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Interview with Charles Brooks Dodson, November 19, 2001 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Charles Brooks Dodson, November 19, 2001
November 19,
A videotape interview with Dr. Charles (Brooks) Dodson, professor emeritus of English at UNCW. In Parts 1 and 2, Dr. Dodson discusses his UNCW career, 1976 to 2001. He discusses his service as department chair, graduate studies coordinator, and director of the MFA program in creative writing. He discusses his education and work in academics before coming to UNCW, as well as how UNCW has changed, and other aspects of university life including his teaching and scholarly interests.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee: Dodson, Charles Brooks Interviewer: Lack, Adina Date of Interview: 11/19/2001 Series: Voices of UNCW Length: 120 minutes

Lack: This is Adina Lack. I’m the archivist at UNCW and I’m here to interview Dr. Dodson, a member of our English Department, a recently retired member of the English Department. Today is November 19, 2001.

Dr. Dodson, could you please state your full name.

Dodson: Full name is Charles Brooks Dodson, I go by the middle name.

Lack: You go by Brooks, right. I have encountered that in the catalog while we’ve been cataloging some up here. As part of our faculty interviews, we would like to hear from Dr. Dodson about his perspectives about what the university was like when he got here. Before the interview started, you mentioned that you feel like you’re a relatively newcomer compared to some of the people that have been around forever like, well we just interviewed Thad Dankel and Norman Kayler.

Dodson: Yes, they were all here when I came in 1976.

Lack: Okay, 1976.

Dodson: Yeah, fall of ’76. I came in as Department Chair in English.

Lack: How long did you remain department…

Dodson: I was chair for five years and then a few years later, I was, for about five more years, I was the graduate coordinator and one year I was the Acting Director of Creative Writing in the MFA program. So they’ve been calling on me off and on for a number of years.

Lack: Can you talk some before, about where you came from prior to UNCW.

Dodson: Yeah, I came here from the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh where I had been seven years and before that, I spent a year and a half in the Board of Regents Office for the state university system in Madison and before that, I was a year and a half at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and before that I was in grad school.

Lack: In Wisconsin?

Dodson: No, in Nebraska and before that, I got my Masters’ degree at Indiana University and I spent two years teaching in Maryville College over in eastern Tennessee, not very far from North Carolina actually and then I went back to grad school and got my doctorate and then headed for Wisconsin.

Lack: Well it’s good to hear where you’ve been because it sounds like it was mostly in northern climates. What is it that brought you to UNCW?

Dodson: The chairman’s job. I applied for it, it was advertised and I felt I had the experience and so forth to do that kind of thing. I wanted to try it and then I got the job.

Lack: What were your first impressions of UNCW and Wilmington?

Dodson: Hot. I was here for my interview in the summer. I was hired during the summer. The department was small enough back then that everybody was around to conduct interviews. It rained almost every day I was here. I remember the dean sort of apologizing for that. Gosh, it’s hard to think back on those first impressions because I was so involved in the department chair’s job and getting settled in and getting to know the members of the department and the students. I remember it was a small, I think it was about 2500 students.

There were eight tenured faculty in English and about four lecturers and part-timers. I don’t know, maybe I shouldn’t be saying this, but the dean told me that he had been given a mandate from the chancellor to take care of some problems in the leadership of some of the departments. At this time, there was only the one school. There was no School of Business, I don’t think there was a School of Nursing yet and he told me, and he was new in the job himself, he’d only been at the job a year as dean, and he told me that he decided to, he said there were three departments that needed new leadership and he decided to take them and do them in the order of the seriousness of the problems. Education was first, so he hired a chair for Education. Then English was second and History was third.

Lack: Who was the dean then?

Dodson: Dan Plyler.

Lack: You mentioned Dean Plyler. Who were some of the other important people, faculty or students or administrators you encountered in the early years.

Dodson: Well Charles Cahill was the academic vice-chancellor, Chancellor Wagoner was the head man. And I remember, I think some of the first people I got to know were Jim Megivern, first people in other departments, Betty Jo Welch who was in speech, who else. Gosh, I’m trying to think of who the other department chairs were. We’d have monthly meetings with the dean. I’m getting to the age where I’m having trouble with names now. Claude Howell was chairman, it was called then the Creative Arts Department and John Williams was chair of Psychology. John Scalf, was that his name, was chair of Sociology. His son is a baseball coach I think. And Norm Kaylor was at that time chair of the Department of Business. Roy Harkin, I got to know Roy pretty well, Education Department. And Gus Crowgey was the Chairman of History. I don’t remember who the Biology chair was.

Lack: We have those minutes from the department. Actually Jim Megivern gave us a set, but I don’t remember all those people. It was a different time.

Dodson: We used to meet over in the board room in Alderman Hall.

Lack: Well you mentioned that when you arrived, there were already a great deal of changes going on. Can you describe those?

Dodson: Well the school was starting to grow. The English Department has really good people in it, but I think the standard practice for a number of years across the departments, at least as far as I was told, when you needed somebody new, you’d just call up the row to Chapel Hill or Raleigh and bring somebody down.

Lack: Really?

Dodson: So there was a lot of not exactly inbreeding, but I think a decision had been made to cosmopolitanize, if I can coin a word, and so I know the first three people I hired were all, as it happens, from New York. I didn't set out to hire New York people, but I hired three people from New York and the next year another person from New York, but someone from North Carolina and then the next year, someone from Texas, then another New Yorker as it turned out. You know, all these New Yorkers fleeing winter.

I used to have a little fun. When I would pick up a job candidate at the airport, this was before we had the present terminal, we had what is now the international terminal which was very small and you could go when you got off the plane, you could go two ways to get your luggage. You could go through the terminal or you could go around the outside of the terminal. Well these candidates were usually coming down in January or February from the north or the Midwest, so I always took them around the outside because there was a palmetto there and so almost the first thing they saw when they got off the plane was a palm tree and I figured that was worth at least $500 a starting salary. So I always took them that way.

Lack: A good way to give them a good first impression. That’s great. So it sounds like your recruiting efforts changed right when you got here.

Dodson: Yeah, evidently from what they had done in the past anyway. I think, I know some of the people that I know are not native North Carolinians, but a number of them have their doctorates from Duke and Chapel Hill and State, but their Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees are all from elsewhere so it still makes it more of a geographic mix. I think that’s a good idea.

Lack: When you came aboard there were eight tenured faculty in English.

Dodson: I think there was eight, yeah.

Lack: How many were there when you left or now? Is it one of the biggest departments?

