Take Five with Gregory Tarsy ’65

Gregory Tarsy ’65 earned a Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Chicago in 1969 and taught for six years at UC Irvine and City College. After an interim year of jewelry making, he moved into scientific computing for almost 10 years, followed by 26 years directing math libraries products at Sun Microsystems. Since retiring, he’s begun an new career in ceramics; additionally, he has more than 40 years of spiritual practice in the International Association of Subud.

What were you like when you arrived at Columbia?

I scarcely remember but I imagine I was wide open with expectation, confusion — but enough sangfroid to settle in expeditiously.

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

I had a small double in Hartley with a cello-playing roommate who soon divorced me in favor of living alone, then a roommate who was a friend from high school and who was often gone — a felicitous balance.

What class do you most remember and why?

That has to be a tie between freshman Humanities with Susan Sontag — before she became famous — who wowed us with her penetrating intellect and sense of humor, and a graduate mathematics class in Riemann surfaces with Lipman Bers, who rarely wrote on the board but whose lectures were so compelling that we were all deluded into thinking we understood everything. Some near-runners up: Freshman Writing with Kenneth Koch (very full of himself), and Contemporary Civilization with Louis Hacker [(Class of 1920), GSAS 1923] (who was not full of himself but deserved to be).

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

My two favorite spots were Butler Library, where I worked for a couple of years and felt the presence of the millions of volumes and a comfort to be among them, and the sandwich shop across Broadway that was open until 2:00 a.m. and had wonderful heroes, or so I recall.

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

I don’t really regret anything, but if it were possible I would choose to be older and wiser in spirit and maybe to have studied pre-med and gone on to medicine, which has remained my other greatest interest as a professional endeavor.