually called me, on the phone) to mention the possibility of a multi-year appointment, I had to take some time to investigate all the administrative nuts and bolts of the matter. I told him that I would call him back, and so I did, a few weeks later. 

What follows here are excerpts from that phone call, which must have been memorable for me, as I still recall it, almost verbatim, eleven years later. The time was probably the late spring or summer of 2009. Nicolas Sarkozy was then president of France, the post-2008 debt crisis was ravaging the south of Europe, and Barack Obama had just been elected president of the U.S. (We did not know yet of the “birther” conspiracy, as evidenced by the conversation.) I dedicate this snippet to Mary’s time at Yale, which I am certain was as fruitful and enjoyable as mine was, in very different times; to my “interlocutor” in that conversation, whom I shall not name, as no name is needed; and to the Yale SoA.


—Yes: when. The start date. If I need a leave of absence, I must apply for it at least twelve months in advance, ideally more.

—You are jumping the gun.

—What?! I never touched a gun in my life.

—I thought so. Are you a wimp, like most Europeans?


—It’s not your fault. It’s Europe. Europeans wake up late, do not shower, and do nothing all day because they get everything free from the State. That’s why Europe is bankrupt: see what’s happening in Greece.

—Is Germany bankrupt?

—It will be. Your only hope is the new French president. We are all for the new president.

—He is not 100 percent French. He is part Hungarian. But that’s irrelevant in this Republic, as in yours. Moving forward, if we proceed toward the appointment, who is my interlocutor going to be?


—I mean…

—I know what it means. But it’s not a word we use.

—Which word would you use?

—We would say: “the guy I’ll be talking to.”

—Fine: who’s the guy I shall be talking to?


—And do you know what my teaching assignment would be?

—No. But you would need to show up once a week at my parties during the term and drink martinis.

—That may be a problem. I am a teetotaler.

—Is that a disease?

—It is a dietary issue. But when I am in America, I often find it easier to say that I am a Mennonite.

—There are no Mennonites in Italy—nor many Protestants left, in general.

—There are a few Calvinists in the part of Italy I come from. But you are right, most were exterminated during the wars of religion. “Avenge O Lord thy slaughtered saints, whose bones lie scattered on the Alpine mountain cold…”


—Milton. But if it had been Browning, I could have answered: not the gun, the poet.

—You are hired.


Book for Mary. Festschrift for the 70th birthday of Mary McLeod


“On Teaching at Yale,” in Book for Mary. Festschrift for the 70th birthday of Mary McLeod, edited by Joan Ockman et al., 106-110.  Private print run, 2020