Dodson: It’s one of the biggest departments because we teach the whole freshman class each semester or we did until the last couple of years when we changed the program a little bit. We put the second composition course into the sophomore year, but since we had to teach the whole freshman class each semester, we were one of the largest, Biology is pretty big and Psych has gotten pretty big. Gosh, I don’t know how many, I’d say tenured faculty now, I could count them up, but I’d say 30 to 40 plus a bunch of part-timers and several lecturers so I’d say between 30 and 40, probably closer to 40.

Lack: That’s a four-fold increase, five-fold, definitely reflects the growth of the university.

Dodson: Yeah because the school has grown about that same proportion too. I think about 2,500 – now what are we? Close to 12,000?

Lack: I would say more than 10,000 undergraduates and then …

Dodson: Yeah, it’s really grown. I think we could have grown even more had we had the physical facilities, but when you’re in a state system, when you need a new building, it takes time, you know. There’s this lengthy process that you go through so almost inevitably by the time a new building opens, you’ve outgrown it if you’re growing the way we’ve been growing. And remember Morton Hall opened the second year I was here and I remember the dean telling me that it’s something like doubled the classroom space on campus when it opened.

Lack: Oh my goodness, that’s hard to imagine.

Dodson: But you know we outgrew it just like that and I’m sure other departments, you know, have grown the same way. I guess this year for the first time in I don’t know how many years, all of the English Department faculty are actually in the same building instead of some of them being over here.

And classroom space used to be at such a premium that I regularly taught classes in the Bear Hall and the School of Education building and in the Social Science building. I think we still teach over there and Friday Hall when the Biology Department was still there, I taught many times over there.

And one time I had a class in the old ROTC Building back across from the Police Department in the back of the campus and that was so far away from everybody, I had to cut about 10 minutes off of each class period to allow the students to get there and then to allow them to get to there next class. That was a mess. I was finally able to get that room changed. We ended up in a relatively unsuitable room, but it was in the Social Science building so I was grateful. I’ve taught in Kenan Auditorium in one of the classrooms in Kenan with the music on the blackboard.

Recently I’ve just taught in Morton Hall or occasionally in the Social Science building. I don’t think we’ve taught, well I remember having a big experimental double section of a British survey in Bear Hall in their big lecture hall there and that was maybe 10 years ago.

Lack: So it’s slowly but surely gotten better, to see how much time it took before you could get some more space.

Dodson: Oh yeah, I don’t know how much time it takes from the time you officially, the Chancellor more or less officially tells Central Administration we’ve got to have such and such a building, between that and the time it opens its doors, it’s I don’t know four years, five years, something like that.

Lack: I’m new here like I was saying and I guess I’ll see that with the Performing Arts facility and the School of Education. You really get so excited when it’s mentioned. I just have to remind myself it’s not going to be as soon as people say.

Dodson: We needed those buildings already for many years. I don’t see how the School of Education functions in that building. It’s just too small for them. And when I came, the English Department was on the second floor of Kenan Hall and so I know how inadequate the facilities in Art and Music are over there.

We were on the second floor and the Language Department, at that time I think it was the Modern Language Department, I don’t think they taught Latin or Greek or anything, that was on the first floor along with the Creative Arts Department. The funding has changed a lot maybe thanks to the computer revolution.

When I was department chair, I had to practically promise the dean to sign away my children into indentured service to get two, no one electric typewriter for the whole department faculty. It took me, I think, two years before that request was approved. One electric typewriter for like 12-14 people. And now, everybody has computers and in fact, new faculty, I think, get new computers and us old-timers, you know, get the hand-me-downs. For a number of years, I used a discard from the School of Business.

Lack: Interesting, that’s interesting to know that sometimes things change for the better.

Dodson: Well, we’ve had problems here, but they’re largely the problem of growth and that’s the kind of problems obviously you want to have. I came from a school that had the opposite problem. Their enrollments were going down and it was bloody. It was, oh, I don’t know, they were firing tenured faculty because they didn’t have the students for them to teach or at least that was the official word. And that was just terrible.

So our problems have been, you know, largely just keeping up with the growth and that’s a good problem to have.

Lack: Where did you grow up?

Dodson: I grew up in Gary, Indiana.

Lack: Okay, Indiana, another very different area I guess.

Dodson: Yeah, very different. Well yeah, Gary was kind of stagnant. Gary was a strictly one company town with U.S. Steel and when there was a steel strike, the whole town pretty much shut down. Even the chain grocery stores would sell on credit because, you know, people just didn't have any money.

Well, Wilmington has changed a lot since I’ve been here too. When I came, College Road was two lanes and they were just starting to widen it. There were hardly any real good restaurants in town. There was no liquor by the drink which meant that that kept the really nice restaurants out because that’s how they make their money. That’s what I’ve been told anyway, is on alcohol sales, and so it was, we did what was called “brown bagging”. You would bring your booze in a brown bag and you could buy set-ups and so forth at the restaurant.

Lack: Pennsylvania is still like that.

Dodson: Is it really?

Lack: You have to have a license, each restaurant, and I think there’s some, they make it pretty difficult to get it. So a lot of restaurants just don’t bother. You bring your own. Pennsylvania has some interesting alcohol laws in general, that was one of them. What was your academic specialty? What was the subject of your dissertation?

Dodson: My dissertation was in addition, a critical annotated addition, of a novel by Thomas Law Peacock who you may have heard of. But he’s a minor novelist. He wrote about seven novels and they were satirical. A lot of commentary on current, indirect commentary on current politics and literature. The novel I did, one character was Woodsworth and another was Coleridge. The main character in another one, which you may have heard of, Nightmare Abbey, that’s the best known of his novels. That was modeled on Shelley and Shelley was a good friend of his. In fact, he was Shelley’s literary executor.

He kind of straddled the romantic and Victorian eras and so I had to learn a little bit about both, you know. So I always say my specialty is 19th century British lit. I’ve taught other things here.

Lack: What were some of the things you taught?

Dodson: I teach what they ask me to teach, what’s needed. Of course, I’ve taught the British surveys. I’ve taught the world lit surveys and we have made those into genuine world literature, not just European literature. And I taught linguistics for a number of years until the Speech Department stopped requiring our linguistics course so the enrollments fell down and enrollments were low enough for the trained linguist to handle. I was a self-taught linguist. I taught our introductory research course.

Lack: I’ve heard about that (laughter).

Dodson: Referred to as boot camp I understand.

Lack: I haven’t heard that. I saw the pictures from the newsletter. Did you see that? The newsletter from the English Department where they have people wearing t-shirts saying “I survived”.

Dodson: Oh yeah, yeah, those are the graduate students, that was marvelous. They got together and did those t-shirts. I really appreciated that. Yeah, that’s a tough course and I always figured every semester, there were a few dolls getting pins stuck in them, you know.

Lack: No, no.

Dodson: But I’ve had an awful lot of people from that course come back later and tell me how much they used, you know, the techniques that they learned there so that’s very gratifying.

