teachers, lifetime learners
One is an English professor nationally
known for writing personal letters to his students and grading papers
in less-menacing green ink. The other is a pastor-turned-religion professor
and one of the country's foremost experts on the separation of church
and state. They are Bob Frye
and Ron Flowers, two of TCU's most respected and honored faculty. Each
has won the Chancellor's Award for Distinguished Teaching -- Frye in 1992,
Flowers in 1996. They've both chaired the Faculty Senate, received the
Honors Program Professor of the Year Award and been selected by students
as Mortar Board Preferred Profs. Since arriving at TCU in 1966, their
careers have exemplified the classic role of professor -- dynamic classroom
teacher, noted academic scholar and dedicated servant to higher education.
Nearly 37 years later, these fast friends -- often seen battling it out
on a racquetball court or sitting together with their wives at football
games -- conclude their full-time careers together at the end of this
Editor Rick Waters sat down with the pair to talk about life at TCU, their
fondest memories, the role of a professor and even some things they would
The two of you are friends as well as colleagues. You both arrived here
in 1966. Does it seem appropriate that you are leaving at the same time?
I would respond to that by saying that it was completely accidental. Certainly
no premeditation on our part. If it is appropriate of not, I don't know.
I guess we came here at the same time and we're wearing out about the
Yeah, I think so. Of course, he's a lot older than I am. [Laughs] Keep
that in mind. [To Flowers] You were a student here.
I was a student here, right.
So, I was thinking this morning about how it is we wound up here, and
I thought you already knew this place. You finished your [master's] degree
at Iowa and this was one of the possibilities for you. You loved coming
back to this part of the country, I think.
Right. I did and as you remember, the job market was pretty tight in those
days. Not as bad as it is now, but I got two opportunities -- Atlantic
Christian College in Wilson, N.C., and TCU. Well, that was a no brainer
as far as I was concerned because, as you said, I knew TCU and I had grown
up in this part of the country. It was a wonderful opportunity, and I
felt comfortable because about half the religion department faculty, at
the time I joined the faculty, had been my teachers. So unlike you, who
didn't know the place at all, it was very comfortable for me. Kind of
scary though to become a colleague of one's former teachers.
I would think so.
Both of you had professional experience and professional lives before
coming to TCU. You taught at other places. Tennessee [Frye] and Iowa [Flowers.]
Yes and no. My professional life really was a pastor of a church prior
to graduate school. I taught at Iowa only as a graduate teaching assistant.
So this is the only full-time teaching job I've ever had.
Me too. I had taught at Purdue. [Frye earned his undergraduate degree
at Wayland Baptist College and did one year of graduate work at Purdue.]
I was there for a year and so I was a TA -- teaching assistant. But then
I went to Tennessee. In fact, that's how I learned about TCU. I was at
Purdue was very young and extraordinarily green. I'm not young anymore;
I'm still green. [Flowers laughs] But I decided I wanted to get a Ph.D.,
and Purdue did not offer a Ph.D. in English at that time. So I applied
to about 30 different schools for, what was called at that time, an NDEA
-- National Defense Education Act -- Fellowship. And in addition to that,
I applied to the University of Virginia for a DuPont Fellowship. DuPont,
the chemical company, has a wonderful fellowship. Well, I applied to 30
because in those days you don't have to send in an application fee. Today,
I wouldn't be able to do that. So I applied to 30 schools. I had a lot
of help from a professor there who was a former Texan, native Texan, Ph.D.
from Princeton, at Purdue, Robert Lytle Lowe, wonderful man. And he wrote
letters of recommendation. In fact, he wrote some of them practically
overnight. I told him I had deadlines. Of course I was young and was trying
to be courteous but I told him I had some deadlines coming up. In those
days there were no computers, so I actually had to wind up helping him
type some of my letters of recommendation, which was a bit awkward because
he was saying some kind things. He was a very generous man. But out of
30, I got, I think, 6 offers, one of which was from TCU because they were
just getting NDEA fellowships to start a Ph.D. programs in English here.
But I was a little apprehensive about going into a brand new program.
I figured the standards would be awfully high for one thing. But I didn't
know much about TCU. I was impressed with the warmth of my correspondence
with them at the time. I got an offer from the University of Virginia
and I knew a little about it, but it was only a one-year fellowship with
DuPont. So I turned it down. The fellow that called me was this world-renown
bibliographer, and it was a little bit overwhelming for a young guy like
me. I just told him I had a family and I needed a three-year commitment
that the NDEA provided. So I wound up going to Tennessee for graduate
school. When I finished at Tennessee in the discipline of English, I had
several opportunities. I went to the MLA convention in Chicago and had
quite a few interviews, as a matter of fact. But I had one with TCU that
I had set up. Cecil Williams, who went up there to Chicago, told me I
was the only one he was interviewing, so we talked for about an hour.
