Swat Remembers Professor George Moskos

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Photo courtesy of the Department of French Language and Literature

Over winter break, the College mourned the loss of a celebrated professor, activist, and friend. George Moskos, professor of French Language and Literature, who first began teaching at Swarthmore in 1975, passed away on Tuesday, January 4, leaving behind a legacy of groundbreaking scholarship, a commitment to his students, and influence on the Department of Modern Languages and Literature at Swarthmore, especially in the fields of French literature and queer theory. He is survived by his partner, Blair Gannon.

Along with being a gifted professor of French who was extremely popular among his students, Moskos was responsible for helping to establish the Grenoble program and for influencing the French section, serving to transform the program into one of the most popular and successful at Swarthmore. Professor Moskos understood the importance of learning a language within a cultural context, and the Grenoble program is an expression of the necessity for students to learn a language within the country itself. Building relationships with French professors in Grenoble, Moskos also brought these scholars back to Swarthmore in an exchange program of sorts, in which both students and faculty had the chance to be exposed to cross cultural learning.

This desire for immersion was not limited to the Grenoble program. Moskos brought his enthusiasm for learning a language within its cultural context to the forefront of his lessons and even for beginning French students, this was evident. “It was a spring day and George [Moskos] took his class out to the Co-op,” said Professor of Spanish Aurora Camacho de Schmidt, “he had the students fill up a cart with things they could name and explain what they could do with them.” Then, students spoke French to the bewildered Co-op employees.

“Very often we forget,” Professor Schmidt added, about the remarkable nature of these experiences that are so atypical at other colleges.

Zach Martin ’13, who took French 12 with Professor Moskos last semester, remembers how George “seemed to be constantly providing opportunities to participate in the discussion while at the same time moving the class along his trajectory. He was also extremely funny, which made for fun listening.”

Moskos was also known for his openness with students and for his gentle encouragement. Committed to establishing personal relationships with his students, Moskos was known as an easily accessible professor, eager to help his students succeed. Taryn Colonnese ’13 who was also enrolled in French 12, describes how “there were so many times I went into his office to ask a quick question about a paper or one of the books and found myself still there a half hour later talking about other classes I was taking or what I want to do with my French in the future.”

Moskos was also influential in introducing queer theory and feminist literature into his courses at a time when many colleges would consider this too controversial. He was one of the openly queer faculty to receive tenure, both at Swarthmore and in the country. Since 1998, Moskos has held the endowed James C. Hormel Professor of Social Justice, an award named for the noted Swarthmore alumnus who was the openly queer ambassador from the United States. Moskos has also served on the Sager committee and symposium, helping to bring important figures from the queer movement to campus, such as Sue-Ellen Case, the Lang Visiting Professor for Social Change in 1993-94. Professor Moskos had remarkable interdisciplinary interests, and bringing speakers like Case to campus was only a component of his work. In addition, Moskos collaborated with Professor of Theater Allen Kuharski in the translation of Rhinoceros, by Eugène Ionesco.

But to begin to understand Moskos’ life requires an examination of the way he treated his colleagues and students, and how he conveyed his passion for scholarship. Moskos emphasized his views of openness and dialogue in every role he occupied—teacher, scholar, faculty member, and mentor.

To Assistant Professor of French, Alexandra Gueydan, George represents “what the French section was on campus.”

“He was one, single George,” Professor Schmidt adds. He treated students with the same respect as adults, always encouraging them to unpack a text or to work to improve their writing.

Professor Kuharski observed that “[Moskos] really had a deep love for the literature he taught….he kept it vivid, alive, interesting.”

“He was the kind of intellectual who was always reading and rereading.” Unlike professors consumed by the publication of their own scholarship, Moskos was “a literary mind without being a writer himself.”

French Lecturer Carole Netter has known Moskos for twenty-five years and was hired by Professor Moskos as a French assistant in Grenoble. Since then, Netter has had the opportunity to develop a close relationship with him, and the two became close friends. “He was a joy to work with,” she remembers, “meetings were a joy and we laughed a lot.” Often, the two would visit each other in their homes and talk late into the night.

“At the end of the evening he would say, very seriously, ‘I have to get going’ and this was always a source of pain for me. I could never get enough [of him].”

Students and faculty remember Moskos as a mentor, friend, and an open resource in the Modern Languages department. The College community has lost not just a great mind, but also a passionate man with seemingly endless vitality. Even on his last days, Moskos drew from his personal strength, as well as the support of his friends, faculty, and partner, Gannon.

Professor Netter, who visited Moskos on the last day of his life, was awed by the charm and joy that still exuded from a man whose commitment to others would never cease. Netter said, “when I visited on his last day…he had the strength to look at me and smile.”

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