Lack: I suppose one of the major things they had to do was the bibliography.

Dodson: Yeah, yeah, I had them do a complete annotated bibliography of a writer or a work of their choice and that’s a big job and I’ve gotten some wonderful projects from them that I think, oh, 10 or 12 have been published.

Lack: I heard that.

Dodson: They did good work.

Lack: That’s a good way to start getting published.

Dodson: Yeah, that’s one thing I told them. I said, you know, this is a way to get a publication while you’re a grad students and in this case, these were almost in their very first semester of grad school. So here they were writing a publishable paper. So I was really proud of them. They were marvelous. I also taught an undergraduate course that I got interested in called “Literature about Illness and Disability” or “Sick Lit” for short.

I got the idea at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh before I came here. A colleague in the School of Nursing approached me about putting together a course in literature that dealt with various kinds of illnesses and disability, but not from a clinical point of view. So the course would use only, you know, novels and autobiographies and plays and so forth.

Then ironically enough, after we got that course accepted, I left. It was in the schedule for the fall, but I left to come here, didn't get to teach it, but finally I talked the School of Nursing into supporting it. I started offering it here, added some films to it and that’s been a really interesting course. The material is totally different from what I usually teach. It’s all, you know, relatively recent novels and nonfiction and plays and films. Students do a lot of reading. I’ve been teaching it one night a week and they read just about a book a week. So it’s a lot.

Lack: That sounds really interesting.

Dodson: But I’ve gotten a wonderful mix of students in there, not just English majors. I’ve had obviously nursing majors and a lot of sociology and psych majors and it’s amazing some of things that come out in class discussion. I don’t know how many people when we did our unit on alcoholism, I don’t know how many times somebody in the class in the course of talking about something, said “I’m an alcoholic.” One time on the evaluation that the students do at the end of each course, one fellow, at a complete surprise to me, wrote something about, you know, he really appreciated our unit on drug addiction because it helped him with his drug addiction.

Lack: Wow.

Dodson: And you know I had no idea that he had to deal with that.

Lack: Right, right. A wonderful way for literature to enter people’s lives or people’s family. Especially it affects everybody’s family. That’s wonderful. Did you cover mental illness?

Dodson: Yes we did. We did catastrophic illness, mental illness, alcoholism, drug addiction and well essentially mental retardation, but we don’t call it that anymore. In some of those areas, there’s a wealth of stuff and in others, it’s a little difficult to find a good novel or play or something, especially about intellectual impairment.

Lack: Right, interesting.

Dodson: Retardation, but I found, you know Colleen McCullough, Thornbirds, her first novel was called Tim. And it’s about a 26 year old retarded Australian man and a 40ish, completely independent administrative assistant to a business man and the relationship that develops and they end up getting married. It’s the first novel that I know of that dealt with the question of whether, you know, should people with mental retardation marry and it said yes, you know. That’s a pretty good novel especially for my purpose in the course.

Lack: Will someone else take over that course?

Dodson: Well I hope so, but, yeah, a couple of people expressed some interest in doing it so I hope it continues because the students, I think, like it. It can be used for basic studies and it’s, well in a way, it’s depressing as all get-out to teach because almost everybody dies in everything that we read or they end up still addicted, you know, whatever.

And so I used to warn the students on the first night, you know, we are going to read a lot of depressing stuff. You’re going to like a lot of these characters and they’re going to die. I only recall a handful of people that told me that they couldn’t take it, they dropped the course. They couldn’t take the depressing material.

We used to start with a film with Richard Dreyfuss called Who’s Life Is It Anyway about a sculptor that becomes a quadriplegic in a car accident and his mind, of course, is totally unaffected by this, but he decides that he’s being kept alive by dialysis in the hospital and he decides that he wants to die. He doesn’t want to continue a life, you know, where he is totally dependent on everybody. He can’t even turn over in bed, you know. He decides he wants to die, but the doctors, of course you know, they don’t want that. They want to keep him alive and so he ends up going to court to be allowed to die. And it’s a good film.

Lack: It sounds good. That sounds great. Now that I’m working here, I keep thinking of courses I’d like to take to keep thinking about intellectual ideas. If you don’t mind, I’m just going to take a break. We can start back afterwards.

We’re continuing again with Dr. Dodson. We were just talking about something really interesting. I feel bad I didn't get it on tape, but it was about the issues today facing English graduate students who must compete in a really tight market. I suppose one reason why people, the job market is tight, you were saying that professors are staying longer and not retiring when they were expected and it’s very hard for a Ph.D., recent Ph.D. students to get any prospect of work.

Another thing I heard as that for professors in English, they stay because it’s not like in the sciences where they might go into industry to get a better job.

Dodson: Yeah, they don’t have a lot of alternatives. That’s true.

Lack: That’s an interesting thing. When you work with graduate students, you’re saying you’ve tried to tell them about the real challenges.

Dodson: Yeah, I think they need to know that it doesn’t matter how good their grades are, that there aren’t nearly as many teaching jobs out there as there are new Ph.D.’s every year and so a lot of them end up sacking groceries or going into other lines of work. I mean there are other things you can do with a Ph.D. in English. You know, you can join the CIA or go to work for a publishing company and get into editorial work. So there are other things, but most people don’t go through the rigors of grad study in English unless they want to teach it themselves.

That’s why I did it because it’s a pretty attractive kind of life. You know you’re not going to get paid much certainly in comparison with other people that have to spend as much time getting their degrees, the lawyers, physicians, you don’t make nearly the money that they do, but it’s relatively unstressful and you come into contact with young people all the time. That helps keep you young, you know, and there’s the pleasure, as you were saying, talking about intellectual ideas and analyzing character and so forth.

Lack: And I think the lifestyle is generally pretty good. You can set your own hours, granted often it’s long hours, but at least you can set them.

Dodson: Yeah, that’s one thing I appreciated. It doesn’t matter when I do my work as long as I get it done. I always try to get tests and papers back within a week or 10 days at the most which meant that I spent a lot of weekends grading papers and I must admit I don’t miss that. I never did like giving grades. I think it puts you in a false position and you’re supposed to be the students’ mentor and you encourage them and you inform them about things and you draw ideas out of them, but then all of a sudden, two or three times a semester, you’re their judge and I’ve always been very uncomfortable with that. It’s too ambiguous.

But, I mean, those who want to and can afford to, can go out and play golf on Wednesday afternoon if they don’t have any classes, you know, as long as they’re prepared for their Thursday classes and get the tests back reasonably soon. So yeah, the lifestyle is good and you know, you’re on a college or university campus where there’s a lot of intellectual things going on, usually lots of good music programs. I’m very interested in music and lectures and film series so for somebody that’s interested, as they say, the life of the mind, it’s a good place to be.

Lack: Between the summers off….

