For Dr. Jack Humphries in 1972, starting a university was nothing new. Fifteen years earlier, as a young officer, he was a charter faculty member at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. So when Humphries' friend, Dr. Roy Lassiter, invited him to leave his post as USAFA physics department chair and join the new UNF staff, he knew what was in store.
"My friends all said, 'You're leaving?'" Humphries laughed. "But I had already had the experience of being in on the planning and start-up of a terrific institution so I knew the kind of rewards that accrue to those who do this sort of thing." After spending 15 years at the Academy, Humphries was nearing a point at which he could take early retirement. But the biggest factor in the decision was Lassiter's involvement. The two met while Humphries was earning his Ph.D. in nuclear engineering at the University of Florida.
"When I learned Roy Lassiter was charter vice president for academic affairs, I immediately said I'd be grateful for the privilege to work with him," Humphries explained. "I knew that if he laid the academic foundation, it would surely be a first class institution. And my instincts were on target. Dr. Lassiter was a visionary and after 25 years, I can still trace his influence in the excellence and diversity of our academic programs, our record of equal opportunity employment, and in the faculty and staff originally assembled, many of whom are still here today."
Humphries has worn many hats during his time at UNF, from his first assignment as assistant dean of faculty for academic programs to acting vice president for academic affairs to interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences to chair of the natural sciences department (twice). He also coordinated the start-up of a joint criminology program with Florida State University, led the design of industrial technology programs, and even served as UNF's first "director of nursing" during start-up of that program.
Throughout, as a professor of natural sciences, he taught physics and technology courses at UNF's main campus and other locations such as the downtown center and the Naval Air Station, and as a guest lecturer at Edward Waters College. He introduced astronomy and college (non-calculus) physics courses to the UNF curriculum and won a College of Arts and Sciences Undergraduate Teaching Award in 1990. Humphries calls himself a "journeyman professor of physics."
"I always kept my hand in teaching. Only there do you experience the best times in education," he said. "It's a mysterious thing but even today, after 40 years, as I put my hand on the classroom door to open it, I get a rush of something -- expectation, excitement. The prospect of engaging bright, young minds and exploring the workings of God's awesome universe has never ceased to thrill me."
The phrase, "Fysics is phun" is his motto, Humphries said, and added that even tests can be entertaining. One year, a physics exam was scheduled the Monday after the Florida Gators beat the FSU Seminoles, providing a theme for Humphries' test.
"Every problem had to do with some facet of the game. There were questions about the frequency of the Seminole chop, the decibel level of the screaming Florida fans," he said. "Much to my amazement, my complete exam was printed on the sports page of the Times-Union. I guess the wire services picked it up because I was contacted by people all over the East Coast sending me solutions to the questions."
As Humphries nears his second "retirement," he is especially proud that UNF will implement a physics major starting in the fall of 1998. "This will be the best baccalaureate physics major in this part of the country," he said. "We have added some very bright young physicists to our staff and the close relationship between teachers and students, which has been our hallmark, will make this a super place to study physics."
The new major is proof that UNF continues to develop as a university, Humphries said. "Even 25 years into this, we still have the excitement of new people and programs. That spirit of innovating, progressing, diversifying has been present since 1972," he said, then added with a smile, "I'm about to the point where it will be a pleasure to just sit back and enjoy the 'view'."