I had taught for seven years at the University of Notre Dame (1965-72); that was my first teaching job after graduate school. UNF was my second.
How did you find out about the opening at UNF?
I saw it listed in the Modern Language Association job list. I think I also saw an ad in The Chronicle of Higher Education.
What made you decide to come to UNF?
The job I applied (and was hired) for included, in addition to teaching, academic and career advising. Both aspects of the position appealed to me. Besides, I had spent seven winters in South Bend, Ind., and Florida looked like a good alternative.
What do remember about the first day of classes?
The campus was desolate looking: Builds 1,2,3 and 4, surrounded by parking lots and an expanse of sand. The builders barely had the buildings ready for us to teach in; the landscaping came later. The contrast between the campus then and the campus now, with full-grown trees and wonderful plantings, is startling to think about.
I also remember the diversity of students in my first class. I had been teaching in a private, all-male university, with a homogeneous, traditional-age student body. That first day at UNF, we went around the room, introducing ourselves, and the diversity was stunning: by age, race, gender, background, interests — by all imaginable frames of reference, we were diverse. That was pretty exciting.
What are the biggest changes you’ve witnessed at UNF?
Wow, what hasn’t changed? When the University opened, all the faculty except a few in natural sciences had offices on the second floor of Building 1. Everybody knew everybody else. Now we’re scattered and there must be hundreds of faculty and hundreds of staff that I have never met.
The physical plant has, of course, changed enormously. I never walk across campus without thinking about how it has changed, both in size and in beauty. I can’t help adding that we who have been at UNF for over half of our lives have changed a lot, too. All we have to do is look in the mirror to see that!
Is there one event that’s most memorable for you during your time at UNF?
Just one? That’s hard.
The first day of classes was memorable and so was the first graduation (in the courtyard between Buildings 1 and 2). The first play presented on campus (performed in a tent out in a parking lot because we didn’t have an auditorium) was memorable and so were blues concerts in the courtyard near the Bookstore (Buddy Guy and Junior Wells played there and so did Robert Junior Lockwood and Johnny Shines). For me, personally, introducing author Frank McCourt to an audience of 4,500 in the Arena was certainly memorable.
What’s the best thing (or things) about working at UNF?
Good colleagues and good students.
What people do you remember and why?
Is it accurate to say that you “remember” people you still work with every day? I remember the first time I met Bill Slaughter and I remember when (during our first year) we interviewed Allen Tilley, who was to join us the next year. In a sense, though, we only “remember” those who are no longer present in our lives — and Bill and Allen and I are still in each other’s lives.
Among colleagues who have retired, I have many memories: of Cherrill Heaton, for example, the best of colleagues. And then there are colleagues who have died: I still miss Bill Brown, who seemed to have more life in him than any three of us.
I have gazillion memories of students, but I couldn’t begin to pick one from all the others. If I look at the names in an old grade book, the names will bring back faces and impressions. Sometimes I recall something a student said in class, though in may have been 30-plus years ago. It’s great to hear from former students — they stop by the office or e-mail — and that always triggers memories.
Any humorous times you recall, and why were they so funny?
One day in a sophomore writing class I called on a student who was wearing a baseball cap, turned backward on his head, saying to him, “What do you think? You’ve got your thinking cap on.” And he said, “Yes, but it’s in the off position.” Sadly, it was.
I remember breaking up while reading another student’s paper when I came upon a sentence, which read, “We live in a doggie-dog world.” (Say it out loud).
What have you done during your time at UNF that you are proudest of?
I suppose the obvious answer is to mention the Irish Studies program which, over the past 20 years, has come into being. It has certainly been gratifying — and fun! — to see that develop.
But I think what I’m proudest of is any success I may have had in the classroom. If some students have become better readers or better writers, if some students have acquired knowledge and the love of learning, and especially if some students have had their heads stretched and their horizons lifted, then that is what I’m proudest of.
Biggest changes in your personal life while you have been working at UNF?
I came here at 32; now I’m 67. My sons are both in their 40s. Seeing them grow up and now seeing their sons grow up — I guess these are the biggest changes in my personal life.
What have you learned from your students over your years at UNF?
I learned to pronounce “quay” as “key.” That’s one specific thing I remember: a student correcting my pronunciation. Seriously, there’s no way to try to sum up what I have learned from students.
How have students changed over the last 35 years?
The flippant answer is to say that they get younger every year. The serious answer would take far longer than I have here. The best students now are as good as the best students then.
How would you describe the physical growth on campus over the last 35 years?
I’ve already touched on this a bit. I think UNF has a right to take pride in respecting the local environment, not always or in every way, but generally. A great deal of credit for this tradition can be traced to the influence of Bob Loftin, a professor of philosophy and a passionate environmentalist.
How will you keep UNF in your life and heart after you retire?
I’m not sure, but I know I will. I do know that I’ll come to concerts and lectures and such — especially Irish Studies events!
What special relationships have you formed with students as a result of your tenure here?
I wouldn’t know how to begin to answer this question. Such relationships, sometimes developing into friendships, are among the greatest rewards of a teacher.
What are the biggest challenges on campus today compared to the biggest challenges on opening day, Oct. 2, 1972?
The bigger the university becomes the more we are challenged to keep a human scale and to maintain personal relationships: among the faculty, with students, etc.
In the early days, we may not have had all the facilities that nowadays we take for granted, but the human scale was there, the personal contacts were there. Education must maintain a human face.
How has UNF impacted Jacksonville over the years, and how has Jacksonville impacted UNF?
UNF has raised the bar, educationally, in the community. Our graduates are making a difference and, since many of them are still in this area, Jacksonville is the richer for their presence. How has Jacksonville impacted UNF? I’m not sure I know.