Benjamin Rifkin, Ph.D.
Professor of World Languages & Cultures (Russian)
Dean of the School of Humanities & Social Sciences
302 Social Science Building
- Academic Biography
- What I Do
- Professional Memberships
- Study Abroad
- Dean Rifkin, Then and Now
- My Textbooks
- Get To Know Your Friendly Neighborhood Dean
I earned my bachelor’s and first master’s degrees in Russian & East European Studies at Yale University, where I began my study of Russian. Between my first and second master’s degrees, I spent two years in Moscow, where I worked for a Soviet publishing house as a translator and, in a part-time position, for NBC News as an interpreter. After working in Moscow, I enrolled in graduate school at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where I earned my second master’s degree and my Ph.D. in Slavic Languages and Literature. I wrote my dissertation on semiotics of narration in film and prose fiction, focusing on the transposition of narrator’s discourse in two works of prose into two major films of the transitional period immediately preceding Gorbachev’s “perestroika”, Scarecrow and My Friend Ivan Lapshin.
After defending my dissertation, I joined the faculty of the Slavic Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where I directed the Russian language program for 15 years, ultimately serving as chair of the department and director of the Center for Russia, East Europe and Central Asia. From 1999 – 2003 I also served as director of the Middlebury College Russian School, a summer intensive immersion program in Russian. From 2005-2009 I worked at Temple University, serving for some of that time as Vice Dean for Undergraduate Affairs in the College of Liberal Arts.
Since defending my dissertation in 1990, I have written two books, coauthored a third, and edited two volumes of essays about foreign language teaching, one of which won a national award from the American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages. I have published over 30 articles and book chapters. My work has appeared in journals such as The ADFL Bulletin, The Foreign Language Annals, The Modern Language Journal, The Slavic and East European Journal, and «Высшее образование» (Higher Education), a journal published by the Ministry of Education of the Russian Federation, among other journals. I have also led collaborative efforts to create software related to foreign language learning and teaching. I regularly give talks at conferences of the American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages and the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, as well as lectures and workshops at universities throughout the United States and in Russia. I have also won grants related to my focus in foreign language education (one of which, called “RAILS,” won a national award for excellence in pedagogy). I have been interviewed by the American and Russian media on matters related to foreign language education.
Dean Rifkin speaks during the 2010 Commencement exercises
As Dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences I am the academic leader of the over 100 tenure-stream faculty, over 2200 students, and two dozen staff members who work and study in the departments and programs in the humanities and social sciences that comprise our school. I am a passionate advocate of the liberal arts education at the heart of the academic program of the College of New Jersey; indeed, I am a dedicated teacher and faculty advisor, myself, and am proud to have won awards both for teaching and advising at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (in 2000 and 2004, respectively).
I conduct research in the areas of foreign language pedagogy, foreign language teacher education, applied linguistics, second language acquisition (the acquisition of Russian as a foreign language), and contemporary Russian film. I am proud to have conducted research in both quantitative and qualitative paradigms. I am particularly interested in assessing student learning in the context of performance-based and portfolio assessments. Click here (text below) for my list of publications.
I am a member of the American Association for Applied Linguistics (AAAL), the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), the American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages (AATSEEL) in which I have served as President (2003-2004), and which honored me in 2008 with an award for outstanding service to the Slavic Profession, the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), where I currently serve as a member of the Board of Directors, and the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies (ASEEES).
I am also a member of the American Association of University Supervisors, Coordinators and Directors of Foreign Language Programs (AAUSC), the American Council of Teachers of Russian (ACTR), where I served on the board of directors for 20 years, the Council of Colleges of Arts & Sciences ( CCAS ), the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR), and the Modern Language Association (MLA). I recently served on the Board of Directors of the Northeast Conference of the Teaching of Foreign Languages (NECTFL).
Information for Students and Teachers of Russian
If you are thinking about studying Russian, click here. If you are a teacher of Russian looking for resources for your course or classroom, click here to visit Russnet and click here to read an essay about materials for teaching Russian.
I studied abroad at Leningrad State University (now St. Petersburg State University) and then worked for two years in Moscow. (Here’s a picture of me on Red Square – picture yourself there!) I think that every college student should take advantage of the opportunity to study abroad: it’s an incredible experience to grow and learn, not only about the culture you’re living in, but also about yourself.
If you are interested in study abroad anywhere in the world, please visit TCNJ’s Center for Global Engagement. If you’re interested in study abroad programs in Russia, I recommend those sponsored in Moscow, St. Petersburg, or Vladimir by the American Council of Teachers of Russian (ACTR – I serve on its Board of Directors) the program in St. Petersburg sponsored by the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE – I’m an alumnus of this program), and the programs sponsored by Middlebury College, in Moscow, Yaroslavl, and Irkutsk, are all excellent.
Summer Russian Language Study
Benjamin Rifkin on Red Square, in Moscow, in November 1984. He lived there after studying abroad at Leningrad State University (now St. Petersburg University).
Dean Rifkin, Now
Benjamin Rifkin, as Dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, in front of Green Hall at The College of New Jersey.
I am the author of an intermediate Russian textbook, Grammatika v kontekste: Russian Grammar in Literary Contexts published by McGraw-Hill, which went out of print after a run of more than 15 years. I am currently working with co-authors on a new third-year Russian textbook to be published by Georgetown University Press in 2015. I am also the author of a handbook for introductory Russian, START: The Sound and Writing Systems of Russian, published by Focus Publishing. I am the co-author, with Olga Kagan and Anna Alsufieva (formerly Yatsenko), of Advanced Russian through History, published by Yale University Press: click here.
Websites with Cyrillic Fonts and Keyboard Drivers
For information about Russian fonts and keyboard drivers, click here.
Websites for Information about Jobs Using Your Russian
You can find information about job opportunities in Russia at the website of the US-Russia Business Council. Indiana University’s Russian and East European Institute maintains a great webpage with ideas for those searching for jobs with expertise in one or more Slavic languages: click here for that site.
I live with my wife about 30 miles from the College. Our two children are in college (not at TCNJ, so they don’t have to say the sentence “My Dad is my dean”!) In my spare time, I enjoy reading Russian novels (serious and pulp-fiction), works of history (in English and Russian), watching films, reading my favorite newspapers and blogs, and traveling. I’m delighted to attend events on campus, including the English Department’s Close Readings, the Political Science Department’s Politics Forum, and presentations by invited guests and performers, as well as student theatrical, musical and athletic performances. I enjoy lunch and dinner in Eickhoff dining hall with students from time to time during the academic year.
If you’d like to read more about why I decided to study Russian or about my time working in the Soviet Union, click here for a story that appeared in TCNJ Magazine when first I joined the TCNJ Team in the summer of 2009. You can also read more about me in a story that appeared in our College newspaper, The Signal, by clicking here. The Signal did a story about my dog, Webster, whom I used to bring to campus, so you can see that here. (Sadly, Webster passed away in August 2013.)
Click here to view a listing of Benjamin Rifkin’s publications.