Dodson: Well I never felt I could afford to take summers off so I taught summer school at least one term almost every summer for 40 years and there was…once I had a research grant so I didn't have to teach. Once I messed up and didn't get my summer teaching request in and so didn't get any, but usually I taught summer school. Before I came here, the school I was at had an eight week session and so that was pretty much the whole summer. I’ve never taught two sessions here. You got to get away and so I usually taught first session.

Lack: Recharge and all.

Dodson: But I wish I could have afforded to take summers off to do research or travel or whatever, but you know, I had kids to put through college and mortgage.

Lack: And perhaps, I don’t mean to complain, but perhaps that’s another thing about humanities, it’s very hard to get some of the funding that will help you and your department kind of get a break from teaching.

Dodson: There just isn’t as much out there as there is in the sciences.

Lack: Or even social sciences. But, of course, there are a lot of reasons why people do it. You know, it seems really, even today, a great field, hard-working people have to expect a lot of work.

Dodson: Yeah, I think English teachers work pretty hard. I know we don’t give multiple choice tests that can be graded by machine and we have our students write papers that have to be read carefully and marked. Of course, on the other hand, we don’t get classes with 300 people in it.

Lack: That’s true.

Dodson: I think the largest class I had was around 60 or 70. We experimented for a couple of years with double sections, large sections of our survey courses and decided it wasn’t a good idea because it really inhibits discussion.

Lack: Oh yeah, that’s one thing that’s really nice about…

Dodson: Especially when you only meet with class two or three times a week, you can’t really get to know the students or at least I wasn’t able to learn their names or a lot of their names anyway. There were some, you know, you couldn’t even see them very clearly in the back so that wasn’t a good idea. I guess in some of the social science fields that works, you know, where you have lecture and lab combinations, but in English it doesn’t, history, philosophy, music, it just doesn't work that way.

Lack: Well yeah, I guess it’s helpful in some ways to try it, but…

Dodson: Yeah, but you know, I guess our reason was that you know, the enrollment pressure. You know, as more and more students come, the faculty wasn't growing in proportion to the number of students and you get a course like the British or American surveys which English majors had to take and an awful lot of non-majors took for basic studies, you get some pretty large classes and we wanted to keep our comp classes at 25 and so we had to increase the size of some of the others at least for the time being. We’ve been able to keep comp at 25 which is about five more than the National Council of Teachers of English recommends.

Lack: I can imagine, making people feel comfortable.

Dodson: When I first started, I had three sections and so there were 75 papers to grade every time and there are people teaching in the department now who have three and that’s a lot and I haven’t had three at a time for many years, but I remember when I did, by the time I got to the third class on the same assignment, I had trouble remembering whether I had said such and such or not, you know.

Lack: Oh yeah, that would drive you crazy. Did I tell you this joke already?

Dodson: Yeah, I was constantly saying “yeah, now if I’ve told you this already, stop me” (laughter).

Lack: Don’t want to repeat myself. Well I was going to ask you also about the graduate program. When you were graduate coordinator, were you graduate coordinator during the first years?

Dodson: No, that was Barbara Waxman. She was our first coordinator in English. She did it the planning year and then for I think four years after the program actually started and then I took over and did it for five years.

Lack: Oh I see, so about when you came is when the graduate program…

Dodson: No, the graduate program didn't start until 1989.

Lack: Oh, oh okay, I was thinking, oh 1989 is when the graduate program started and then you picked it up, five years after that.

Dodson: Yeah, about four years after that. We spent a year planning for it and creating courses and so forth and Barbara was in charge and then she was the coordinator for the first four years that we actually had the programs.

Lack: What are the degrees offered?

Dodson: M.A. in English and before the MFA program started, that meant that we got people in creative writing as well as people who were in literature and composition and now there’s a track, what we call the critical literacy track, there’s the literature track and now the creative writing folks are in a different program with a different degree.

Lack: Right, so the critical literacy is still an M.A. in English, but a track…then the M.A. in literature. Critical literacy is particularly useful for composition.

Dodson: Yeah and people interested in working with you know, problems of literacy and teaching in high school and so forth, won a content degree for their teaching in high school rather than a pedagogical degree.

Lack: Right, I see. I just want to make sure I have enough time left on the tape, excuse me. Oh, we really don’t have much time. We only have about a minute so I guess we can wrap it up pretty soon because I was going to ask you some more about the graduate program, but we can save that for another tape.

Dodson: Can we put in another tape?

Lack: Yeah sure.

Dodson: We can do it at another time or we can keep going with the new tape, whatever you want.

Lack: All right if you hold on just a minute, we’ll switch tapes.

This is Adina Lack, university archivist, and I’m here again with Dr. Brooks Dodson and we’re speaking some more about the history of the university and the history of the English Department. It’s also November 19, 2001.

Lack: Dr. Dodson, before we turned off that last tape, we were talking some about the graduate program and I’d like to know what was it like to get it started. Did you have to propose it and did you have to wait a while?

Dodson: As I recall, there was sort of a mandate that came down from Alderman Hall. We did not request one that I can remember. We were simply told there are going to be a number of graduate programs started here including one in English, go plan it. So we did, but we did not, as far as I can remember, we did not, you know, go to Alderman Hall saying we want a graduate program.

Lack: Oh I see, that’s interesting. Did you think it was a good idea when it was mandated?

Dodson: Well, not especially.

Lack: That’s fine, it’s good to be honest because I’ve talked to some other people on campus in other departments if they think they’ll have a graduate program and they say no and for various reasons, they don’t want one, but why didn't you think…

Dodson: Well there are so many grad programs in English. I’ve been around long enough and am enough of a skeptic to be almost certain that it would not be funded properly which is the way its worked out.

Lack: Oh, it just happened.

Dodson: I’ve always believed if you’re going to do something, do it right or don’t do it at all and I think the graduate programs came about because the university’s status or classification was shifted to whatever it is. I forget now what the terminology is, but as part of that status in the system, you had to have graduate programs. Of course we’d had a cooperative program with North Carolina State in Biology for a long time, but, and I think there was already a grad program in Education, but I’m not sure about that, but I know English and History and gosh, who else, Math, I think all started pretty much at the same time and you know the mandate came down from on high.

Lack: How has it changed your department?

Dodson: Well I think its worked out well, you know. I’m not sure that it has changed the department a lot, certainly not in any bad ways although it has meant a two tiered faculty, those that are actively engaged in research and those that aren’t and that is reflected in teaching load and you have to be engaged in research to be on the graduate faculty and you have to be on the graduate faculty to teach a graduate course. That’s a university policy, not an English Department policy.

And so the people in the department who, it doesn't mean that they don’t do research because you always do research to prepare your teaching, you know, but there are people in the department who, for one reason or another, you know, they don’t work on papers and books and articles and so forth. And so it has meant that differentiation and I don’t think that’s presented any problems that I’m aware of.

