Gary Harmon regards life as an adventure and learning journey and that goes a long way toward explaining how a Nebraska boy ended up a professor and founding chair in Language and Literature at UNF.
A native of Hastings, Neb., Harmon was a quick study and finished high school at age 16. He attended Hastings College where he received a bachelor's degree in English and history.
The thirst for knowledge and adventure led him to Indiana University where he pursued three graduate degrees. "I was in graduate school at 20 and two master's degrees slowed me down enough so I could mature some. The study of literature and culture requires maturity," he says. "Early on, my interest in understanding the psychology of different cultures led me to teach and write about Americans and their mythologies. Fortunately for me, the field of English has taken a cultural studies direction."
That maturity was accumulated in several ways, including being a residence hall counselor for men at Indiana. It was the Nebraska young man's first experience with diversity as he befriended football players and swimmers and a variety of other students in the residence halls. "I've always been stimulated by persons whose background differs from mine. That prepared me for the future," he says.
By 1960, he was a young professor at Flint Community College in Flint, Mich. After earning his Ph.D. at Indiana in 1966, he accepted the division chairmanship at Morehead State University in Morehead, Ky. He was responsible for establishing the Division of Language, Literature and Philosophy. The adventure of educational experimentation in an avant garde liberal arts college lured him to Stephens College in Columbia, Mo. where he chaired the Division of Language, Literature and Philosophy and headed the English Department from 1967 to 1971. "Teaching and learning were sophisticated endeavors there, and this tuned me up for the early years at UNF when we were inclined toward invention and risk-taking as a matter of course."
The allure of helping to design and launch a university is what convinced Harmon to come to UNF in 1971. "The adventure of being a founding professor and chair at a new university was the deciding factor. Here was an opportunity to continue to invent and lead in a new university."
In the years since, Harmon has felt pleasure in helping to shape the direction of various parts of the University. He has developed and taught many courses, chaired his department, published articles and books and helped found scholarly associations and journals. And now he is president of the faculty union, a position calling upon his talents as a problem solver and negotiator as he represents faculty interests.
Summing up, he says, "One concept I have always identified with is civility -- not just tact and diplomacy but openness to different ideas and respect for others who have a different way of believing. It has been a theme for my whole career."