Faculty Essay: The Pursuit of Lifelong Learning Builds an Intergenerational Campus
An Interview with Senior Auditor Michael Feinstein
By Amy Beth Wright
“The thing I like about writing is that you are ultimately communicating with people, and they’re communicating with you.”
What first inspired you to register for classes at Purchase College?
I started as a senior auditor at Hunter College. I lived in Manhattan, and later moved to Westchester. I took primarily painting and drawing classes, and I was in the chorus. One of the people in the art department said, later, “Oh, you’re up in Westchester, Why don’t you take a class at Purchase?”
Part of the impetus in my going down this route, even at Hunter, was that my education is in STEM, with a dash of finance. I’ve been taking classes that I found filled in something I’ve been missing all along. I remember going to my first engineering class, and we went to an [arts] assembly, and I thought I might like to join in. It seemed like fun. Well, five years later, because the engineering load was so heavy, I had no time for anything else. That was true for other classes I had, where there was a smattering of humanities and it was tapered down for engineers, sort of ‘humanities for engineers.’ And so, I’ve been really looking to fill that.
What classes have you taken here?
I take classes primarily that allow me to write. I’ve taken the full progression of journalism classes. At first, I said to Andrew Salomon, “Well, I’m not sure where I am with writing.” He said, “Why don’t you just take all of them, and start with the first [journalism course]?”
So that’s what I did, and I thought they were great. I don’t know if I’ll have a role as a journalist, but I certainly found that thought provoking, and it’s built my skills. They are very dynamic courses. Most of the people in those classes have an interest in journalism and participate very actively.
I’ve also taken a couple of art and drawing classes, as well. And of course, your class, The Art of the Essay. This term I’m taking a history class with Rachel Hallotte, Politics and Archaeology. The title is designed to pique people’s interests, and it did. It’s a nebulous title, but an interesting one. I’m taking a sci-fi class with Lee Schlesinger, who I’ve taken a number of classes with, including a class on the bible. I’m focused on literature, history, and writing. I was also in the choral group at Purchase one year, which meets during lunchtime. There was no audition required, and I seemed to blend in. We even did a performance. I was probably one of the older people there, but it was a fun experience.
What does it feel like to be an older student in a room full of undergrads who are doing it for the first time?
Well, I’m sort of an outsider in general. It kind of fits the path. And, depending on the class, you’re more part of it or not, so it can vary. When I took The Art of the Essay, it was very interesting to get comments on the profile I wrote, alongside the students.
When you first started taking college courses, did you feel any inhibition about participating or sharing your thoughts?
No, no. I’ve worked in the corporate world, where you actually are very cautious, because what you say could determine whether you come to work the next day. I don’t have qualms about whether I am going to be criticized or how I come across because I am here to get skills and knowledge, and however it comes, that’s fine. After one of the Durst lectures, I had a chance to talk with George Saunders, briefly. When Lincoln in the Bardo came out, his name was all over. And I asked him, where do you go from there? And he kind of looked at me and asked, “Are you a psychiatrist?”
I said, “No,” that I was just kind of curious. I have felt, at least in any situation that I’m in with people here, that Purchase is an academic environment and you can express yourself, assuming that you’re doing so in the vein of open-ended inquiry.
How do you think taking these classes has changed how you write and how you think?
Well, I think when I write now, I have somewhere in my brain an audience, comprised of comments I’ve gotten or people I see here. Ultimately, it’s resulted in my networking to become a part of the Scarsdale Scribblers, a weekly writing group I’ve been in for about two years. All of these things allow me to practice the craft of writing, and to think about and hear how people react to things I say and write. Sometimes they’re surprising. But generally, they’re illuminating. I continue to find that a very good experience. With writing, you’re really looking to specifically reach people, I think. Maybe some of it is like a diary, where you’re following your thoughts to see where they go. But the thing I like about writing is that you are ultimately communicating with people, and they’re communicating with you.
What do you want to study as we approach the next academic year?
I would like to continue as I’ve been all the while, history, literature, and maybe some art and drawing.
Why do you value lifelong education?
I’m trying to get closer to what I hope to be, but I’m not sure what that is. I kind of see it as incremental progress. You know Ikigai, those four spheres—passion, mission, vocation, profession? I haven’t really satisfied them all. It’s a little simplistic thinking, but there are things I like, there are things I’m good at. And I’m trying to take classes and maybe have opportunities that will bring me a little bit closer to what the world wants and what I can get paid for doing. Not that I want to rely on that as an economic leg of my survival, but as a currency that establishes you in society.