Daniel Gover ’66 Remembers “Columbia at Its Best”

Daniel Gover ’66 is a professor of English at Kean University in Union, N.J. He has been an educator his entire adult life, including teaching at a high school in Botswana, at a junior college in Boston, and in city and state prisons in New York.

What were you like when you arrived at Columbia?

I transferred to the College in 1964 after competing my first two years at Lafayette College in Pennsylvania, still only 18 years old. The New York City high schools were over-stuffed with baby boomers and decided to throw the smart young fledglings out of the nest, figuring we’d learn to fly before we hit the ground. Of course, even at 18 I thought I was cool. I wore Clarks shoes (cheap back then at $20), black jeans and work shirts. That passed for cool in my mind. I was very eager to learn and explore New York City.

What do you remember about your first-year living situation?

Sharing an apartment on Claremont Avenue with a friend from Midwood H.S. and his older brother was a good introduction to the neighborhood. Both went on to distinguished careers as arts professors. Larry Wallach ’65, GSAS’73 worked for the Columbia University symphony. He was a brilliant pianist and has had a long and distinguished career as a music professor at Simon’s Rock College. Alan Wallach ’63, GSAS’73 was working on his Ph.D. dissertation, on the American painter Thomas Cole. He went on to become an art professor at William & Mary. The best thing about our sixth-floor apartment in the building, right next to the Juilliard School of Music, now the Manhattan School of Music, was that it had a great view of Palisades Amusement Park across the Hudson on the darkened cliffs. The Ferris wheel and roller coaster were lit up at night with bright, colored lights, like a mythical Acropolis.

What Core class or experience do you most remember, and why?


Govers button reads “I am Art History.”

Art Humanities and Music Humanities probably influenced me the most. My music professor was Howard Shanet ’39, GSAS’41, who conducted the Columbia University Orchestra. He introduced us to the sonata form, but more importantly, I wrote a review of Handel’s Messiah, which I saw at Carnegie Hall for the course. My art history class was taught by an enthusiastic grad student who compared El Greco to Dostoyevsky, both impressing and mystifying me. My Barnard girlfriend and I saw one of the major art shows in New York during the 1960s, the Gustav Klimt/Egon Schiele show at the Guggenheim. That blew my mind, as we used to say.

I diligently plodded my way through Contemporary Civilization with professors Edward Malefakis GSAS’65 and Arthur W. Collins ’56, GSAS’59. Professor Collins invited me and another student to his apartment on Riverside Drive one evening. It was a formidable place, lined with books. His wife was a charming, brilliant Barnard grad [Linda Collins BC’52, GSAS’71]. Once I ran into Professor Collins reading in Riverside Park, minding a baby carriage. He introduced me to his tiny son, Rufus [’84]. Being from Brooklyn, I had never met anyone named Rufus, especially one so small.

Did you have a favorite spot on campus, and what did you like about it?

Sitting in the middle of Columbia’s neoclassical core quadrangle on the Sundial or walking down the Low Steps always gave me a great sense of secure centrality. In 1965, Mario Savio, the brilliant leader of the student free speech demonstrations at UC Berkeley, came east and mesmerized a large crowd around the Sundial. A day or so later, Tom Hayden, the radical leader of Students for a Democratic Society, also spoke. At the end he said, “If you students at Columbia really support the students at Berkeley, you’ll go up to that goddamn administration building and take it over.” It was springtime as I recall, a good time for outdoor rallies. Three years later, almost to the day, SDS led an occupation of Low Library.

What, if anything, about your College experience would you do over?

I have relived my College experience on a fairly regular basis, mostly after I moved back to NYC in 1981. My niece Jennifer Gover ’02 was at the College in the early 2000s, when my children were very little. We used to take her to eat at Ollie’s. Once I went to campus for Dean’s Day to hear my favorite professor, Ted Tayler, speak. Things came full circle when I went back in 2019 for his memorial in Low Library. I heard Tony Kushner ’78, Paul Auster ’69, GSAS’70 and Michael Rosenthal GSAS’67, among others, eulogize Professor Tayler. It was Columbia at its best.