Judy Waldman’s 28 Years of GC Service

Judy Waldman retires from the Graduate Center December 4, 2015, almost exactly 28 years after she started as Assistant to the Chief Librarian and Dissertation Assistant. Judy’s dedication has shaped and reflected CUNY’s remarkable productivity and service over the most recent 3 decades of the Graduate Center’s 5 decade history.

In 1988, Judy accepted 238 dissertations. In 2014, she managed 512 dissertations, nearly double the number in her first year at the GC. All together, Judy has facilitated 3140 PhDs over her career 1988-2015. Judy has touched every work in the Graduate Center Library’s Dissertation Room and the hundreds more shelved on the Library 2nd floor. Dissertations prior to 2013 were submitted in duplicate, and prior to 2004 they were submitted in triplicate, and before that Judy handled as many as six copies of each work, so this figure does not reflect the number of copies she handled, only the individual titles required for degree. In addition to the PhDs, of course, she received 882 master’s theses between 1988 – 2015 and 205 capstone projects between 2009 and 2015. That’s a total of 4227 graduate works, many in multiple copy, that have passed through Judy Waldman’s hands.

Dissertations are culminating works of doctoral study. They are the single, tangible student effort demanded by doctoral education and they are built for public review. Like all doctoral work marking the divide between a student’s private study and a scholar’s professional status, CUNY dissertations are historically and necessarily public. They are the academic credential, subject to review and scrutiny, required to join a discipline and to assume an academic (or alt-academic) title and position. This credential signals that a scholar is accountable to a wider world. They must be reliably accessible, readable, stable, deliverable.

Dissertations are the pride of CUNY graduate education, providing our purpose and service to the broader public that endows CUNY’s very existence. The dissertation room is a Graduate Center showcase, a temple to this work; a testament to the centrality of graduate work to the mission of this public university. Here they are magnificently displayed for willing readers, viewable from the street, inviting any desiring reader to read in full, to read in part, or to use to simply verify a citation.

Before she joined the Graduate Center, Judy was Assistant to the University Associate Dean of Faculty and Staff Relations at CUNY Central, where she worked on matters related to the collective bargaining agreement and, according to her 1987 resume, she trained on “the IBM Personal Computer.” Good thing, because Chief Librarian Jane R. Moore required “experience using and IBM PC/AT with good knowledge of WordPerfect and dBase III.” Judy has managed paper dissertations, but she’s been in front of one screen or another for the bulk of her career.

Judy holds a B.A. in Foreign Literature from SUNY Binghamton; she worked 1966-67 for the New York Life Insurance Company; she worked 1968-73 at U.S. Plywood; she worked 1974-5 as a coordinator of retirement plans at the Amerace Corporation. Judy has offered every library colleague advice about about health insurance, drug benefits, retirement plans, and best health care strategies (I go to Judy’s opthamologist, and many librarians see her dentist).

In 1987 the driver from General bookbinding wheeled a large dolly with 12 cartons of bound dissertations into the center of a room near where Judy was standing. When the driver removed the last of the cartons, the dolly tipped and 2 cartons banged into her leg causing serious bruising. In 2000 she experienced lower back pain on the job after moving a stack of dissertations from a table to shelving in her office; she had similar injuries in 1989 and 1993. Judy works through discomfort and adapts. Since I have known her she has worn a weight belt when lifting anything. And she makes anyone else helping her wear a weight belt when they move dissertations, too.

Judy received an Outstanding Achievement Award in May 1999 and Employee of the Year Award in May 2014. Susan Newman, the Chief Librarian wrote in 1999: “The dissertation deposit period is often … the most stressful moments in a student’s life. Tired from their defense and under time pressure to deposit, they often arrive in Judith Waldman’s office near tears or at the point of screaming. … Judy’s calming manner, patience, helpful advice, reassurance …  Judy never loses her cool or her sense of humor — even during the last few days of the deposit period when there may be as many as ten students in her office at once, each with at least six boxes fresh from the photocopier. … Judy gives up her own personal time to accommodate student needs: during dissertation deposit season she is not a woman who lunches. She [works late] in the evenings to return students’ calls … when they are likely to be at home.”

A student wrote about Judy in a 1996 letter about her deposit: “So many details must be in order for the process to be complete. Judy Waldman inspired confidence in identifying changes that needed to be made, in recommending a place to have the document xeroxed, and in completing the entire procedure. What could be a harrowing experience became for me a happy memory.”

This is what Judy does for our student graduates: she simplifies a harrowing process, and she creates a happy memory. It is a big deal to earn a degree, to graduate. Judy has made 4227 of us feel really special for having accomplished that. Judy is enthusiastic, good natured, and gracious. She engages students and her colleagues with a full and caring heart. She works responsibility and to the very best of her ability. She never says no.

The reason she’s retiring is because her hip is saying no. Judy — with surgery in the immediate offing, on Dec 9th, we hope that you receive the careful loving attention equal to that you have offered us all. Thank you so very much for sharing 28 years with the students, faculty, and staff of the Graduate Center. We wish you all the very best.

About the Author

Prof. Polly Thistlethwaite is CUNY's Interim University Dean for Library Services.