Stanley Tennenbaum
American Original

1. Stan at Rochester

After three intense years as a Peirce Instructor at Harvard, where I felt over my head and out of my league, I joined the mathematics department of the University of Rochester in 1964, a year before Stan arrived. I thrived: confidence returned as research picked up and teaching ripened. But my marriage did not thrive and in 1965 I returned to Rochester for the fall semester as a single father, just as Stan and Carol moved into the neighborhood. I was initially drawn into the Tennenbaum orbit more through Carol, who leapt in and became a source of maternal warmth for my two sons, 9 and 10, making sure that we dined with them at least once a week. The three of us still remember the remarkable dinner-table conversations which Stan facilitated in a way that brought everyone in, from second graders to visiting luminaries.

Stan had an immediate effect on the whole math department, enlivening it in many dimensions. He carried with him the intellectual spirit of the University of Chicago in the heyday of Robert Hutchins, along with a beguiling mix of melancholy and joy. He was passionately interested in ideas, and passionately interested in people. He displayed a generosity that made him many friends, and an uncompromising idealism that could get him in deep trouble. For a sizable group of students he was a major lifelong influence, vividly recalled 50 years later.

For the next three years Stan was the colleague from whom I learned the most, about mathematics, about life, and particularly about teaching, which he took both very seriously and very playfully. From Stan I learned to come out from behind the authority of The Professor and be real. Now, teaching at Goddard, I would say that Stan taught me to model imperfection, which empowers students to make mistakes and admit ignorance without fear, and thus to explore courageously and joyfully. Stan could embody imperfection perfectly. As I write this I realize how much he prepared me to teach at Goddard.

Stan had another important influence on me: he introduced me to the “constructive mathematics” of Errett Bishop, which ultimately changed my life profoundly. Stan and Errett had been close as graduate students at Chicago, so Stan paid attention in 1966 when Errett became a polarizing figure in the world of mathematics. Stan was fascinated by the revolution in mathematical thought that Bishop proposed, and by the uncomprehending reaction of the mathematics community, and we often spoke of it. But I remained with the uncomprehending majority, and my conversion to Bishop’s program came several years later after both Stan and I were gone from Rochester. Below I’ll describe the significant role that Stan later played in Bishop’s revolution. But first, since Bishop is so little known today, I’ll introduce him and his failed revolution, in which Stan played a significant part.