Memories of Awe Episode 1

Keith McKown was called the most unusual faculty member they had ever met by a number of university presidents during his academic career. He never turned down an opportunity to teach an extra class. He was an advisor to hundreds of students.

He didn’t publish in scholarly journals because he said: “I don’t want to waste my time writing something that only a couple of people would read. I’d rather spend time writing content that others find helpful.”

He rarely attended faculty meetings and considered them to be the modern day equivalent of public shaming. “No matter the issue under discussion, within 10 minutes the root cause will be blamed on students. I have no interest in such displays of arrogance.”

He was tolerated because he was beloved by students. The success of those he guided was legendary. As universities became more like factories where graduates were mass produced, he stood out as an exception.

Before he retired he was approached by Liz Jennings, a public history student, to see if he would be willing to sit for a series of interviews on his career. He refused, but he did agree to meet with her.

“Let me tell you why I said no,” he began. “To the extent I’ve accomplished anything in my life, it’s been because of the students I’ve taught.”

“How so?” Liz asked. She was amazed by his comment and wanted to know more. She began to think that the oral history could take on a dimension she never expected.

Liz tried again. “Would you agree to a series of interviews about how you were impacted by the students you taught? Maybe we could focus on a different student with each interview.”

“I’m willing to give it a try,” Keith responded, “as long as you focus on the students and not me.”

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“Memory is the diary that we all carry about with us.” – Oscar Wilde


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