INTERVIEW


 

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Zhang:  So what made you decide to major in English? (Play Audio) 

Carson: I always loved literature in high school, it was one of my favorite classes, but I started out, actually, as a history major. ĎCause I thought I wanted-- I also really liked my history teachers, and I liked history. And I thought I wasnít good enough to be an English major, I thought it was something sort of to aspire to. And so, an early professor at Florida State, a professor of English, said after reading a paper of mine, ďWhy donít you become an English major?Ē ďOh, do you think I can?Ē And that became one of those things that I later worked into an article of mine, that idea of a professor tapping a student. Sometimes all I think thatís needed is for someone to say, ďYou know, I think you could do that,Ē and it just opened up the whole world to me, so I stopped being a history major and became an English major. And a few other things played in there, too, I also-- At that time I thought I was going to teach high school, and I found out that you couldnít just teach American history, which is what I wanted to teach; you had to teach, you know, geography and all sorts of other things if you were-- So you had to major in social science. And then I found out that to teach in high school, you had to take education courses, and I had heard that they were pretty fluffy and not very challenging, so I didnít want to do that, so by that time I was thinking that I wanted to teach in college. So, thatís how I got to English.

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     Carson Discusses her Teaching Experience  (Play Audio)

     Carson: So in 1972, my husband was appointed to assistant professor at Rollins in the physics department, and so it was sort of his turn to get the job, because Iíd always had the jobs before, and so we came here -- he came here. And I thought, Iíve never had any trouble getting a job before, and so surely something will come up either at Rollins or at University of Central Florida, which was then, uh--


Zhang: FTU.


Carson: FTU, Florida Technological University, right, and then it was seven years before a full-time position developed at Rollins, so during those seven years, my daughters were born, and I taught part-time as an adjunct at Rollins, at Valencia; one semester I took over for someone at UCF who was on sabbatical. And so I kept my hand in, and I kept writing during that period, and so that was useful, but there are times when I like to joke that I felt sort of vulturish, sort of waiting for somebody to retire in the English department, and it was an awkward time too, because I felt that I wanted whenever a position became available to come in under my own speed, and not just because I was Bob Carsonís wife; and so I tried not to become really close to any member of the English department, and so I was having to do this balancing act of being a part of the community but sort of keeping hands off so that there wouldnít be a sense that I was, you know, angling for a position. So I felt really good when the position in American lit did become available. There was a national competition, a national search, and so that was good. It was a scary period, because I remember thinking, oh my gosh, what if I never get back in the classroom full-time? On the other side, of course, it looked like it was wonderful because I had that time to be at home with my children when they were very young, but you donít know that when youíre inside that hiatus.
                                                                                                                          
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      Carson Discusses a Memorable Student Moment  (Play Audio)

    Carson: And I remember particularly, once in that class the students were asked to do a presentation, and I donít even know what the presentation -- Well, some book; thatís right, they chose a book and they were giving a background lecture, or maybe just conducting a background discussion on it. And so one group was up in front of the class, giving the presentation, and I noticed that the one person who was leading it was dressed in a blue blazer, and she had a coffee cup, and I was looking at that, and all of a sudden I realized that she was doing -- and she was drawing on the board in a special way, and being sort of frenetic -- and I realized she was doing a parody of me, because at that stage I was at my blue blazer stage, and I always came to class with a coffee cup, and I was always jumping around and writing. And so, suddenly when I realized, of course we all had a really big laugh, and I felt so good because they were relaxed enough and confident enough of our relationship that they knew they could tease me, so -- it was great.

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       Zhang: So, can you give us a reflection of your view from the faculty perspective of the college administration? (Play Audio)

      Carson: Mmm. Uh, I remember how wonderful it was to have Thad come to Rollins. We all look back and smile now, but one of the statements he made early on was, ďRollins is going to become the Harvard of the south.Ē And we all sort of chuckled, I think, and said, ďOh.Ē But it gave us, wow, a sense of possibility. And when he eliminated the major in business, and declared that we were a liberal arts college, and reinstituted the classics, and began to have us associated with the great lakes colleges -- everybody says, ďOh, Kinyon. Thatís a peer college,Ē and, uh-- So there was a wonderful sense of pride that began to develop with Thad, and a sense of identity of ourselves as a liberal arts institution whose peer institutions were those really good small liberal arts colleges in the country, and I think there began to be this sense of, oh, thereís standards that can raised-- that we can meet, right? That we can meet raised standards. And so Thad was just absolutely transformative in that way.

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Zhang: Now look back. How do you view your Rollins career?  (Play Audio)

    

Carson: Ah. I love-- I was going to say every minute of it, but Iím sure thatís not the case, but, uh-- I cannot imagine being at a place other than Rollins that would have given me more joy, allowed me to create more joy for myself. It turned out just absolutely serendipitously to be, I think, the best place for me to use my own talents and skills, and the best place to foster my strengths without forcing me to play to parts of myself that seem dissonant with what I was really about. It allowed me-- Well, I mean by that, I guess, it allowed me mostly to teach. It encouraged me to do research and publishing, but didnít force me to consider that the center of my life. And it valued me for being a teacher, rather than making me feel as if I should be apologetic because that was the center of my life. And I donít think that would have happened at a state university, uh, a very large university. I am so grateful to have been here when Thad was here, when Rita was here; Iím so totally grateful for the students who every day teach me something; for colleagues who allowed, who respected my independence and many of whom have become good friends. Itís just been an absolutely wonderful professional life, and Iím very, very grateful for it.


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