Thursday, March 15, 2007

About "my liberal lunch friend" 

The fellow whose obit I linked in the post this AM was that character who I sometimes used on this blog for stories I would tell about SCSU. Kent was not a fan of this blog and tried only twice to listen to NARN, finally saying "it's turning you into a conservative." (Funny, he was always convincing himself that I was libertarian and therefore not a Republican.) So while he'd be embarrassed that I mention him here, I will take a minute now.

Another friend of mine, now retired from the faculty, once noticed how few times the university recognizes a faculty member's accomplishments. You get tenure and promotion usually in your early 30s, and it's not uncommon to be 38 and a full professor. "That leaves 25 years or more for you to sit around without the slightest acknowledgment," he remarked. Other schools have awards, but when you're a unionized faculty we all have to receive the same awards and get them in turn, thus rewarding mediocrity ... and we all know it.

When Kent died, his wife asked for a memorial service for him here at the university. I do not recall us doing this for other faculty, but since he was dedicated to this place -- I leave the office usually after six, and he was one of the few I could find between 4-6 around here even on a Friday -- I thought it an excellent idea. The university, though puzzled by the request, nonetheless came up with a lovely setting for the gathering. I gave a eulogy, this one the hardest I have ever had to do, as nobody this close to me has died in my adult life. (This is why I haven't written much here the last few days.)

The eulogy was good enough -- his senior colleague gave the other, and I think I held up my end of the bargain -- but what amazed me was what came next. You hope a student or two could come up to speak. But they came, alumni and student, one after the other, at least a dozen, to say how Kent had touched them, taught them, and gave them each a bit of himself. Some were tearful. Two students who had just met him this term came to speak about how much they were going to miss by losing him as a professor.

Someone taped it; Kent's parents live far away and are infirm, so they will see the eulogies and remembrances on tape. A friend of mine came up to me and said "they should take that tape and show it to new faculty. This is what you worked for."

It's a shame it can't happen more often; if the progression of praise is associate professor, full professor and posthumous professor, that's not much of an incentive structure. But it was enough for him.