Professor of Political Science
Friday, September 27, 2002
Born in New Brunswick, New Jersey in November of 1941, Professor Joseph P. DiGangi received his bachelor’s degree with distinction in political science from Lehigh University and his Ph.D. in public law and government from Columbia University.
Much more than a faculty member and professor, alumni and alumnae characterize Joseph P. DiGangi, more commonly known by students and colleagues as “Joe”, as a student’s teacher, mentor, advisor and most of all “friend”. DiGangi, professor of Political Science at the Colleges was well known for hosting a spaghetti supper at the end of each semester for his students.
Professor DiGangi came to Geneva in the fall of 1967 to begin his tenure with Hobart and William Smith Colleges, under the direction of Maynard Smith, then head of the political science department. A colleague, Thomas Millington, is quoted in the May 30, 1997, issue of The Herald describing one of his initial impressions of Professor DiGangi by saying “I remember very well one day when Maynard and I went over to pick up Joe in front of his class at Coxe 8. While we waited for class to finish, although I couldn’t hear what was going on in the classroom, I was able to see Joe’s mannerisms through the window. His performance was so powerful that, after watching Joe for about five minutes without hearing a word he was saying, I turned to Maynard and said ‘My God, he really is a born teacher.’” Professor Millington goes on in the article to describe Joe’s teaching style as “unrestrained” with “a strong commitment to reaching the students.”
DiGangi began his tenure at the Colleges during a particularly tumultuous time on the campuses of American Colleges, as student protest over the Vietnam War and the increasing use of narcotics were among distinct new challenges facing the higher education system. DiGangi quickly became involved in more than teaching through his election as a faculty Senator and selection by then-President Causey to be a member of a new committee to review Hobart’s AFROTC program during the spring of 1969. DiGangi’s ability to relate and communicate to the students, accompanied by his increasing interaction with the administration put DiGangi in a unique position during the “Tommy the Traveler” incident. DiGangi is remembered as being a “trustworthy” agent between the administration and the students during this time.
DiGangi went on to chair the political science department and serve on most of the Colleges committees, including the President’s Advisory Council, Academic Affairs and the Committee on Faculty. Fellow faculty members frequently elected DiGangi to serve on presidential, provost and dean search committees. Shari Best, former vice president of development at the Colleges once said to Joe at a cocktail party, “Where is it written that Joe DiGangi gets to pick the whole administration?”
In 1985, DiGangi co-founded and supervised the Washington, D.C. off-campus semester program concentrating on public policy. The program was established to allow middle-year students a unique and invaluable opportunity to participate in intense classroom instructions combined with hands-on experience through internships in various government and public service offices throughout the capital district. The program was a great success from its inception and remains so to this day. In addition to teaching the Washington, D.C. semester, DiGangi also taught in the London term abroad twice.
While still living in Geneva, N.Y., DiGangi’s commitments extended beyond the campus boundaries as he was a member of the Board of Trustees of the Geneva Historical Society and served as chair of the collections committee. In addition, he was a director of the Savings Bank of the Finger Lakes.
DiGangi is also an elected member of the Druid Society and chosen by the students to be the Class Day speaker in 1995. DiGangi also received the “Faculty Excellence in Teaching” Award in 1993. The citation for that award stated “This teacher’s courses have a reputation of being challenging and fascinating. His signature course (Constitutional Law) has been among the most admired and respected courses on campus during the past 25 years. This course is like a sovereign country, with its traditions, its myth, and its generations of citizens.”
As a pre-law advisor, DiGangi counseled many students. As the times have changed, so too has the direction of the political science students. DiGangi stated in an article in the Pultney St. Survey in 1989, “ten years ago all of our students seemed to be going into public service or into a legal aid career, today it’s different. These kids want a career, a profession--and they’re not adverse to making some money in the process.” There are many Hobart and William Smith graduates currently playing an active role in our legal system inspired by the teachings of this highly respected and distinguishable professor.
Now residing in the Washington D.C., metropolitan area, DiGangi maintains an active and involved life. He frequently goes to Capitol Hill to attend Supreme Court oral arguments and Congressional committee hearings. He is a member of the Patron’s Circle at the Kennedy Center, the Washington Opera Guild, the Corcoran Gallery, the Phillips Collection, the Smithsonian Institution and the Washington Performing Arts Society. In his retirement, Joe has been able to find some time to travel, recently returning from a cruise from Rio de Janeiro to Santiago, Chile, around Cape Horn, followed by a river cruise through Holland and Belgium.
William A. Snyder ’68 says “Professor DiGangi was not only a wonderful professor and student advisor, but I also always considered him a good friend... Professor DiGangi encouraged me to pursue my interest in becoming a laywer...later in my legal career I obtained a degree in Estate Planning...and am currently an adjunct professor of law at the University of Miami Law School Graduate Program in Estate Planning. No doubt one of the reasons I pursued the opportunity to teach...was the opportunity to put into practice many of the teaching techniques which I saw Professor DiGangi employ in my political science classes at Hobart.”
DiGangi “was a fabulous educator... knowledgeable in his field, interested in his students and able to bring the subject matter alive”, says Robin Martens Huss ’72.
Roger H. Williams maintains “there is no question in my mind that Joe DiGangi was instrumental in steering me in the direction of what, in my opinion, remains truly a ‘profession.’”
“My interactions with Joe DiGangi are memorable to this day” says Jodi Perlmuth Popofsky. “Whether I was studying hard to be prepared for his use of the Socratic method in class, or whether we were talking over drinks at Cozzies, I was always challenged to think at the next level. By being such a great motivator, he inspired me to question and ask, and not to sit idly and watch. Having Joseph DiGangi as a professor was a great privilege, and I hope that when my three daughters go to college that they have at least one professor like him.”