Villa Julie’s Collaborators Retire After 30 Years

by Alex Hooke
Something was understood; the password among accomplices was recognized. Something was said that made you the accomplice of the one that is one of his own kind: quetzal bird, savage, aboriginal, guerilla, nomad, Mongol, Aztec, sphinx.
--Alphonso Lingis

     After 30 years at the helm, Villa Julie College's president Carolyn Manuszak is retiring. Reactions to the announcement have predictably praised her lengthy devotion to a college that has grown by leaps and bounds, from a junior college of a couple hundred girls to a four-year coed institution of a couple thousand students.
     In my view, though, even more remarkable is her collaboration with Rose Dawson, the college's dean who is also retiring. For over 30 years--longer than most marriages and business partnerships--Carolyn Manuszak and Rose Dawson worked together to foster the life of Villa Julie College. Political obstacles, academic turf wars, neighborhood legal challenges, and financial resources sparked the many battles they waged together.
     Undoubtedly they have had their share of victories and defeats. These experiences, however, never led them--as it often does for many shortlived collaborations--to boasting about personal credit for success and fingerpointing when things looked bleak.
     This is one of the many lessons true collaborators offer us. It is one we need to learn and appreciate because our lives benefit so much from their joint accomplishments. Political causes, religious movements, artistic endeavors, and scholarly pursuits take on a life not so much by the inspiration of a lone person but by the coordinated efforts of two or more talented and inventive individuals.
     Collaborations thus help us exit the citadel of selfhood. It is misleading to conceive of them as partnerships that have a legally binding status. Manuszak and Dawson’s collaboration has been an educational mission that continually animated their work. Personal gain, if any, was always a side effect rather than the purpose of their tasks. As any artist will confirm, once you start thinking about awards and million-dollar sellers, you stop doing art.
     To account for the strength, beauty, and endurance of a collaboration is difficult. Calling it “the right chemistry”---the popular metaphor these days--is a misuse of language. All the scientific expertise and genetic mapping in the world cannot explain or recreate two nuns in the mid-1960's taking over a religious institution and transforming it to become an established name in the secular world.
     There is a magical and mysterious quality to a collaboration. It can be likened to an unpredictable mix of disparate components, such as the energy of a volcano joining the stable force of a mountain. Even these images fail to capture all that Carolyn Manuszak and Rose Dawson have accomplished. It is possible that we simply lack the language and values to understand and appreciate collaborations.
     For ours is a culture that celebrates either the isolated individual or the financial empire. Joe DiMaggio is memorialized as an American legend even though he was incapable of sustaining a meaningful relationship with another human being. The Nike "swoosh" and McDonalds’ golden arches are worldwide icons, symbolizing a worship of global mergers and acquisitions.
     Yet it is the collaborators, not the isolated hero or the faceless conglomerate, who best exemplify the energies and aspirations of human experiences and dreams. It is they who contribute so much, in part by teaching us the value of working with others. Their accomplishments, if recognized and acknowledged, can free us of the cult of self-interest.
     Every year announcements are issued about which individuals are selected for some hall of fame or which corporations get listed in the Fortune 500. Perhaps one day our culture will establish a pantheon of collaborators. Rogers & Hammerstein, Laurel and Hardy, Lennon-McCartney are among the recent candidates that come to mind.
     To this list we might now add: Carolyn Manuszak & Rose Dawson.

Dr. Hooke teaches philosophy at Villa Julie College.

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This story was published on June 3, 1999.