Retirement takes Tolle to China, Cuba

More than a half-century in the making, political science professor Gordon Tolle now is adjusting to life away from academia, but not from learning.p12-Tolle,-Gordon(current)

For the first time since he was a freshman in college in fall 1961, Tolle wasn’t coming to campus for classes this past fall. He retired May 21, 2012, after 45 years at SDSU and was honored as a professor emeritus by the Board of Regents.

His primary classroom interest was political philosophy with secondary interests in European and Latin America governments.

But when he retired, Tolle headed to China with his wife, Mary, who also retired in May after 23 years in the College of Engineering. The pair spent 2 ½ weeks there with an alumni group from the University of Colorado, where he earned his doctorate.

In his first visit to the world’s most populous country, Tolle says he was struck by the crowdedness.

“Some of the places we went to were huge cities; many of them twice or more the size of New York. The cities included very modern high-rises. There has been lots of economic growth in recent decades,” says Tolle, adding the group also visited many traditional Chinese tourist spots.

Study trip to Cuba

Two months earlier, the Tolles were part of a 15-person study group that spent 11 days in Cuba.

Organized by the Council on International Educational Exchange, an organization for faculty members, the group spent most of the time in Havana with a couple days devoted to excursions to neighboring regions.

“There were a lot of parts of the country we didn’t visit,” Tolle says.

Time was largely spent in lectures from a variety of Cuban experts, but the group did get out in the     community.

“The people were friendly. The city of Havana had quite a mixture — some dilapidated buildings and some that were refurbished to the colors and finish from a couple hundred years ago. People were poor,” observes Tolle, who has done extensive international travel.

He expects more trips in the years to come, but he has none on the itinerary.

An evolving career

For the better part of Tolle’s career, his itinerary was teaching four classes per semester with one of those being two sections of the same class. Occasionally, there were four preparations. In latter years, the teaching load was reduced to three courses to accommodate research.

Through the years, political science has joined with other departments and now is grouped with history, philosophy and religion.

Tolle advanced from instructor in 1967 to assistant professor in 1975 to associate professor in 1979 to professor in 1984. During two separate semesters Tolle served as acting department head. In 1972-73, he taught at the University of Colorado while getting his doctorate

In spring 1988, he taught as an exchange professor at Arizona State University.

On a mission

“My whole teaching career I’ve regarded as kind of a mission to raise questions and help people answer normative questions about politics.

“(Political philosophy) is a difficult subject, but once people decide to take the course and get into it, they do get fired up about trying to answer these questions. The subject is misunderstood or regarded as too esoteric by many.

“During the first decades, there was only a portion of the political science majors that would take modern political philosophy and early political philosophy,” Tolle says.

In the more recent years there has been a requirement for advanced writing courses and these two senior level classes have been designated as advanced writing classes, so they became a staple for political science majors, says Tolle, whose doctorate was in political theory.

The Tolles will continue to live in Brookings, where one of their sons, Steven, lives. Their other son, Jay, is in Minneapolis

Dave Graves

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