Robert Siudzinski

 Robert Siudzinski

He already had a job as director of special education at New York's Adelphi University and Florida wasn't his favorite state. But Dr. Robert Siudzinski readily accepted an offer to join the charter faculty as chairman of the special education department of the University of North Florida.

"The opportunity to start a new program comes once in a lifetime," he said. "So I took it."

UNF's special education program wasn't projected to begin until at least 1978, according to Siudzinski, but community need demanded it start when the university opened in 1972.

"We were assigned to start a graduate program in mental retardation, however the strong need in the community was for training teachers of the learning disabled and emotionally disturbed as well," he recalled. "We overcame the limitations they first gave us with innovative programming, given the small faculty we were originally assigned, only two FTEs."

The answer was non-categorical programming, Siudzinski explained, with certification offered in all three instructional areas: learning disabilities, emotional disabilities, and mental retardation. "We were 25 years ahead of our time at UNF," he noted. "The state has now become interested in non-categorial programming and may well adopt it in the near future."

Recognition of the innovation is not new. In 1979 the program was selected as one of three "Programs of Excellence" in the United States by the American Association of College Teachers of Education. The following year, it was voted "Outstanding Teacher Preparation Program" by the Florida Association of Teacher Educators. As department chair throughout this period, Suidzinski recognized the importance of the special education faculty and staff in the program's success.

"We had a clear-thinking faculty that was creative and a department secretary, Gerry Stage, who kept us all in line," Siudzinski said. "The faculty is a good working team, which is illustrated by its low turnover rate." Some of the program's best alumni also work at UNF, he added, naming Lynne Raiser, Lib D'Zamko, and Janice Seabrooks as examples.

Working with the Florida Institute of Education, which seeks to unify educational programs at all levels, was a career highlight for Siudzinski. The FIE was started by Dr. Andrew Robinson, former UNF interim president. "He was a good man to work with, an achiever and a good human being who did a lot for this institution," Siudzinski said. "It's sort of sad because I occasionally ask the students in class if they know who he was. They know the name on the building, but not the man."

Dr. Siudzinski began phased retirement this term, and will teach again in the fall of 1998. He looks forward to delivering more lectures on the Enneagram, a 2,000-year-old method of personality typing on which he is a recognized authority. Travel and photography are also high on his list of pursuits with more leisure time. Still, he has a special affinity for the University of North Florida.

"The 25 years went so fast. It only seems like a couple of years," he said. "I look forward to continuing the relationship."