Political science professor announces retirement after 28 years

Dr. Thomas Baldino has announced his retirement at the conclusion of the spring semester after working at Wilkes University for 28 years.

Baldino originally wanted to major in history and be a high school history teacher. One of his high school teachers, however, noted that he “was less interested in names and dates and facts, and more interested in causes,” and recommended him to take political science courses while he was at LaSalle College. This led to him becoming interested in being a university professor instead.

“I ended up liking those more. For me, it was kind of an evolution of an appreciation for what I thought I was interested in to what I was really interested in. From high school to college, college to grad school and from one grad school to another,” said Baldino.

His primary interests are trying to understand how governments operate and how policy gets made, as well as foreign politics. He wrote his master’s thesis on Italian foreign policy while he was at the University of Illinois. He received his Ph.D from the University of Pennsylvania and wrote his dissertation on Congress.

His first teaching job was at St. Francis University, and then after a year he spent 12 years at Juniata College. In 1991 he came to Wilkes and has been teaching since. He has been teaching 41 years full-time. His job searches were exclusively at small schools like Wilkes, as opposed to large research universities where “research came first and students came third.”

“I can tell you without any hesitancy that if I were teaching at, say, Harvard, maybe I’ll teach one course a semester. Maybe two. I would be around once a week for office hours and my teaching assistants would do most of the interaction with the undergraduates,” he explained, “That’s not what I wanted. My undergraduate experience was not that. I experienced that at Illinois and at Penn and I realized that’s where I didn’t wanna be.”

Baldino said he feels lucky and blessed to have had the opportunity to making a reasonable good living doing what he loves doing: teaching students at a small school. Being a first generation college student, Baldino said he assumes his college experience was very similar to lots of the student body here. He said he feels his responsibility is to help students achieve their dreams, and he tries to give them as much advice as he can. He wants to pay forward what his mentors did for him.

Courtesy of Wilkes Archives
Baldino, far right back row, with students in April 1998 at a political drive.

“You can go to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and look up salaries for particular professions. Finance and accounting PhDs, if you find a job at the right school, can start at the 150 thousand dollar range. But they’re not easy to get. A lot of people start and don’t finish. So the few that do can command good salaries from good schools because there aren’t that many of them. That’s just the nature of what the market is: there’s not enough of them.”

Baldino also twice served as the chairperson of the political science department and division of social sciences as well as the dean of the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. The first was for 18 months and the other for almost two years. Both times Baldino noted the intensity of the jobs and how he was much more comfortable being faculty.

“Someone once described leading academics as herding cats. I would say that is not quite accurate. It’s actually like herding lions, tigers, leopards, cheetahs; animals that will rip your throat out if you’re not careful. They’re all headstrong because of their intense training. If you try to lead someone who doesn’t want to be led in a direction that that person thinks is wrong, they can and will challenge you. Rank is irrelevant at that point, it’s who has the better argument,” he said.

After retirement Baldino said he’s excited to start another phase of his life. He hopes to do more volunteer work and plans to spend time traveling the world with his wife without having to plan around the constraints of the academic cycle. He wants to go to Europe again and spend time in places like England, Iceland and Venice.

Although he had written several political science books with Dr. Kyle Krieder, Baldino plans to write short stories that aren’t strictly political science. He is a massive fan of Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, and has a 1967 Middle-earth poster in his office.

“Everyone thinks they can write the Great American Novel. That’s not me, but I wouldn’t mind dabbling in some short stories. I’m a sci-fi fantasy sort of person. I want to take my interest in politics and merge it in, kind of like Game of Thrones but not that intense,” he said.

As for music, he has eclectic tastes. Baldino likes all kinds of music: bluegrass, jazz and classical music. His favorites, however, are folk and protest music. He’s very big into artists like Bob Dylan; Simon & Garfunkel; Buffalo Springfield; Peter, Paul and Mary; and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. One of the big regrets, he said, was not having the ability to go to Woodstock due to lack of funds and lack of parental support.

He also said he would never be able to forget his draft number, 64, due to the Beatles song “When I’m Sixty Four.” He signed into an army reserve unit and received a draft notice a week later. Enlisting in the reserves precluded him from being drafted and he got to choose the branch of service and unit he got into. He did six months of active duty and then spent six years in the army reserve.

“I went into, which doesn’t exist anymore, a railroad transportation battalion. They trained me to work in electronics equipment. Which is totally bizarre because I’m colorblind. So connect the red wire to the green wire,” he said.

Baldino said he’s consistently enjoyed teaching. He’s grateful about achieving his dream and having a very satisfying career. He’s happy about leaving on his own terms and retiring, as he called it, “vertically.”

“Years ago, the person I was hired to replace literally died in his office. And they carried him out. He was in his 50s and he had a heart attack. And I swore that was not going to be me,” he said.