After years of speculation, Sterling Professor Emeritus Vincent Scully ’40 GRD ’49 announced last August that his teaching days were finally over. But in a phone interview Tuesday evening, the 89-year-old Scully said he might change his mind.
“It’s been hell,” Scully said, reflecting on the past few months without teaching. “I first made [the departure] sound final, but the way I feel now, the hope is that it isn’t.”
If asked early this fall, Scully would not have considered the prospect of teaching again, he said. But having spent the past few months away from Yale, he said he finds the possibility of teaching — even as early as next fall — increasingly appealing.
“The legend continues,” said Yale College Dean Mary Miller, also a Sterling professor of art history, when informed of Scully’s interest in returning.
But Scully’s had not previously revealed his wish to return, and the University has spent the semester planning for Yale after Scully.
This fall was the first since 1947 without Scully teaching “Introduction to the History of Art: Prehistory to Renaissance.”
The famed lecture, which Milette Gaifman, the director of undergraduate studies for the History of Art Department, called a “flagship course,” was not taught this year, leaving a noticeable void in the department and the Yale College curriculum.
“Vince is like a Madonna or Cher, one of those few people who can be known by a single name,” history of art professor Diana Kleiner said. “When students talked about taking his classes, they would say ‘I’m taking Scully,’ not ‘I’m taking Modern Architecture.’ ”
While Scully said he hopes he might be able to return to his lectern, the History of Art Department and the School of Architecture have already started getting on without Scully. Plans are already underway for the reinstitution of classes once taught by Scully, and new faculty recruitment is a possibility at the History of Art Department. Though Gaifman was quick to emphasize that the department will never be able to replace professor Scully, she said they are planning to offer the survey class again, perhaps as soon as next fall.
Chair of the History of Art Department Alexander Nemerov GRD ’92, who teaches the Renaissance-to-present segment of the introductory lecture in the spring, had a more definitive answer: “We certainly will have a replacement course in place next fall.”
But a new hire may no longer be necessary now that Scully has expressed interest in returning to teach the introductory lecture.
“I would like to teach the introductory course again, but I’m not sure what would be appropriate for [the department]” Scully added. If the department finds another professor to teach the introductory lecture, Scully said he would teach his other renowned class, “Modern Architecture.”
Nemerov, who had yet to learn of Scully’s desire to teach again, added that the department was looking beyond Scully’s departure with a “sense of optimism” for the department’s future. By focusing on undergraduate education and faculty recruitment, Nemerov said, he is confident the department will maintain its distinguished reputation.
Scully stopped teaching the architectural history course in 1996 after sensing pressures from the School of Architecture to teach the course differently, he said. Around the time of his retirement in 1991, Scully said, a rift began to develop between the School of Architecture and the History of Art Department.
“There was a time when many of the courses in the History of Art department were taught by teachers from the Architecture School,” Scully said. “But not anymore.”
Having maintained posts at both the school and the department for decades, Scully said he had acted as a bridge between the two, which were physically joined in 2008 with the addition of the Loria Center to Paul Rudolph Hall. If he does return to teach the class, Scully said he would teach it under the History of Art Department in order to create more ties between architecture and history of art at Yale. Scully added that he wishes for more architecture history classes in the offerings of the History of Art department, which he said would help to connect the department with the School.
Meanwhile, next year, two new architectural history survey classes for undergraduates will be added to the School of Architecture’s curriculum: “Introduction to the History of Architecture I and II,” to be taught by Peggy Deamer and Eeva-Liisa Pelkonen ARC ’94, Dean of the School of Architecture Robert A.M. Stern ARC ’65 said. The new survey classes are an effort by the School to build bridges with Yale College, Stern added.
“When I was a student here, Scully certainly was a major bridge,” Stern said. “But he always wanted to be known, I think, as an art historian who specialized in architecture.”
Scully majored in English as a student at Yale College, taking his first History of Art class during his senior year. After first entering the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences to study English, he switched to History of Art, graduating with a master’s in 1947 and then a doctorate in 1949.