And then when I came to TCU, he was the only person I knew at TCU. I got
here and I went into see him one day and the secretary said, well, that
he had died the preceding evening. I didn't believe her. I couldn't believe
my ears. I said, "Would you repeat that?" She said, "Dr.
Williams died yesterday afternoon. He was mowing the grass and had a heart
attack and died." So one of the first things I did at TCU was go
to the funeral of the only man I knew here. And then shortly thereafter,
Amos Melton with whom I had corresponded -- he was the media relations
director -- he died. And then Mr. Sadler ╔ [To Flowers] What was his first
Magruder. Magruder Ellis Sadler.
Magruder Ellis Sadler. [Laughs]
That's why they called him Mac.
I didn't know that. After whom Sadler Hall is named. He died. So three
people died. So one of the first things I did at TCU was to go to funerals.
I didn't know anyone when I came. I went up to see Dr. Williams to get
some help about finding a place to rent and I was told he died. I went
back to my car. I'm a brand new faculty member, and I had parked in the
faculty parking lot. But there is a ticket on my car because I didn't
have a sticker on it. That was my introduction to TCU.
You both came to TCU in 1966 and have stayed and stayed. Why?
That's easy for me. I have found it to be a great place to be for a variety
of reasons. TCU has been a very good place to work. It's compatible with
my expectations and my talents in a lot of ways. TCU, at least in my department
and my guess is Bob's had the same experience, has not given me any direction
about what I should teach or how I should teach it. Academic freedom has
been observed always. The religion department here has been and is a group
of people who are compatible with each other, collegial. We respect each
other. We disagree with each other, but we do it in a constructive and
civil way. It's been a great place for me. I will acknowledge I have not
had any specific offers come my way. There's been a couple of feelers
that have been sent my direction. In fact I had a preliminary interview
one time, but I decided I didn't want pursue it because we were happy
here. Fort Worth is a good place, a good place to raise our family. So
why have I stayed? Because I've loved it.
I agree with just about all of that. No one's been knocking down my door
trying to hire me away from this place. No one has wanted to give a draft
choice, two draft choices. [Laughs]
Ha! Yeah. Signing bonus. [Laughs] No. Many years ago, I interviewed at
a place and, like Ron, in the middle of the interview process, I just
decided I didn't want to go there. I just much preferred where I was.
When I came here, I taught two freshman English classes and two sophomore
literature classes, and Ms. Lorraine Sherley, after whom Sherley Hall
is named, she had been here 50 years as a student and faculty member,
and she sort of told me what to do initially. She sometimes told the chancellor
what to do. She was head of the sophomore committee. I was just treated
very well. I was glad to have a position. Some of my classmates in graduate
school at Tennessee had wanted to go someplace where they could teach
an advanced graduate seminar, and I just lacked their confidence, I suppose.
I just wanted to teach. I felt like I could teach, and I was probably
better at the undergraduate level anyway. Shortly thereafter, after I
had gotten here, I got to participate in the Honors Program, and I really
enjoyed that. I know Ron has enjoyed that as well. That's been really
important to me during my time here. I've just been delighted to teach
in that because it's been a privilege to work with these very bright students.
One of the advantages of teaching here is that I've gotten also to have
sabbaticals and go to England and teach over there in the TCU summer program.
I did that for a number of years with Don Jackson and some others. One
of the things I ran into at Trinity College at Cambridge during one of
my sabbaticals was a sign that says, "People live and study here," and
I thought that's a very simple and straightforward way of putting it.
But that is basically the way I've found TCU. People live and study here.
Now of course they don't study all the time. I understand that. And I
understand about Thursday night parties. But I've found the students to
be very responsive, but I have especially enjoyed working in the Honors
Program. My colleagues in the department have been helpful. When I came
here, Jim Corder shared his courses with me. I had written my dissertation
on 18th century. That was my "specialty," and he right away began to share
his courses with me. So right away I began teaching The Age of Johnson
class. He even gave me all his notes and notebooks. He was very helpful.
Very supportive. So it's been a good place to work and to teach and to
learn and grow. And we also enjoy Fort Worth. We sort of like the slower,
laid back style, slower than Dallas. The pace is more to our liking.
I agree with Bob in all that. It's been a good place to live and work
and study. But I teach all undergraduates. Unlike the English department,
the religion department doesn't have a graduate program. We had one for
a while but we decided we weren't going to pursue it because the main
thing we're interested in is undergraduates. Anyway, the only thing I
would add to Bob's comments is that the size of TCU has been ideal as
far as I am concerned.
Yeah. I'd agree.
