Alec MacLeod, Retirement Reception
Campus News

Professor Emeritus Alec MacLeod is Celebrated for Three Decades of Teaching at CIIS

Alec MacLeod, long-time CIIS Professor, shares his thoughts about teaching, his students, and reflects on his recent retirement 

December 3, 2023

Editorial note: The following is an article about Professor Emeritus Alec MacLeod’s work over three decades as professor in the School of Undergraduate Studies at CIIS. During his tenure, MacLeod’s primary area of preparation has been in the studio arts, art theory, progressive pedagogy, and information science. Professor MacLeod was recently feted during a retirement celebration at CIIS.

At a recent retirement celebration, CIIS Professor Emeritus Alec MacLeod told the group assembled that he felt a strange sense of relief after spending three decades teaching studio arts, art theory, progressive pedagogy, and information science, all of which he says is rooted in social justice. The acclaimed artist, who, in addition to teaching, continues to hold exhibits of his artwork all over the Bay Area and beyond, was always consciously worried that he would never rise to his students’ expectations in his 30 years teaching at CIIS.

Alec MacLeod's Retirement Celebration Speech

“I was always worried about letting my students down, about not being good enough, (and) about someone who was in class and not seeming to be present,” MacLeod said. “And now, I'm not worried about that so much anymore because I only have one more class to teach. I’m feeling lighter as a result.”

In fact, he rose well beyond to meet his students’ expectations.

Deirdre Visser, a former student of MacLeod’s who currently serves as an adjunct lecturer in Interdisciplinary Arts for the School of Consciousness and Transformation at CIIS, wrote about the inspiration she received from him in a blog post from 2019. 

“I took Alec MacLeod’s creative workshop elective. It was one of the most incredible experiences of my time at CIIS. As we’re all sitting in the group, there were like 20 of us maybe, and during one session, I made a book. I love to do smash up, or deconstruct materials and create a book of collage, so I made a book. He was like, “Who makes a book in one session? Wow!”

As the time went on, he said, “You're an artist.” I'm like, “What?” He's like, “You’re an artist.” So one day, I'm on my way to the class, I'm actually kind of late, and I get to a stop sign and I just break down crying, “I'm an artist. I'm an artist. Art lives in me, through me, as me.”

MacLeod’s legacy as a practicing visual artist has inspired hundreds of students just like Visser who have come to value and appreciate his thoughtful approach to teaching, an approach that began in the early 1990’s when he was invited by the university to help develop the Bachelor of Arts Completion program for nontraditional students (described as working adults above “college age”).

During a 2021 interview, MacLeod described the Bachelor Completion program as one that attracted mostly people who had dropped out of college in part because they did not necessarily have positive college experiences. 

“The first students to enroll were largely white ex-hippies who had dropped out of college in the ’60s and ’70s—those who had chosen professions that did not require a degree when they were younger—and a smattering of first-generation college students. Often, these students had been wounded in one way or another by their previous educational experiences.”

Thanks to MacLeod’s vision, creativity, and determination, the Bachelor Completion program continues to flourish and has become increasingly diversified in terms of race and class. He will proudly tell you the program “now admits a much larger number of first-generation students, formerly incarcerated students, military veterans, and others for whom traditional college pedagogy is less than appealing.”

Moreover, MacLeod said he believes “the program is similar to many graduate programs in that we emphasize skills in critical thinking, oral and written communication, and a range of methods for pursuing inquiry. Our graduates have learned to integrate and synthesize their learning, making it relevant to their lives and professional pursuits. These are skills that will serve them at the graduate level, much more than memorization and compliance with a professor’s expectations.”

Alec MacLeod, Retirement Reception

Although MacLeod will still remain connected to CIIS, it is his teaching and his collaborative experiences with students, colleagues, and staff that have made his career one filled with love. 

I really want to appreciate so many people who have been with me on this journey. As I said, it's been all about the collaboration. I've been one of the few people who's been able to say I really love my job and that's not to say it's been easy, but I've always loved my job.

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