VOL. 9 NO. 4 THE MAGAZINE OF THE UNIVERSITY OF UTAH SPRING 2000
For years graduates have treasured the deep humanity shown by their professors, a humanity neither expected nor forgotten. As expressed in his note in honor of the University's 150th birthday, Rudolf Glauser BA'42 didn't enter the University thinking that he would spend the rest of his life pondering the significance of dirt. But under Doc Walter Cottam's influence, he was spurred to become a soil scientist. Professor Kenneth L. Cook apparently taught with a sense of urgency that made his seminars seem to students the most important thing then happening in the world. He was instrumental in Merrill Ginsburg's 29-year career in exploration geophysics, so Ginsburg PhD'63 wrote to express his gratitude. Reading the many tributes to professors received by the development office from alumni of the College of Nursing and the Departments of Modern Dance and Ballet, one can only imagine the wealth of effort among the scholars and great artists who taught there.
What is obtained from the time spent on campus is a personal matter, influenced by each student's upbringing and values, life experiences and interests. Not every graduate recalls close relationships with certain professors who talked to them privately and had a profound influence on their lives. Many were too in awe of their professors' cool, keen intellect. Being rather shy about taking the initiative to get to know particular professors, they went away with fewer personal connections. But that didn't keep them from wanting to acknowledge publicly all that they had gained by encountering professors profoundly familiar with their subjects and who, paradoxically, invited debate on what they professed to know.
Others simply found a haven they had sought in the vastness of the student body and the curriculum at the University. John Serafin BFA'71 of Syracuse, New York, described the Utah campus as "a city within a city." Admittedly, the University of Utah provides not only exposure to campus icons, but the opportunity to view the attitudes and problems of others objectively; to recognize challenges similar to one's own and to analyze them, consciously or unconsciously. This helps to develop in students that quality so vital in the adolescent creature: humanity. From it we derive consideration and understanding of other human beings and the recognition of their dignity and worth. And if universities have taught humanity to their students, they have made significant contributions to humankind. That's a debt worth repaying.
During graduate school the faculty made a renewed impression on me. Among my principal advisors was Jerri Killian, a visiting political science appointee whose background in the computer industry and adeptness with various media reflected a nontraditional pathway into academia that I believe enhanced her students' experiences. There was political science professor Robert Huefner BS'58, the favorite of every graduate student and the great health policy expert of our state, a tall, gracious man full of ideas, questions, impulses, and warmth toward others. These two represent to me the faculty who draw raves not only for their scholarship but for their ability to bring their students close. Give me a few years and I'll start remembering the rigors of their classes fondly. One of them drew me, and several others in my cohort, to the U in the first place.
A number of years ago Huefner was among a panel of experts advising state leaders on the touchy matter of deciding who among Utah's needy should receive state assistance. Many states were involved in great health-care-rationing debates, and policymakers wisely turned to the director of the University's Governor Scott M. Matheson Center of Health Care Studies for advice. Just as he proved to be as a teacher, Huefner was compassionate, reasonable, and articulate in advising the Division of Health Care Financing about how to equitably allocate Medicaid and other assistance dollars. I found myself following him from the capitol to campus, not only to work for the University, but to become one of its graduate students. That gave me more in common with those who were moved to write about their own favorite U of U professors. It turned out that of all the subjects and buildings, the experiments and cultural contributions, the successes and the foul-ups over 150 years at the U recounted in the last issue of Continuum, the article about influential professors was the one that moved readers to write.
The University experienced the tragic loss of one of its great ones since the issue was published. Bill Whisner, 61, a superlative professor of philosophy and founding director of the Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence, died Dec. 29 of a blood disease. "The wonderful Whisner of OSH" was among the most esteemed professors in recent University history, as cited in last issue's article, "Professing Greatness." Fitting that a former student of Whisner's explained at his funeral that according to Louanne Johnson, author of Dangerous Minds and other popular books about teaching, private investigators say the No. 1 reason they are engaged is not to track down ex-lovers, but to locate beloved former teachers. It's a good idea to repay our debts to the past and acknowledge the strength of the foundation that stems from our academic roots.
Copyright 2000 by The University of Utah Alumni Association