Dr. Monika Shafi is retiring from the Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures after thirty-two years of distinguished service. During her time at UD, she was named Elias Ahuja Professor of German, founded and directed the Women's Studies Department, and became a renowned scholar in her field. She retires with Emeritus status. Dr. Shafi reports that she came to the University in 1986: "My husband had joined UD in 1983 and I was absolutely delighted when a tenure-track position in German became available and I was hired. It was perfect and I never looked for any other opportunity."
Of her many achievements, she is most proud of overhauling the German undergraduate curriculum with Chair, Dr. Richard Zipser, shortly after her arrival. She notes, "I believe we laid a good foundation that held up for many years. Subsequently my colleagues and I redesigned and developed a strong Master's Program, and over the years we graduated many outstanding undergraduate and graduate students."
She enjoyed teaching all of her courses, but notes that she found the courses related to her own research to be particularly gratifying: "The graduate courses on Women Authors, German-Jewish Writing, Narratives of the Nation as well as courses on travel literature—I taught those both for the German program and for the Honors Program—are especially dear to me." While these were her favorite courses, Dr. Shafi was pleased to teach all of her students: "It always gave me immense pleasure to see their progress or tell me that they struggled with a particular text but came to recognize it was worth the effort. Since we work so closely with our graduate students, I have more vivid memories of their performances in the classroom or on the exams. In fact, I friend the MA students on Facebook so that I can keep in touch and hear about their personal and professional journeys."
In her retirement, Dr. Shafi has been learning languages (Italian in particular), visiting museums, gardening, enjoying photography and, spending time with family and friends. She concludes, "I also hope to get involved at some point in volunteering for the community. For me, the privilege of time is the greatest gift of retirement."
Below you will find portions of the retirement addresses given on Dr. Shafi's behalf on December 5, 2018 by Dr. Richard Zipser, who retired as Department Chair in 2014 and Dr. Mary Donaldson-Evans, Emeritus Professor of French and long-time friend of Dr. Shafi's.
Dr. Richard Zipser's Retirement Tribute to Dr. Monika Shafi
By a fortunate coincidence, Monika Shafi and I joined the UD faculty at the same time—September 1, 1986. Monika started as a tenure-track Assistant Professor of German, and I was the new Chair of the Department and Professor of German. As she and I would soon discover, the program in German needed to be rethought and revamped. The language courses were in the very capable hands of Trudy Gilgenast, but the undergraduate major had languished for wont of regularly-scheduled literature courses and the graduate program was virtually non-existent. I realized that I could not fix this by myself and therefore invited Monika to help me create a new curriculum in German. During the 1987 winter session the two of us spent many, many hours designing new courses at the 200, 300, 400, and graduate levels. Our hard work and collaboration yielded a totally new program in German Studies that was truly the product of a shared vision! Monika was a team player way back then, and she has been a reliable team player throughout her career.
In time, our new undergraduate program attracted a respectable number of German majors and we were able to build the graduate program in German as well. Monika was the key person in this initiative, as she was able to persuade many top students from her advanced courses to enter our MA program. She also developed a good network of contacts at other universities and used them to recruit excellent students emerging from their German programs.
This experience would stand Monika in good stead later in her career when she would become deeply involved in the Women's Studies program, serving as its Director from 2005 to 2010. After a few years, she was able to upgrade Women's Studies from program status to a new department, which she then chaired until 2016 and expanded in various ways. This was a significant accomplishment that is part of her legacy.
Through her book publications, articles in leading professional journals, and many conference papers, Monika has earned an enviable international reputation as a scholar. She has authored four books, the last two of which reflect the wide range of her intellectual interests: one is entitled Housebound: Selfhood and Domestic Space in Contemporary German Fiction, and the other is Balancing Acts: Intercultural Encounters in Contemporary German and Austrian Literature. Her first two books were written in German: one is on "Utopian Models in Literature by Women;" the other introduces the work of an important but long neglected German-Jewish writer of the 1920s and 1930s, Gertrud Kolmar. Finally, I should mention that Monika also edited a volume of essays on approaches to teaching Günter Grass's novel The Tin Drum for the Modern Language Association series, Approaches to Teaching World Literature. [She also recently co-edited and wrote an article for the collection, Anxious Journeys: Twenty-First-Century Travel Writing in Germany in 2019.]
Throughout her career, Monika worked assiduously to improve her teaching techniques so as to enhance the learning experience of her students. She has taught survey courses on German literature as well as advanced seminars at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Sample topics include German-Jewish Writers, Women Writers, Post-Wall German Literature, Love and Marriage in Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Prose, Travel Literature, and Postcolonialism.