Lack: And I suppose it’s a nationwide trend.

Dodson: Well you know part of it is when you’re recruiting for faculty, if you’re going up against a really big-time research institution, you know, there’s going to be a lot of money and time for research and writing. We still consider our primary purpose is to teach language and literature, but at the same time, we have to be able to tell prospective faculty members, well, you know, if you are research-active, you will teach three courses per semester instead of four.

The official load is four for everybody, but people that are research-active, their research stands in place of one of the classes, but at a Chapel Hill or a State or a Vanderbilt or a Duke, I’m sure the teaching load is much, much smaller and there’s more money around. I mean one of our biggest problems is getting money to underwrite travel to the conferences to read the papers that we are supposed to read in order to get tenure and promotion and salary increases. We are expected to do that and yet we often don’t have the funds to underwrite it and so people end up paying out of their own pockets.

Lack: Oh my, that’s terrible.

Dodson: You know some years have been better than others, some have been leaner than others, but I remember one time, I read a paper for the College English Association annual conference for years and years. I don’t remember how many, but there’s one year when the conference was held in San Antonio and I couldn't afford to go, couldn't afford to go.

Lack: Right and your department couldn't help you.

Dodson: Yeah, yeah, so there’s a problem of expectation, that’s a whole part of the funding, you know, when I said I was almost certain that the program, the grad program would not be funded adequately and that’s one aspect of it.

Another aspect that I know our administration here has worried about a lot and done what they could, is the stipends for teaching assistants are so low that for an out-of-state student, it doesn't even pay their tuition.

Lack: Oh right.

Dodson: And I don’t know how many good, potentially good graduate students we lost in English because they were from another state and couldn't afford to come.

Lack: It’s a catch 22 really.

Dodson: Yeah and places like Chapel Hill and State don’t have that problem because they've got other sources. I remember when I was in Wisconsin, the University of Wisconsin in Madison had an enormous fund that was non-tax money, you know. It had come from private sources. I think it’s called the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation and it had millions and millions of dollars.

Lack: Wow, that’s a great idea.

Dodson: And so there was plenty of money, you know, to underwrite, you know, to give somebody a semester off to finish a book or to send an English professor to Europe to read a paper at a conference and so forth. We’ve not been able to do that on that scale obviously, but I mean the university is as generous as it can be. But when there’s only so much money and they have to spread it around equitably, you know.

Still in several ways I think the grad programs have not been adequately funded. But I was convinced of this because I saw the same thing happen when I was in Wisconsin. And when I was in the Board of Regents Office, a similar decision was made to change the classification of the what were then called the state colleges by offering grad programs and again this decision was made at the central office level. The campuses and the departments on the campuses were simply told on such and such a year, you will offer a graduate program. Of course, we can’t give you any money for it, you know.

Lack: Isn’t it wonderful, you’ll have students really interested in your work, but there’s a whole other side to that.

Dodson: But the problem has not been as severe here. We’ve been funded a lot better than they were at Wisconsin. But still, it’s presented some difficulties. It’s been frustrating. I remember writing a letter, a memo, to the vice-chancellor because I had just lost another good grad student who was out of state, you know, and said can’t something be done about this.

Lack: Because they ended up going somewhere else where they could get better funding.

Dodson: Yeah, yeah, where they could get enough to at least cover their tuition and fees and maybe to have a little to live on. I mean that’s what I did in grad school. I put myself through grad school on a teaching assistantship and I never had any extra money, but I was able, well then another thing is that in every other state that I’ve ever heard of, people with teaching assistantships are excused from paying tuition and fees and they’re not here.

Lack: Wow.

Dodson: Even state residents have to pay.

Lack: Yeah, that’s something that would be great to change.

Dodson: You know, that makes a big difference.

Lack: Well I was recently a graduate students at UNC-Chapel Hill. I had a research assistantship and I started out having to pay in state tuition and then in the middle, I got assistance, but I didn't get it the whole time.

Dodson: And of course that’s not a campus policy, that’s…in fact, I’m not even sure it’s a central office, I think it’s a legislative decision. I mean to change that, of course, would cost the state a lot of money, but, and I don’t see it being changed, especially right now when the state is so strapped for money and the campuses have to give back money now. I think I retired at the right time.

Lack: I guess so. What was your year officially?

Dodson: My last semester was this past spring.

Lack: Spring 2001, right. It’s true, but I guess you’ve been here long enough to see things just come and go, it’s anxiety provoking, but…

Dodson: Yeah, when you’re in a state system, you have to deal with it. You have to expect it and make the best of it and you know, some years are fat and some years are lean and the fat ones are never as fat as we’d like them to be, but they’re better than the lean ones. Just like, you know, it taking so long to get a building put up. That’s just something you have to accept if you’re part of a 16 campus state university system.

Lack: Yeah, shared resources.

Dodson: And it’s red tape, committees, layer upon layer of committees beyond the campus level.

Lack: You must care a lot about teaching. Was that always a very important part?

Dodson: Oh yeah, I never published as much as I’d like to or probably as much as I should have. I did enough to keep my status on the graduate faculty and I think I had the respect of my colleagues, you know, but I didn't publish nearly as much as a number of people in the English Department.

But I made a decision back when I was first starting as an assistant professor up in Wisconsin that I’d seen too many academic marriages fail and I think a major reason for that was that whichever of the spouses was the teacher would have to spend the evenings and weekends writing that book to get tenure and neglecting the spouse and the kids and so I decided my marriage and when we had kids, my family was more important than that and so I did as much as I could when I got done with my teaching you might say.

You prepared for classes first and then in the time that you had left, that you’re not spending with the family at home, you know, you do your research and writing and I would have loved to have done more, but …

Lack: It sounds like your students benefited from this thinking as well.

Dodson: Well I hope so.

Lack: Because it focused on preparing for class and that really filtered through. I know the best professors I had were just ones who, even after they’d been doing it for 20 years, they’d say, “Oh, gotta prepare my class” and don’t you know this by rote now, you’re so good, but they still, you know, care about it.

Dodson: One of the best things about it is what you learn from your students and there have been poems, you know, that I’ve taught over and over and over and one day somebody in the back sticks up his hand and says, “What about such and such” and I’d never thought of that before.

Lack: Oh it’s great.

Dodson: There have been exams, essay questions that I’ve actually copied out some things that the students have written and used them the next time I taught that particular work. So yeah, you’re constantly learning from your students.

Lack: Oh yeah, I can imagine that. As far as when you were a department chair and had other administrative positions, how did that work out? Did that take some of your time teaching?

Dodson: Oh yeah.

Lack: You generally didn't teach as much?

