by Shannon Glebba
Manhattan College’s Religious Studies department has undergone a change in leadership as Robert Geraci, Ph.D., took over the position as department chair. The position opened up after Professor Michele Saracino, Ph.D., finished her term as chair last year.
The process of deciding on a new chairperson is fairly simple, and Geraci explained that the entire religious studies department was involved in the decision.
“The way it works is that the dean is supposed to come with a name and put the name in front of the department and then you have a secret ballot,” said Geraci. “But it’s a ratification- yes or no. Then if the department says no, then another name [is brought up]. It wasn’t controversial; mine was the only name that was put up.”
While Saracino’s term as chair may have ended, she has fond memories of holding the position and thinks Geraci will be able to bring the department continual success.
“I enjoyed being chair very much. It gave me the chance to work closely with our fine students and develop our Religion Matters program. The department is very lucky to have someone as committed as Dr. Geraci as the new chair; and I look forward to all the good work and important initiatives he undoubtedly will develop in the upcoming years,” said Saracino.
Geraci hopes to continue to carry out the aspects of the department which make it unique, but also hopes to make some changes, including the hiring of two new professors.
“We are hiring two people next semester. […] So, we are hiring a womanist ethicist, we hope. And then we are hiring a visiting person, for like a three-year gig in East and Southeast Asia,” said Geraci. “Those will be big changes to the department, we’re excited about bringing new colleagues in.”
In an email statement, Religious Studies associate professor, David Shefferman, Ph.D., also commented on what changes he is expecting from the shift in leadership within the religious studies department.
“I suspect that the main changes primarily will be matters of style. Dr. Geraci is organized and tech-savvy, so he’s already streamlined ways in which the department shares information internally as well as our outreach (e.g. our online “news site”).”
Shefferman continued, “[Geraci] also has been a thoughtful and tireless advocate on broad issues like fair compensation and support of adjunct and contingent faculty, so I’m sure that Religious Studies, with Dr. Geraci as our main representative to those outside the department, will remain a visible and vocal advocate not only for thoughtful study of religion but also for under-recognized members of the campus community and beyond.”
While Geraci has been teaching at Manhattan College since 2005, becoming chair presents a new set of responsibilities.
When asked what is expected of the department chair, Geraci was able to clearly outline his role in the position.
“It means signing forms for students who are hoping to add or drop classes. It means advising for majors and minors if they need to talk about their schedules. To some extent it means career counseling and advising when people want to come up and talk about graduate school or what kinds of career planning they might do in college. [..],” said Geraci. “There are a lot of meetings and other forms of paperwork.”
Shefferman also has a deep understanding of the relationship between the department chairperson and their fellow professors.
“All that’s to say that the chair does not really affect when, what, or how I teach. Those issues come out of ongoing, department-wide discussions that the chair coordinates (more than decides),” said Shefferman. “That means that, in a larger department full of diverse personalities and interests like religious studies, the chair must feel like the ringmaster of a three-ring circus a lot of the time!”
Overall, Geraci encourages students of the religious studies department to present their concerns and thoughts of the department, so he can facilitate meaningful adjustments.
“I would like to reiterate that if students have, not just concerns, but interests in what they would like, not just in terms of our classes, but our programming,” said Geraci. If students have interests in what programming they might engage in, then I would love to hear from them, so we can meet their needs as best as possible,” said Geraci.