Over the years students have commented repeatedly that Monika is a creative and dynamic instructor, that her classes are stimulating and challenging. They have appreciated her ability to incorporate appropriate aspects of her research interests into courses at both the undergraduate and graduate level. Comments like the following one attest to her extraordinary ability to elicit the very best performance from each of her students: "Dr. Shafi motivated me to work really hard and I did better work in her course than I ever thought I could." For some German majors, especially those planning a career in teaching, Monika was a role model. They registered her careful preparation for each class, her professional comportment in and outside the classroom, the way she approached and presented the material being studied, and how deftly she engaged them in discussions. In short, they observed a master teacher at work!
In addition to serving as a role model for generations of admiring students, Monika has been a selfless and patient mentor to many graduate students and young faculty, happy to share the wisdom she had gained along the way at UD and elsewhere and help other women chart successful career paths. Her work in this important area has always been exemplary.
For her outstanding performance as scholar, teacher, and in the area of service, Monika was awarded the Elias Ahuja professorship in German in 2002.
In closing I want to thank Monika for all the assistance she gave me from her very first semester at UD on, and also for her many contributions to our Department and University. Monika, you have had an incredibly productive and successful career at UD, and all of us in Languages, Literatures, and Cultures deeply appreciate what you have done in so many areas of professional activity and personally as well to improve our Department and elevate its reputation. We wish you many happy and rewarding years in your retirement—and above all, good health!
Mary Donaldson-Evans' Retirement Tribute to Dr. Monika Shafi
Historically, France and Germany have often been enemies. I mention this because there was nothing "pre-ordained" about my friendship with Monika Shafi. It must have been some thirty years ago that we first met. I have a clear recollection of sitting next to Monika on the back seat of a bus, conversing with her and being impressed by how unaffected and candid she was. I have no clue where that bus was going or why we would have been together in that situation, but the memory is stuck in my head, as vivid as if it were yesterday. That said, I confess that I've reached the age where the things I remember with greatest clarity…never happened. (That's not original: it's a quote from Chief Justice Stephen Breier.) From that first encounter, our friendship developed over coffee at Brew-Ha-Ha, lunch at Krazy Kats and at Terrain, dinner at her house and at mine. When face-to-face meetings were impossible, we've communicated by phone and e-mail. To give you some idea of how important this friendship is to me, when I did a search of my e-mail inbox the other day, I found eighty-seven undeleted messages from Monika.
Monika's comfort with our cross-cultural friendship in fact came quite naturally to a woman who had married a Pakistani and had fully integrated into his family and whose research has often dealt with cross-cultural issues.
How Monika has managed to find time to nurture this friendship, I will never know. In the thirty-two years she has been at the University of Delaware, Monika has managed to author four books and edit three more, to publish sixty-five journal articles and book chapters, and to deliver a whopping ninety-five papers in English and in German all over the globe. The term "bionic woman" comes to mind. In addition, she has served on every major committee in the Department and has administered what was first the Women's Studies Program and then, thanks largely to her own efforts, a full-fledged department, today known as the Department of Women and Gender Studies.
Nor does she give her time exclusively to her profession. To borrow the title of one of her books, Monika is a consummate master of the Balancing Act. Although a scholar through and through, she has always put her family first, and my admiration for her is boundless. Through the years, she has taken pride in her husband Qaisar's research distinctions—which are indeed impressive—and in the accomplishments of her children, from Miriam's 5K runs and her job at Bank of America to Karim's outstanding record at medical school and his current residency at the prestigious Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. As a perfect example of her willingness to put her kids first, she finally acceded—after many, many months of hesitating—to their request for a dog, knowing full well that while such an acquisition would be beneficial to them, it would complicate her life and Qaisar's immeasurably.
One might expect that Monika's heavy research and speaking commitments, her administrative duties and her dedication to her family would crowd out her devotion to her students. Nothing could be further from the truth. Although I don't recall ever having been privy to her course evaluations, I recently consulted that now obsolete RateMyProfessor.com site where I read—I am not making this up—that she is "the best professor in the world." That is not faint praise. On that site, the students also confirmed that she was a "tough grader" and that she had a good sense of humor. (I might add that these are not incompatible.)
When we get together, our conversations are punctuated by the sound of Monika's laughter, and although I'd like to believe that it's because I'm a wit, the truth is that Monika simply has a knack for seeing the lighter side of things. She's also one of the most discreet people I've ever met, and when I've confided in her, as I've done frequently over the years, I've never for one moment doubted that my confidences would be safe with her. Another thing I admire about Monika is her refusal to compromise her principles, even when doing so might be professionally expedient. Finally, I love and admire her absolute refusal to take herself seriously.
Monika, may your retirement be as active, as productive and as filled with fun as you are!