In her 34 years at SUNY New Paltz, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Associate Dean Lynn Spangler made meaningful connections between her teaching, research and creative activities, accepted administrative challenges as a department chair and associate dean, and provided vital leadership in her roles on numerous central committees. The recent announcement of her retirement in August provides an opportunity to look back on Spangler’s noteworthy career, which she has pursued passionately and without regret.
Spangler entered college at Wayne State University in Michigan intent on becoming an actress. As the president of her high school drama club, she attended a Wayne State performance of Hamlet and was bitten by the acting bug. Though she excelled in two acting classes at Wayne State, the thought of auditioning for the BFA program inside the stately, Neoclassical Hilberry Theater terrified her. When practical concerns took over – “Acting seemed like a really hard job to get” – Spangler opted to major in secondary education with an emphasis in speech education.
Throughout her career, Spangler seized opportunities to challenge herself. As an undergraduate, she learned of a graduate assistantship opportunity that would provide funds for graduate school, and decided to take a leap. She pursued a master’s in communication, rhetoric and public address and discovered a love for video production while recording speech classes for her assistantship.
Spangler went on to earn a Ph.D. in mass communication and taught for seven years in Michigan before budget cuts left her browsing the classified ads of the popular trade publication Broadcasting and Cable Magazine, where she discovered an opening for a teaching position at New Paltz.
Spangler made her New Paltz debut in 1983. As an assistant professor, she joined what was then the Communication Department, teaching courses in video production, audio production, radio and television writing and the introductory course “Communication and Media.”
During her time at New Paltz, the structure of her home department underwent several changes. When she arrived, the department also housed communication disorders (journalism was then part of the English department), and radio and television production were tracks within the communication major. Spangler helped create a radio and television major with concentrations in management and production, and added management courses to her teaching workload. Communication disorders later became its own department; journalism moved from English to the newly-minted Communication and Media department, which split into two departments, Digital Media & Journalism and Communication, in 2014.
With programmatic changes also came technological changes. When Spangler first began teaching production classes, her department had only one linear recording system – the Sony ¾-inch tape U-matic, which was then the standard for electronic news gathering, and one color tube camera. Spangler recalled “cobbling together equipment” (the editing system belonged to the Instructional Media Services department), and championing the need for equipment upgrades to Liberal Arts & Sciences’ then-dean David Klein. In the mid-90s, the department purchased its first Avid nonlinear editing system for $22,000, and Spangler learned to “transition from the old fashioned stuff” to producing and editing video in the digital age.
During summers and sabbaticals, Spangler produced, wrote and edited a number of documentaries on notable Hudson Valley figures including John Burroughs: A Naturalist in the Industrial Age, which earned a Telly award, The Life and Legend of Sojourner Truth, Recipe for Success: John Novi and American Cuisine and Surviving Vietnam: The John Wolfe Story.
Spangler met her husband and frequent collaborator Richard “Dick” Wollman in New Paltz in 1987. Their first collaboration was the 1989 documentary on Wolfe, a local Vietnam veteran and artist. It made its debut on WTZA, a commercial television station in Kingston at the time.
In addition to her documentary work, Spangler, a full professor, published scholarship on television criticism and media effects, including the book Television Women from Lucy to Friends: Fifty Years of Sitcoms and Feminism, and essays that have appeared in the Journal of Popular Culture and Journal of Communication and Media Arts.
Spangler’s dissertation compared information about television in major U.S. newspapers to the 1978 federally-funded Four Critical Television Viewing Skills Curricula. She continued her interest in analyzing television in the general education humanities course “Aesthetics and Criticism of Television,” which she taught for over a decade during a new golden age of television, in which hits like The Sopranos, Mad Men and Breaking Bad redefined the notion of what television shows could be. Spangler encouraged students to view programming with a critical eye and conduct close readings of television “texts.”
“What’s been exciting is seeing growth of students’ writing and their critical thinking skills,” noted Spangler. “To see them learn the vocabulary and be able to apply it. I’ve had many students tell me over the years that I’ve ruined their television viewing – in a nice way. They can’t watch it without analyzing it.”
Spangler’s record of campus service includes chairing the General Education Board from 2008-12. Spangler said her work on the board was challenging, but gratifying. “Most people don’t like to do assessment. We would go through their assessment plan and give them feedback, and that’s not popular, but we had to do assessment on this campus, and we got it in good shape.” Spangler also chaired the college’s first Central Committee on Educational Technology from 2001-03.
Though she’d never considered administrative work, Spangler was encouraged by colleagues to chair the department of Communication and Media. She served as chair from 1999-2003, before becoming an associate dean for the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, where she has remained for the last 14 years. She earned the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Professional Service in 2011.
As associate dean, Spangler said she valued being in a position where she could “get a bigger picture and also help students on a larger level.” She has met frequently with students to help them graduate on time, understand academic integrity, and overcome personal problems that might derail their academic success.
Spangler has supported faculty development, worked with departments on personnel, curricular and programmatic issues and guided LA&S’s learning outcomes assessment efforts. Though challenged by interpersonal conflicts presented to her in her role as associate dean, Spangler kept her sense of humor and has maintained an excellent rapport with students and colleagues throughout campus.
As she ponders her retirement, Spangler said she’s looking forward to learning a new video editing program, traveling, sprucing up her home, tending to her beloved birds and practicing the piano. “I’m determined to get better at reading those notes and placing my fingers so I don’t have to look down all the time,” she said.
Spangler advised her junior colleagues just beginning their careers to find satisfying connections between their research and teaching and seize opportunities when they arise – whether trying a new pedagogy, exploring research of personal interest or accepting administrative responsibilities.
“Oh, be young,” Spangler added. “Time is going to fly.”
Dean Laura Barrett invites the campus community to a celebration of Spangler’s retirement on Thursday, May 4 from 3:30-5 p.m. in the Wooster Hall second floor lobby.
“Her institutional memory, expertise as a faculty member and administrator, and poise in the midst of urgency has made Lynn an invaluable member of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and a true partner in the Dean’s Office. We will certainly miss her and hope to send her off in style,” Barrett said.