It's not a gigantic place and you get lost in the shuffle or a tiny place
where there is not much in the way of facilities or resources and the
like. TCU's been an ideal size to be able to teach and have a personal
relationship with the students at the same time have a good library and
good opportunities and a large enough student body to have a full program
of courses for a very talented faculty to offer.
Let's talk a minute about the role of the professor -- as teacher, as scholar,
as mentor to students and colleagues.
I think the word that I have always thought of that helps me to define
what I do and who I am in this role of being a professor is a calling.
It's a vocation in the truest sense of the word.
Yeah. I would agree.
It's not just a job or not just a craft. There are certain skills you
can develop as a craftsman, but it's not just a craft. It's a calling.
And that means to me that it's an opportunity, a way of being with students,
to lead them along, to help them gain insight and perspectives on life,
on my subject matter, which is religion. And I hope that it has been as
enriching for them as it has been for me. Teaching is not a one way enterprise.
We learn from students and students learn from us. And that's been a great
side. And again the size helps a lot. To be able to have relationships
with students outside the classroom has been a really good thing. The
buzzword today is mentoring. That's not a bad buzzword. Consequently,
teaching for me really has been a ministry. Not in the sense of a religion
professor using that word. I want to be very clear. Ministry in a university
setting is very different from ministry in a religious institution setting.
In a religious institution, ministry nurtures and stimulates faith. Teaching
in a religion program, even in a church-related university, is not designed
necessarily to nurture or stimulate faith as much as it is to inform faith,
to help understand what religion is.
To examine. And how they respond to that in terms of their own faith or
lack thereof obviously is their business. To be able to show students,
both by word and example, that religion can bear the same kind of critical
inquiry that any other academic discipline can bear has been, I think,
an opportunity to both me and them to grow in our understanding of what
religion is, of what being a human being is. You couldn't ask for anything
more exciting that that.
I agree. Ron and I are on the same page on this. That's the way I view
teaching -- as a ministry in that sense of being a service to the students.
I think of myself as a student, as just the oldest student in class.
Because it is an opportunity for learning with the students, for the students
and also because of the students. They challenge me. This is especially
true of the Honors Program. Ron and I both have taught in the Honors Program,
particularly in the humanities sequence. There is a lot of interdisciplinary
learning and a lot required of us as participants in that program. When
I am teaching with someone teaching art history, philosophy, religion
and music, as I was in the honors humanities sequence in 1987 when my
colleague Tom Copeland died and I succeeded him. When I am faced with
a lot of material that I need to know much more about -- how to do a visual
analysis of a painting, how to read Schirmacher when David Graham is encouraging
us to have that wonderful and glorious opportunity. What I see I do is
a calling and vocation, and that is where Ron and I differ a little bit
from some of our younger colleagues, at least among a number of colleagues
in our college on the campus. Generally, there is a sense that there is
a career here and they're going to do what is necessary to move ahead
in this career. Last year at the Phi Beta Kappa banquet, I gave an address
-- I was honored to be asked to give an address -- but one of the things
I talked about was the distinction between a career and a vocation. I
even looked at the etymology of those words with the help of a book by
William Sloane Coffin, who was chaplain at Yale of Harvard -- one of the
Ivy League schools -- where he talks about the entomology of those words,
career and vocation. Vocation is that notion of a calling. It has a religious
sense in that there is a seriousness, a solemn sense of duty, but not
a sectarian sense, I would say. As opposed to the word career, from which
we get the words car and careen. Same root word. It has to do with going
around in circles. At the end of that section of the chapter, William
Sloane Coffin draws on something from an SMU professor as a matter of
fact: "If you succeed in the rat race, on this career track, you're
still a rat." There is an important distinction in my mind between
career and job and what Ron and I do, which is minister to the needs of
students in that intellectual framework and keep abreast of all the recent
developments in our field. We're trying to do some research and writing
ourselves. Ron has done a lot of that on church and state relations for
example. I've done some work myself. We're also a little bit different
than our younger colleagues in that we have always felt a real strong
commitment to service at the university. That's been just part of the
package. Ron's been chair of the Faculty Senate and I have too. We've
done a lot of committee work at the university and just seen that as part
of our obligation and another way to serve.
Bob and I have talked about this over the last decade. We do perceive
a different attitude between folk who came along during our generation
and some of our younger colleagues. Not to disparage those people. Many
are extremely bright and some of them are very good teachers. But there
is a kind of careerism as opposed to a vocational understanding.
What's the best thing about TCU 30 years ago and now?
Well, that's interesting. [Long pause]
[Long pause] Well, they still allow us to teach. It's a privilege.
It's a blessing.
It's a privilege to do it honestly. I've always thought of teaching as
a privilege. When I wrote my letter of resignation to Vice Chancellor
Koehler, I said that when I started teaching as a teaching assistant at
Purdue in 1961, I considered it a privilege to teach and I still feel
that way. I felt that way when I started at TCU. It was always a privilege.