Dodson: No, I didn't teach as many classes. I taught one class, that’s pretty much standard I think especially in a large department like ours, you teach one class and three quarters of your time is spent in administrative duties and believe me, it takes, department chair is a full-time job, but you have to teach too in addition. Back when I did it, department chairs were on annual, oh were on academic year salary and so although I was expected to, you know, be available and around during the summer, I was not paid for it.

We had department chair meetings during the summer for example and the only way you could get paid for the summer was to assign yourself summer school. Now that’s changed. Department chairs are on an annual salary and so they don’t have to teach in the summer to get some income.

Lack: But they still teach, it depends on the department chair.

Dodson: Yeah, well I think all department chairs are supposed to teach at least one course. Now I don’t know, not in the summer necessarily, but during the semester. During the school year.

Lack: What did you like about being department chairman? What didn't you like?

Dodson: Well I came in at a time when the school was changing, not just growing, but changing and I was given three positions my very first year and so I had a chance to really build the department to bring in new people and we made some changes in the curriculum and I introduced teaching evaluations. They hadn’t had those before. This was before the whole campus was doing it. Now, you know, it’s a campus policy. Every class you get evaluated by your students, but it was not the case then.

So I, you know, brought that in and I established a Director of Composition. So it was a chance to do new things and to change, I brought in people that I felt would be not just good teachers, but researchers and would, you know, get UNCW’s name out there in the professional associations and at the conferences and in the scholarly presses and so forth.

And I’m especially proud of the people that I hired because almost without exception they have turned out to be department chairs themselves, a dean, active in national prominence in their fields and in their research and writing.

Lack: Have they stayed?

Dodson: Out of the first six, seven people I hired, five are still here.

Lack: Wow, that’s great.

Dodson: One didn't get tenure and one I think we lost her to New York University. So we did pretty well. I won’t mention any names, but there are two people in particular that I consider my legacy to UNCW because they’re so good, both in the classroom and outside of it and I pat myself on the back for having the foresight to hire those people.

Lack: You can say if you want ---n if you don’t feel uncomfortable.

Dodson: Well it was Jo Ann Seiple and Barbara Waxman.

Lack: Oh yeah.

Dodson: John Clifford has done wonderful work too. I hired him. Dick Veit who is now the president of the Faculty Assembly, I hired him.

Lack: All of these are names I’m learning.

Dodson: So the department made some good decisions. They weren’t just my decisions.

Lack: I was telling you about our scholarship collecting effort, Barbara Waxman has done a lot since she’s been here, hasn’t she? We’re still tracking her stuff down.

Dodson: Yeah, she writes a lot and she’s an excellent teacher, excellent teacher. She’s tough. Students refer to her tests as Waxman’s. I got a Waxman today, you know.

Lack: Those are the teachers they remember, I’m sure.

Dodson: Yeah.

Lack: So it sounds like you were, when you say the university is changing, not just growing, it was changing since it was becoming more…

Dodson: It was changing since it was becoming more professional. It was still a teaching school. It still is, but more and more of the faculty that were coming in were not just putting a lot of effort into teaching, but were also doing research and writing and that was true not just in English, but you know, in a lot of departments.

Lack: Right, so that was reflected in your decisions to go out and side the state for hiring and things like that.

Dodson: Yeah, we always took the best people we could get and often they were from out of state, you know. I mean I didn't hire anybody from Chapel Hill, not because I decided not to, but because for one reason or another, the best person available wasn’t from Chapel Hill.

Lack: A Ph.D. from Chapel Hill.

Dodson: Yeah, right.

Lack: Not that they’d necessarily be excluded for that reason.

Dodson: No, by no means, well no, I didn't hire them I guess, but we’ve got, since I came here, one Chapel Hill Ph.D. has been hired and he’s excellent, excellent. But I hired every department chair we had, no all but one, I didn't hire Chris Gould, but I hired Dick, I hired Joanne, I hired Bob Bonnington who was chair for like 10 years, no but two. I was on the committee that hired Phil Furia, but I was not chair at the time.

Lack: And do people remain chair for a lot of time now?

Dodson: I think so. Dick Veit just finished a term of about four years and now Jim Megivern was chair for …

Lack: 20 years.

Dodson: Yeah, Doug Smith was chair of math for about that long. Melton McLaurin was hired as chair of history the year after I came and he was chair for oh, at least 10, I’d say 15 probably. He was chair for a long time. I think it depends on a lot of things. If the department is satisfied with the person, if the dean and people up the line are satisfied with the way things are going in the department, if the person, him or herself, continues to, you know, enjoy it, be able to go full steam ahead and so forth, so there are a lot of things that influence it.

I think when I came, there were no terms. You were just department chair until either the department got rid of you or the dean got rid of you or you went off yourself. Now I think you have a five year term which is renewable, but it’s not open-ended. It’s not an open-ended appointment anymore, I don’t think.

Lack: It’s one of the things, I suppose, that keeps changing. I know your being department chair and graduate coordinator, I guess what kinds of things did you have to do as graduate coordinator. It was still a fairly new program when you were there.

Dodson: Well I was chairman of our graduate committee and we, you know, met fairly regularly. I was responsible essentially for getting the graduate schedule set up, at least in terms of what courses were going to be taught and who was going to teach them. We had some policies that I worked within. I was in charge of recruiting grad students. Well we didn't go out and recruit them all that much, but whenever the applications would come in, I was in charge of routing the application. We had a process worked out where they were routed to each member of the grad committee and there was a cover sheet for people to make their recommendations and so forth. I was every graduate student’s advisor until they picked their thesis director which meant I had everybody for at least a year and that was a lot of people.

And oh I don’t know, all kinds of details that come up, paperwork to be done, reports to be written to the grad dean and so forth. It was not nearly as burdensome as being department chair, not nearly. But it was again a pretty much full-time job even though I also taught.

Lack: I can imagine. What kind of things have your graduate students done in the years that ….

Dodson: Oh a number have gone on to Ph.D. work at the college teaching, a number are teaching in community colleges around here. We have trouble keeping track of people after they leave and so I don’t know what a lot of them are doing. One, I think, became a paralegal. I think most of them probably are teaching at some place or other, some level or other.

Lack: Is community college teaching a good option?

Dodson: It’s not I don’t think as good an option as senior college teaching because the pay is lower especially in this state. The teaching load is higher. On the other hand, there are no expectations of professional publication and writing and never having been connected with the community college, I couldn’t say, but I know there’s some good people teaching English out there because they’re from our program.

Lack: And they have Master’s degrees and sometimes that’s sufficient for teaching out there.

Dodson: Yeah, yeah, it usually is.

Lack: I guess that’s another option for these grad students. Have you been involved with other organizations, Faculty Senate?

