Faculty Spotlight: Victor Henningsen And Susan McCaslin’s Long Trip at PA

With more than 50 years of combined Andover experience, Victor Henningsen ’69, Instructor in History and Social Sciences, and Susan McCaslin, Associate Dean of Faculty and Instructor in Philosophy and Religious Studies, have worked under three headmasters, taught hundreds of students and witnessed some of Andover’s major transformations. As a student at Andover in the 1960’s, Henningsen’s graduating class was all-male. In 1974, Henningsen returned to Phillips Academy, this time as a member of the faculty, to witness a newly coeducational school. The school offered him a job as Assistant to then-Headmaster Theodore Sizer, during Henningsen’s fifth class reunion. Henningsen said that the timing of this offer could not have been better, since a recent oil crisis had jeopardized his previous job as a Vermont park ranger. Henningsen also worked as a college counselor while at PA Henningsen and McCaslin, who was working then as a writer for Andover’s Bicentennial Campaign, first met at Phillips Academy in 1977 while “eating lunch in Lower Left.” After their brief time at Andover, Henningsen and McCaslin went on to pursue other interests. Henningsen attended graduate school at Stanford and later Harvard. While finishing his doctorate at Harvard, Henningsen also served as a teaching fellow and Assistant Dean of Freshmen Admissions. McCaslin, who had received her Masters of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School, later returned to Harvard as the Director of the Program in Religion and Secondary Education. Henningsen and McCaslin married in 1982 and later went on to live in Weld Hall on the Harvard University campus. However, when their first child was born, the couple began to contemplate alternatives to living in Cambridge. At about this time, Phillips Academy approached Henningsen with the position of Flagstaff Cluster Dean, and he readily accepted the offer. McCaslin taught in the philosophy and religious studies department before being appointed Dean of Studies in 1989. 1989 proved to be a tough year for the couple, with responsibilities as deans and parents of two young children. McCaslin said, “It was a crazy year for all of us. We really don’t remember much of it.” Over the course of their time at Andover, Henningsen and McCaslin have also held positions as department chairs, house counselors, coaches, advisors, directors and academic advisors, in addition to serving on a number of committees. Currently, Henningsen works as a head official for track and field while McCaslin coaches for the Girls Junior Varsity Squash team during Winter Term. Yet Henningsen and McCaslin’s careers have rarely crossed paths. As McCaslin said, “Since we teach in two different departments, we have parallel careers, not joint ones. We bring different perspectives to our discussions and we often disagree — even in faculty meetings.” While Henningsen and McCaslin may find it difficult to agree on certain matters, their disparate careers have allowed for a balanced marriage. “It’s rare that we’ve both held major positions simultaneously. In a marriage you take turns — the person without the major position picks up more of the parenting and household tasks, although I have always done the laundry and she always does our taxes,” Henningsen said. Despite the extensive nature of their careers, teaching has always been something of a constant in their lives. McCaslin said, “Teaching has always been a baseline [for us]. Both of us came into teaching after administrative roles and it is something that has been consistently fun ever since.” She continued, “Andover is a big, diverse place; there are always new challenges. For example, with coaching I had the opportunity to discover new things to do. It isn’t like it’s all about career advancement; it’s about trying new things — the school always seems to have something new to do or try to do. The yardstick we measure by is ‘Is this still fun? Am I still learning?’” More recently, Henningsen has begun exploring opportunities outside of Andover. “I like the work I have now as a teacher; I have enough room to do some outer projects,” he said. After a six-month break in 2005, Henningsen began working with Vermont Public Radio as a regular commentator and has served as a curriculum consultant for the Massachusetts Historical Society. Henningsen said, “It’s completely different from anything I’ve done before … it spices life up a little bit.” As for future plans, Henningsen said, “We’ve never been committed to staying and we can’t foresee the future but — for now — we’re quite happy doing what we’re doing.”