In 1948, Sidney Fine began his career at the University, hired under the title of “Instructor in History.” Over the next 53 years, Professor Fine would grow to become one of the most prominent names in teaching within the state of Michigan. The now 80-year-old professor has taught thousands of students, published 12 books and 39 articles. In addition, Fine has served as history department chairman, president of the Labor Historians, a member of the National Archives Advisory Council and various other positions within profession. Yet, as students and colleagues alike will note, Professor Fine”s love for teaching and his studies has only increased with time. As the school year comes to a close, Professor Fine”s retirement is close at hand however, for those whose lives he has touched, Sidney Fine is impossible to forget.
Fine was born on October 11, 1920, in Cleveland, Ohio. He attended Western Reserve University, graduating as class valedictorian in 1942. World War II was raging overseas, yet Fine applied for deferment, matriculating at the University in order to obtain his Master”s Degree. Shortly after entering the University, however, he received an offer that he could not pass up: The opportunity to travel to Japan, working as a translator within the Navy”s Japanese Language Program. Fine underwent training in Colorado and New York, and, ranking in the top ten of his class, was sent to work for the Office of Naval Intelligence. He was stationed in Australia under the command of General Douglas MacArthur. Fine laughs, remembering the time in which “General MacArthur pushed (him out of the way) to get his mail.”
As the above example illustrates, Fine”s sense of humor is often apparent in his curriculum, and his students praise him for his use of stories and wit. Although each of his lectures is certain to be filled to the brim with material the professor strongly stresses the importance of “keeping up with the literature in the field” his ability to simultaneously interest and inform students is nearly unparalleled in the history of the University. “His lectures are always packed with information and anecdotes that bring the history alive for me,” says LSA sophomore Kara Guminsky. “He is a wealth of knowledge and is passionate about sharing it with his students.”
According to LSA sophomore Maria Simon, “He is one of the most interesting people I”ve ever heard speak you have to remind yourself to take notes (in his class), because you often want to just sit and listen to him.”
After he completed his work in Australia, Fine was sent to the Philippines, Guam and Japan for future assignments during the war. He completed his Ph.D. while he was still overseas, and returned in 1948 to begin teaching history courses at the University. Over the course of the 53 years that followed, Fine has received many teaching accolades. The only professor at the University to win both the Golden Apple Award (Students Honoring Outstanding University Teaching, 1993) and to be honored as a Richard Hudson Research Professor of History (1963-1964, 1976-1977), Fine”s dedication to his profession is truly impressive.
“His courses on American History in the 20th Century are models of their kind,” says History Professor Emeritus Bradford Perkins. “Many generations felt that their education was not complete unless they had taken one, or both, of them. His devotion to students is unusually deep and all the while, he has been an indefatigable publishing scholar, widely recognized as a leading student of his chosen period.”
Scholastically, Fine has excelled as a leader within his academic field. He is currently working on his 12th book, “The Mark of the Civilized Society,” which is a discussion of Michigan public policy regarding aging and the elderly. He has also published a number of articles and reviews, which have been featured in a number of major publications.
Public policy within the state of Michigan is an area that Professor Fine is quite familiar with. In fact, the Michigan legislature abolished a law one that required teachers within the state to retire at 70 years of age as the result of a proposal by one of Fine”s former students, a member of the state legislature. Fine recalls, “The bill passed with only one vote in opposition.” He personally added his signature to the bill, and has continued to teach at the University for the ten years following this event.
Throughout his 53 years at the University, thousands of students have passed in and out of Fine”s classroom. Although it is virtually impossible for a professor to make contact with each student individually, Professor Fine is committed to having good relations with his students. “They know that I enjoy what I”m doing,” he said. “I like my students to see me as a human being, not just a person talking to them in a classroom.”
Fine”s love and dedication for his career is certainly evident to his students. “Sidney Fine is one of the few professors who engages as vehemently with his students as he does with his subject,” comments LSA freshman Jared Miller. “It has been a pleasure to take his History 467 class this semester.”
The professor”s personal experiences hold strong appeal for his students his office and lecture halls are often filled with students desiring to listen to this fascinating individual. According to LSA sophomore Laura Zusman, “Professor Fine”s lectures are wonderful in part because they are supplemented by stories of his own life experiences. It”s great to hear both “the facts” and an account of how events in U.S. history have affected him.”
Fine has certainly experienced a great deal throughout his years at the University of Michigan. From World War II to the 2000 election, the professor has seen the University undergo a number of changes. A particularly notable time period in the school”s history was the years of the Vietnam War, specifically the 1960s. “The University was critical to the student movement, particularly because of the creation of the SDS here in Ann Arbor,” Fine observed.
The students, however, the professor believes are essentially the same as they were decades ago. “Students are less formal (in current years), but they are still fun to be with and to teach more women are career oriented now, but in terms of the classroom, it”s no different.”
At the end of this semester, Fine will retire from the University and from the teaching profession. He has had the longest active career of any professor in the history of the University thus far. Both students and colleagues of Professor Fine cannot help but feel a strain of sadness at this news, for he has made an enormous impact on the entire University community. “He has a lot to be proud of,” said Connie Hamlin, secretary to the chair of the Department of History. “He”s really made his mark here at the University.”
After this semester, the professor intends to continue his research career and keep publishing into the future. But from his witty anecdotes to his wise lessons, Fine will be deeply missed at the University. His 53 years here, however, have proven to be a great success. “Teaching is always what I”ve wanted to do,” he said. “I feel lucky that I”ve had the ten extra years. I”ll be sad to see it go.”