Dodson: No, I was never in Faculty Senate. I was in the AAUP Chapter for a number of years and as far as organizations on the campus are concerned, that’s about it. I’ve, of course, been on lots of committees of one kind or another. I was on the Nursing School Curriculum Committee for several years. They wanted one person from outside nursing and I was, I remember, once or twice, I was on search committees for people in the Students Affairs Division and I was Chairman of the University Library Committee for a year and was on it for several years.

I was chairman in 1980 when we had to do the [SACS] Self-study. Fortunately, Gene Huguelet who was head of the library at the time, he had all of the facts and everything at his fingertips so there really wasn't much for our committee to do for which we were all eternally grateful to Gene. I had to sort of pull it together, but Gene essentially, you know, wrote that part of it. Gosh, I’ve been on so many committees I can’t remember all of them. In recent years, not many.

Lack: That’s probably fine with you, right?

Dodson: Yeah, yeah, in fact, probably for the last 10 years, I just put a little, when the memo would come around from the Faculty Senate saying which of these university committees would you like to be on, I usually check the one that said none or something like that because I just, I don’t know, I’d had enough of that. I was, you know, thinking about retiring and trying to get a little writing done and trying to, you know, keep my courses up to date. As Department Chair and Graduate Coordinator, I attended enough meetings in those nine years to last me for 25.

Lack: Oh sure. You had paid your dues.

Dodson: I mean whenever I was asked to be on a committee, I said yes, but I just didn't do a whole lot of committee work the last 10 years or so.

Lack: What other things have you enjoyed doing? You mentioned that you have been interested in music. Do you play an instrument?

Dodson: Oh I used to, but I haven’t for many, many years.

Lack: What did you play?

Dodson: I played saxophone and clarinet, alto sax. Actually I had a double major as an undergraduate in music and English, but the music major was sort of by accident. I didn't set out to major in music. You know, I go to the North Carolina Symphony concerts and I was, until this year, I spent two or three years on the board of the Wilmington Concert Association. The Wilmington Symphony has just changed and improved enormously in the 25 years I’ve been here. They’re becoming better all the time.

For about five or six years, another person and I were co-hosts of a classical music call-in request program on WHQR on Sunday nights. I still, whenever I can, I fill in during the day as a music program host whenever someone is off on vacation or something like that. I’ve kept up my interest in music largely as a listener, not as a performer.

Lack: Right, right. Do you have a daughter?

Dodson: I have a daughter and a son. My daughter went to UNC-Asheville and just last spring got two Master’s degrees from Colorado State, one in French and one in English as a second language and she is now teaching at Colorado State.

Lack: Following in your footsteps.

Dodson: Yeah, well and her mother’s too. Her mother is a teacher at the elementary, secondary and college level. My wife retired, I guess she was a part-timer so I don’t know if she officially retired, but she unofficially retired from the School of Education last semester too.

Lack: I didn't know that she taught there also.

Dodson: And I have a son who is a senior here.

Lack: At UNCW?

Dodson: Yeah.

Lack: Oh wow, that’s great. He could pop in on you if he wanted. I don’t know how frequently that happened.

Dodson: Well actually, he did pop in on me from time to time, yeah, and that was always kind of fun.

Lack: Yeah, that’s neat. What’s he majoring in?

Dodson: He’s majoring in exercise science and he’s thinking about going into occupational therapy, going to grad school next year to get prepared for occupational therapy.

Lack: That’s neat that you and children -- at least for college -- stayed close by, relatively close.

Dodson: Yeah, yeah.

Lack: Does it seem like a lot of people that grow up here like to go to UNC-Asheville? I keep talking to people whose children go there. Maybe they want the contrast.

Dodson: Well what sold Sarah, my daughter, and her parents was a presentation by the Vice-Chancellor for Academic Affairs here. The guy from Asheville came here, made a presentation that we went to and he pointed out that Asheville has been designated as the university system’s liberal arts college. Of course, it’s a lot less expensive than a private liberal arts college and so Sarah got some juicy scholarships from them. She had a very good high school record, did well on the SAT’s and all that and so she got a good bit of financial aid that was not loans. And she loved Asheville, she really liked it.

Lack: Going there is just a very different experience than going to Chapel Hill.

Dodson: Yeah, I’m sure, very different. She considered Chapel Hill and she even went up there for a weekend and stayed with somebody that she knew, but it was too big for her and she said what really decided her was one afternoon, she went out to a fairly busy place on the campus and sat down and nobody spoke to her for several hours. She just sat there and that really turned her off.

Lack: Wow, what a good test, yeah.

Dodson: And, you know, Asheville was very different. I mean it’s small, friendly. She knew a lot of people and they went out actively recruiting her.

Lack: So she liked it, it was a good experience. We touched on some of the people that have been important to you. Oh, one thing, did you take any trips either for your work or not, but were important to you during your career here?

Dodson: Well going off to conferences to read papers was always fun because they’re usually held in cities I’d never been to before. I’ve been to Pittsburgh and to Cleveland and to Charleston several times and to Orlando.

I read SAT essays for the Educational Testing Service and so I’ve gone up to New Jersey which isn’t a particularly exciting place to go up to especially in New Jersey where they send us, usually just a motel, a big hotel on a highway, but I’ve been able to meet a lot of teachers from high schools and colleges around the country doing that and that’s been fun. It gets a little tedious. We sit there for five days reading essays on the same topic, but it’s fun and I learned a lot from it.

I also learned that our students do pretty well in comparison with students from other places. I don’t know whose essay I’m reading at any given time, but I compare them to the essays I get from my freshmen and I see the same strengths and weaknesses. So that’s been constructive.

Lack: I’d like to thank you for spending your time with us. What are your plans? You say that you’re probably going to be moving or you are going to be moving?

Dodson: Yeah, we hope next spring to sell the house and move to Wisconsin, move back to Wisconsin.

Lack: That’s interesting, to retire.

Dodson: I know, people think we’re nuts going to the ice and snow, but my wife grew up there and I was in Wisconsin 10 years before I came down here and it’s the place I’ve liked most to live.

Lack: Really, what is it that you like?

Dodson: Four distinct seasons. I mean winter can get unpleasant, but I don’t think as unpleasant as the summers here. It depends. I don’t know, it’s just, Wisconsin is a very pretty state. It’s not spectacular, it doesn't have mountains, but the parts of it where I’ve lived have been pleasant places to live.

Lack: Where in Wisconsin?

Dodson: I’ve lived in Oshkosh and Eau Claire and Madison.

Lack: Where do you think you’ll be going?

