More than a century of teaching experience will walk off the Fort Lewis College campus after graduation at the end of April as three longtime professors retire and assume the title of professor emeritus.
“To gain that title, a person has to be a full-time tenured professor,” FLC Provost Barbara Morris said, “They have to be in residence on the FLC campus for at least 10 years. Their department chair writes a letter of recommendation and support with all the wonderful things they have done, and then the dean, the provost, the president and the board of trustees all have to approve it.”
Marketing professor Bill Dodds came to FLC in 1992 after teaching at Boston College for a few years. During his career at FLC, he has published numerous articles and books and led classes on trips to Ireland and France.
“I was a kid who couldn’t write in high school,” Dodds said. “I loved math and science, I call calculus one of the eloquent languages. I went from math, where not much changes, to marketing, where everything changes.”
Ron Estler came to Fort Lewis College in 1982 by way of the University of Southern California, where he taught for four years. He had earned his bachelor’s degree in chemistry at Drew University before going on to earn a master’s in chemistry and a doctorate in chemical physics from Johns Hopkins University. He was selected for postdoctoral fellowships at both Stanford and Columbia universities. And he did it all as the first member of his family to go to college.
“Public education is very, very important to me,” he said. “I believe everyone ought to be able to get a high quality education without putting yourself in the poorhouse. Only 15 percent of my high school went to college, and I wouldn’t have either if it hadn’t been for one math teacher, who stood by me when I said I wouldn’t go to college because I said I didn’t have the money, and she said, ‘Let’s see.’”
While at the Fort, Estler has also published and lectured extensively. He was named a Council for Advancement and Support of Education/Carnegie Colorado Professor of the Year in 2009.
Both Dodds and Estler have and been named Featured Scholars and been honored with the Roger Peters Distinguished Professor Award at FLC.
Before they head off to their next intellectual endeavors and outdoor pursuits – both have plans to get outside more, Dodds to sail, Estler to fly fish and road bike – Dodds and Estler took some time to reminisce about their time at Colorado’s Campus in the Sky and share what they have learned. A third newly minted professor emeritus, Gordon Cheesewright, who is in the English Department, declined to be interviewed for the profile.
Q. Have FLC students changed over the decades of your careers?
A. Dodds: In many ways. They’re more self-assured these days. Back in the 1990s, the Fort was often students’ second choice, but now when students come here, they come for a reason. I don’t see as many in my office as I used to, because now they will text me or email me. They’re very different in that they want to know how things work, not so much the theories or concepts.
A. Estler: I teach physical chemistry, which has lots of physics and math. I do worry about incoming students’ math skills. They don’t have the facility for working with numbers we need to see. They have a tendency to learn more visually, and I’m afraid they’re reading less in terms of hard copies. And they’re inundated with information from the Internet, and much of it is not quality, so they need to learn to filter. And they don’t do one thing at a time – I fear they do many things with mediocrity.
Q. How have you changed over your decades of teaching?
A. Estler: One quote I’m known for is that my students have taught me to never sell anyone short. So many that I wasn’t sure of when they were freshmen have gone on to become Ph.D.s, M.D.s. You have to give them a chance and see what happens.
A. Dodds: When I first started teaching in the 1970s, I didn’t say anything that wasn’t on my notes. Now, all my lectures use PowerPoints, and every five to 10 minutes I stop for discussion. When I started at FLC, it was pre-Internet. O.D. Perry (professor emeritus of business administration) asked me to talk to some people at Brainstorm (Internet), and I threw myself into it and learned a lot.”
Q. Do you have any advice for young professors just starting out?
A. Estler: You won’t get excellence unless you demand it. You have to set the bar high, but then be around to provide the support they need to achieve it.
A. Dodds: Be humble about what you know. Make sure you enjoy what you do. You’ve learned a lot by getting your Ph.D., so make sure you fully use the skills it gave to you.
Q. Do you have any thoughts about the future of higher education in Colorado?
A. Dodds: I’m fearful for higher education with the bureaucracy, because the federal government’s idea of accreditation now is that we have to document everything.
A. Estler: The numbers are damning for Fort Lewis. Per capita spending for higher education students in Colorado was 48th or 49th among all states when I came to the college 34 years ago, and they haven’t moved an inch. The state spends five times the amount per inmate in the corrections system it spends on higher education students. I brought this up to a governor a few years ago and suggested we call it the Fort Lewis Minimum Security Prison and issue all students ankle bracelets. He didn’t think it was funny.
I’ll miss the classroom terribly, but I won’t miss the increasing bureaucracy, which isn’t just at Fort Lewis, it’s everywhere in academia.
[email protected] This story was corrected to reflect that Bill Dodds taught at Boston College before coming to FLC.