2011 Letter from Ph.D. Dissertation Advisor Prof. George A. Starr

From U. C. Berkeley Prof. G. A. Starr:

Mr. Sewall has asked me to write in his behalf regarding his qualifications for a teaching position, and I am happy to do so, even though it is forty years since he was a Berkeley graduate student. He was here at a turbulent time, when Berkeley had recently undergone the Free Speech Movement and was in the throes of campaigns to establish what eventually became two academic departments (Ethnic Studies and African-American Studies), during which the campus was shut down by a strike of the Third World Liberation Front, massive protests, counter-actions by Alameda County Deputy Sheriffs (the "Blue Meanies"), an arson fire that destroyed the main campus auditorium, tear-gassing of the campus by the National Guard, and sundry lesser distractions. And in the "background" (although very much in the foreground of awareness of draft-eligible male graduate students and many other conscientious people) was the ongoing Vietnam War.

So it is a wonder that some idealistic young men, of whom Sewall certainly was one, managed to reconcile their principled social and ethical concerns with the intellectual interests that had brought them to graduate school in the first place. And it is especially remarkable that any of them, whose commitment to the academic study of literature was trumped for a time by their hope to contribute to the causes of peace and social justice, nevertheless succeeded sooner or later in completing all the requirements for the Ph.D., and in connecting their political engagement with their dedication to teaching and research.

This was in my opinion a noteworthy achievement of Sewall's. Had he come along at a different time, and followed a more conventional path, he would no doubt have had a conventionally illustrious career. There is no question that the quality of his intelligence, his interest in significant methodological and interpretative issues regarding Henry Fielding and the early British novel, and his skill and conscientiousness as a teacher, would have enabled him to thrive in a first-rate English Department in a major institution.

As it is, he has had a colorful, varied, and less prosaic career, in the course of which he has retained his devotion to education, and to the centrality of reading and writing for  his students' effectiveness as citizens and their well-roundedness as human beings. Our contacts since he left Berkeley have been only intermittent, but it is clear to me that his cultivation of what used to be called humane letters has never flagged, and that his gift for imparting to students both the excitement of serious ideas and the mastery of practical skills is as vigorous as ever. I am therefore happy to be able to recommend him enthusiastically for a teaching position.