Sheldon Solomon: Psych Professor & Skidmore Legend

As a Skidmore student, it’s pretty much one of the core requirements to take a class with the infamous psychology professor, Sheldon Solomon. Okay, not really, but we certainly think it should be. Don’t let his long hair, cut-off jean shorts and tie-dyed shirts fool you; Sheldon is a professor that will keep you thinking about everything from why we exist on this planet to what you had for lunch long after you leave his class. His slightly crass -- yet witty -- insights keep students on the edge of their seats. Meeting Sheldon is a treat in and of itself. If you haven’t had the opportunity to, read on; you might just find yourself yearning for a spot in one of his classes next semester!

Tell us about yourself: who IS Sheldon Solomon?

Sheldon Solomon is a twitching blob of respiring biological protoplasm no more fundamentally significant or enduring than a lizard or a potato.

How did you begin teaching at Skidmore? 

I started teaching at Skidmore in 1980, primarily because they were the only school to offer me a job!  I had interviews at other fine universities, but they all balked when I said that I wanted to take a few years to think and read rather than just to continue the work I did as a graduate student.  I have always been grateful to the college for giving me the time and space to cultivate and refine my own academic interests.

What first sparked your interest in psychology?

Three things.  First, being a child in a "crazy" family growing up in the Bronx (New York) and always wondering why my relatives behaved as they did (it took me a few years to realize the most families are "crazed" in their own way!).  Second, I have always been interested in human beings' longstanding inability to peacefully coexist with other people who do not share their beliefs; some of my research at Skidmore has been devoted to understanding the psychological underpinnings of prejudice and violence.  Third, my grandmother died when I was 8 or 9 years old and I realized then that I, too, would ultimately die.  I found this realization unsettling (and still do for that matter); and most of my research as a psychologist has been devoted to understanding how the uniquely human awareness of death influences just about everything that people think and do.

From a professor's prospective, what do you love about Skidmore?

From my perspective, I love the fact that "creative thought matters" at Skidmore.  This is more than just a motto.  I have taught more than 20 different courses here, often in areas that I was not expert in at the time, and this has given me opportunities to work with faculty in other disciplines (here and at other institutions) and has rendered me a better teacher and scholar.  I also love the students at Skidmore.  I was 26 years old when I started teaching here, and from the moment I arrived, Skidmore students have always been welcoming and caring and creative creatures!  Now as I totter on the threshold of senility, I look back and find that the godparents of our two children are former Skidmore students; my lawyer and chiropractor are former Skidmore students; we bought our house from a former Skidmore student; we opened a restaurant in Saratoga Springs with a former student; some of my current students are children of my original Skidmore students--I love that.

What do you do in your free time?

I like walking around and riding my bike, cooking, listening to music, reading, playing guitar (badly), and traveling.

What are you reading right now?

I just finished One, No One, and One Hundred Thousand by Luigi Pirandello.

If there was one time and place in history that you could go back to, where and to what time would you go? Why?

I often wonder what it would have been like to have been part of the first community of early humans in southeastern Africa a few hundred thousand years ago.  Every human now on earth is descended from this one single group, and it would be interesting to get a first-hand sense of what they were doing and thinking.

If you could be anyone else in the world, who would it be?

Bob Marley, if he were alive -- but only for long enough to know what it would be like to be a great musician.  For the most part otherwise, I would prefer to be me (or perhaps a better version of me).

Any words of wisdom for current Skidmore students?

Sure, here's one of my favorite snippets of wisdom from George Eliot's Adam Bede:

“For if it be true that Nature at certain moments seems charged with a presentiment of one individual lot, must it not also be true that she seems unmindful, unconscious of another?  For there is no hour that has not its births of gladness and despair, no morning brightness that does not bring new sickness to desolation as well as new forces to genius and love.  There are so many of us, and our lots are so different: what wonder that Nature’s mood is often in harsh contrast with the great crisis of our lives?  We are children of a large family, and must learn, as such children do, not to expect that our little hurts will be made much of – to be content with little nurture and caressing and help each other the more.”