Dodson: We’re thinking about Eau Claire. Not because, well in fact my wife and I met there, but that’s not why we’re going back. It’s a very nice town in a very pretty area and it’s only two hours from Minneapolis on the interstate so we can go in for theater and concerts and a major airport. We want to do some traveling. We want to go to Elderhostels. We put off traveling like to Europe all those years because we were putting money away to send the kids to college, you know. So we’re going to try to do some of the things that we have not been able to do before. I am not going to shovel snow. I’m going to hire somebody to do it.

Lack: That’s good, that’s great.

Dodson: We’ll buy a snow blower or something like that. I may even take up skiing again, I don’t know.

Lack: Downhill?

Dodson: Yeah.

Lack: That certainly is not what I guess people think, do you think you’ll come back to the beach? Do you like the beach?

Dodson: Well we’ve been telling our friends that in February, we’re always going to come down here and sponge off of them. I don’t know. We’re going to take it as it comes. I hope that our blood hasn’t thinned too much in 25 years to be able to take the winters up there because it can get pretty cold.

Lack: Oh yeah, it sounds pretty rugged. You will be ready for the challenge.

Dodson: Yeah, well, I’m going to tell people, you know, for my birthday to get me long underwear, that sort of thing, lots of sweaters. But, I mean, a lot of people live up there and they survive the winters.

Lack: I mean people are always saying, oh it’s not as bad as it used to be. Well I noticed on the weather today, I think the high in Pittsburgh was going to be 62 and I think that’s pretty close to average for November. It gets colder at night.

Dodson: Wisconsin gets very cold and when that northwest wind comes in, the wind chill factor drops down to 20 below, you don’t want to go out much.

Lack: Will you be near a lake?

Dodson: Uh, actually well there’s lakes all over that part of Wisconsin and I don’t think we’ll be living on a lake cause lakefront property there is very expensive because so many people from Chicago and elsewhere in Illinois come up to Wisconsin and have summer homes and so forth. And we’re not boating people and I’m not a fisherman. We like lakes for the atmosphere, you know.

But you know, you live in Wisconsin and you get a snowstorm and nobody panics, you know. If you have to go somewhere, you wait for about an hour until after the snow stops and then you go because the roads are going to be clear.

Lack: It’s amazing. Here, no way.

Dodson: We’ve had snow here, real snow, I mean deep snow three times since I’ve been here, twice in March and once the infamous Christmas snowstorm that started on the 23rd which meant that nobody was able to shop on the 24th. It really hurt the merchants. But, you know, there’s no reason why they should invest in snow removal equipment down here so when you get real snow, you just wait for it to melt. That storm was like 15 inches. I don’t think I ever got a 15 inch snowfall in the 10 years I lived in Wisconsin.

Lack: Wow, that’s unreal.

Dodson: In fact, we skiers used to complain about what we called the January thaw in Wisconsin. The snow would get real cruddy. An awful lot of it would melt off.

Lack: Well I guess, if it piles up, you might get 10 inches.

Dodson: Oh yeah, over the course the winter, you got a lot, but I don’t think we ever got 15 inches at one time.

Lack: Well yeah, it’s crazy, but you know, when I was in Chapel Hill, we’d get a little bit of snow. They do try to clear some of the major roads, but it looks awful still … it looks like up north, when they've got three feet or something …

Dodson: And when snow gets dirty, it’s not attractive at all. One time when I was teaching at Eau Claire, which is north of Oshkosh, well it’s west central Wisconsin, I was teaching a Saturday morning class, a three hour class, that semester and one Saturday morning I got up and the snow was, it was snowing so hard and the snow and ice were so deep that I couldn’t get my Volkswagon Bug out of the parking space. You know, Volkswagon used to have that ad, “How does the man who drives the snow plow drive to the snow plow?”. Then he gets in his Bug. So I couldn’t get out of my parking space so I just assumed that school, the classes would be cancelled because it was a Saturday and there weren’t very many anyway.

But to be on the safe side, I called the university and I said “Are classes cancelled today” and the operator said, “Why would we cancel classes. Of course they’re not cancelled”. So I called a cab and I got over to my class. There were maybe out of a class of 30 or so, there were maybe a half a dozen people there. I mean the students, in fact they even had underground passageways between a number of the buildings and some students only had to walk a few hundred feet even in the snow so there’s practically nobody there.

I thought about just dismissing the class, but there was one woman there who was coming back to school to get her Bachelor’s degree. She was an elementary school teacher and she had started teaching at a time when you only needed two years of college. Well the rules had changed and they all had to have four year degrees. She lived 80 miles away. She got on a Greyhound bus and she was in class and so by gosh, we’re having class. The whole three hours. She was amazing.

Lack: What university was this?

Dodson: This was the University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire.

Lack: Well that’s true. It’s good to be fair. Some teachers are canceling classes today and I think that’s pretty unfair for the people who come.

Dodson: I never believed in doing that. One of the things that has disappointed me about our students here is the cavalier attitude that an awful lot of them have about going to class. I don’t think it’s just my class. I hear other people talk about it a lot too and have complained about it.

When I was in college, I figured it was costing my parents a lot of money and so I was going to get my money’s worth out of it and the only time I didn't go to class was when I was too sick to get out of bed and that wasn’t very often. I even went to the classes that I didn't particularly care for or if the teacher was particularly dull. If the teacher was dull, I’d sit right down in the very front so that I wouldn’t go to sleep. It would be too embarrassing. But I went to class and the students here, not all by any means, but a lot of them have a pretty cavalier attitude about going to class.

Lack: That’s true. That’s upsetting and I’ve seen that also at private universities which are so much more expensive.

Dodson: Really and supposedly, you know, they get more highly motivated students.

Lack: Well occasionally. I went to American University for undergraduate and we had a mix of students. Some of them were, if you went to class, they’d say, there was some peer pressure not to go to class (laughter).

Dodson: Well I taught at Maryville College in Eastern Tennessee for two years. This is a small, like 800, Presbyterian related, and they had a policy there, for every class on the day before or the day after vacation, for every class that you missed, they added one credit hour to your graduation requirements. So kids were there, they did not cut class.

Lack: Wow, yeah that’s serious.

Dodson: That might have been going a little far. Of course that school, they also had required chapel on 8:00 on Saturdays. They required Sunday school and church attendance and the word among the students was that they had to require chapel because the administration was afraid they’d go home for the weekend and not be in church on Sunday. That’s another story.

Lack: That’s a whole different thing, you can’t enforce that at very many colleges. Well I think we have completed our second tape. I’d like to thank you very much for your time.

Dodson: Oh, glad to do it. I’m retired, I got a lot of time.

Lack: Well if we think of anymore topics (laughter), please come back. Do you have more stories?

Dodson: Well, I can come back …

Lack: That would be great because there’s always I guess some stories that documented history hasn’t gotten down. We got some great ones today. We’ll think of some more.

Dodson: Good, good, glad I could help.

Lack: All right, thank you very much.

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