Arnold Seiken remembered for kindness, humor

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Arnold Seiken

Arnold Seiken

Arnold Seiken, professor emeritus and former chair of mathematics, used his kindness, deadpan humor and subtle sarcasm to encourage struggling students and enliven his department. He passed away on Monday, April 18, 2022. He was 94.

He retired in 1996 after 28 years at Union, including 13 as department chair.

Throughout his career and during retirement, he was a regular at department celebrations, where he began the tradition of reciting original and witty poetry to honor a promoted colleague, according to Julius Barbanel, professor emeritus.

Barbanel recalled that in his job interview the chair eagerly announced faculty benefits including sheep grazing on the College lawn and free burial in the College Plot at Vale Cemetery.

“He had a deadpan humor and you just weren’t sure if he was kidding or not,” Barbanel said. “You had to sort through the sarcasm.”

Seiken was largely responsible for encouraging faculty to shift their focus solely from teaching to also doing research, according to an entry by his colleague, the late Professor Ted Bick ’58, in the Encyclopedia of Union College History.

Seiken loved tennis. But Bick, an accomplished distance runner, touted his sport as an ideal outlet for mathematicians who thrive on solitary concentration. By the peak of the running boom in the mid-1980s, Bick had recruited most of his colleagues and converted the tennis players.

“We tried to suppress running, but Ted was a formidable force,” joked Seiken, one of the few tennis holdouts. “I view running as a de-evolutionary development.”

Seiken’s office, in the southeast corner on the second floor of Bailey Hall, was filled with sunlight and crowded with plants, leaving barely enough room for the professor and a guest.

He arrived at Union in 1967 after teaching appointments at the University of Michigan, the University of Illinois, Michigan State University and the University of Rhode Island.

He held a B.A. from Syracuse University; and M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Michigan

Seiken joined his retired mathematics colleagues for monthly luncheons, most recently in March, said Barbanel, adding, “He was so gracious and kind and said he was lucky to have had such a good life.”

Survivors include his wife of 67 years, Ione; two sons, Aron ’80 and Jason ’80; and a daughter, Dabra ’84.

The family’s obituary is here: