James “Spike” Schiffer – Dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Annie Yu: How did you get that nickname?
James Schiffer: I directed a play based on Shakespeare’s sonnets and I told my cast my name was Spike. It really wasn’t, but they believed me. (Laughs).
AY: Let’s start from the very beginning, how did you end up at New Paltz?
JS: I was head of the English Department at Northern Michigan University and I received a letter to apply for this position. As soon as I met the people and saw the campus, I was very easily persuaded. I thought, “This is the place I want to be.”
AY: What’s a short-term goal or accomplishment you’d like to achieve in the near future?
JS: I like to be stretched and challenged. In my two and a half years here, I’ve learned that this job is more than challenging. With the budget issues, I’d like to help Liberal Arts and Sciences and SUNY New Paltz prosper and stay on the right course. I want to help our programs grow and improve. A more personal goal is that I recently published a book which took several years to put together. It’s a collection of Shakespeare essays put together by me and 14 other scholars.
AY: I noticed you have some pictures behind your door, where are they from?
JS: My grand kids. Their names are Addison and Sam and they’re my daughter’s boys. They’ve come up three years in a row. I put them in an organic farm camp and they love it. They live in Virginia but they like to visit their grandpa.
AY: What’s an embarrassing childhood memory you want to share with us?
JS: (Laughs). There’s so many. I’m thinking of the story where I had a dog named Brownie and he was a Collie. I was staying with an aunt and uncle and my aunt made dumplings. My dog ate them all and I had to defend the dog. My uncle was raging and I still hear about it from my cousins. I was about 10.
AY: Do you have any words of encouragement or advice to share with the graduating class?
JS: I wish in my own education that I had realized, at the time, what a wonderful rare opportunity I had; how special a college community is. Take advantage of the educational college life. You might not get another chance. Stretch yourself. Try subjects you haven’t learned before. College is not just a ticket to a job. Take advantage of all that New Paltz has to offer. Take a chance on your teachers. Don’t be afraid of hard teachers because they’ll be the ones you remember.