It was never a right. I was not so much concerned about if I was being
mistreated but rather how was I going to get the work done that was asked
of me in order to help those students understand more about writing or
literature. I would say 30 years ago I felt the same way I feel now in
I would agree with that. [Long pause] I'd like to meditate on that. [Long
pause] Of course, the best thing about TCU 30-something years ago is they
had the great judgment to hire us. [Laughs]
One answer to that question is the students, I think. That's been my focal
point the entire time because, as I say, I've always thought of myself
as an older student in the classroom. So I see students as classmates,
not in a touchy-feely sort of way, but in the sense that we're all engaged
in an intellectual enterprise. And my job is to equip them the best I
possibly can to really think, to think better than they have, and I am
also working on that myself. I did that this morning. I brought in a couple
of things to talk about that have to do with 9/11. There was an email
I got Sunday night from someone saying here's an editorial from a Tampa
newspaper talking about immigrants coming over here wanting to keep their
own particular cultures, and we really ought to have them be Americans
or send them home. There was another piece I cut out of the Sunday paper
about Thomas Friedman writing about 9/11 lessons, and he had three questions:
who are these terrorists, who are we and how can we respond to all this.
And I was trying to get them to think. I mostly listened this morning
and they talked. They really liked this idea of sending them home. So
we tried to figure out who the immigrants are and where we came from.
I tried to get them to examine that and analyze it a bit, but we didn't
spend the entire class on it, didn't have time. But the whole idea was
to get them to think, but they made me think and that's what's enjoyable
Did you get them to understand that unless they are children of Native
Americans they were all children of immigrants?
I tried. I tried. It's one of those notions I had when I had to give a
talk as an Honors professor. I talked about failing at a very high level,
and that's what I tried to do even this morning. I could have mentioned
what Ron said and made a better point.
What does "failing at a very high level" mean to you?
I start with the assumption that "there is none righteous, no not one."
We see through a glass darkly now. We're all imperfect. We all mess up.
We make mistakes. So I accept that as a given, but that doesn't mean we
don't try to excel, especially working with these honor students. I'm
trying to get them to excel even beyond what they thought they themselves
could do. I remember in my talk I referred to a bit of verse by Reid Whitmore.
He says, "It is not clear where we go from here. Or for that matter, who
There is a lot of uncertainty about ourselves and Pope has this wonderful
line in his essay on man, actually on human beings, when he says that
we as human beings are the glory, the jest and the riddle of the world
all at the same time. We can do extraordinary things. We've been to the
moon. We can use our voices. We're using them now. I find that a miracle
in itself. So we're lords of the world, but we're also jokes. We really
do some stupid things, ridiculous things. And riddles. It's hard to figure
ourselves out. We're puzzled by all of this. So when I say we want to
fail at a very high level, I just remind them that Einstein failed his
Ph.D. exams the first time he took them. And yet in terms of his contributions,
I would say he failed at a very high level. Now, I'm not in that category,
but many of our students are so gifted. I worked with one three years
ago, Roderick Olivarez Branch, in the Honors Program. Triple major: English,
French, music. I just mention English in passing.
Of course [Laughs]
He had a 4.0 when he graduated. When he came to this country he could
not speak English. He was from Mexico. He went to Arlington Martin High
School and they put him in the slow learners group. I don't know if he
was valedictorian or not, but he came to TCU with an enormous number of
advanced hours. He finished TCU and several of us wrote on his behalf
to go to Harvard law school. He went to Harvard law school and he said
that his work here in the honors program was better than anything he experienced
at Harvard law school. I thought that was a very good compliment to us.
We've had the same experience in the religion department. We had students
go to seminary and graduate school at a variety of places -- Vanderbilt,
Chicago, Yale, Emory. And occasionally they come back and contact us,
either personally or by e-mail, and we always ask, "Did we prepare you
well?" And almost unanimously, they say yes. Well, Bob is right. None
of us is perfect. There are good religious descriptions of that imperfection,
but by darn, we've done a pretty good job, I think, in trying to draw
out from our students their very best and to instill in them what we've
learned over the years, both our undergraduate training and the time since
then. It's a cliche that we use around here, but it's absolutely true:
learning is a lifelong experience.
What's the work that you are most proud of?
Well, for me, I have to mention two things. First, being a classroom teacher.
It has, far and away, occupied most of my time and been the most joy.
Also been the most frustrating. [Laughs] You know, sometimes students
don't respond for whatever reason. But I also have to say for me to be
able to write and publish has given me a sense of accomplishment. Some
people here at universities, not just TCU, expect publication. Publish
or perish and all that business. For me, that's never been a problem because
I've enjoyed doing it. Writing is not easy for me. My guess is it's not
easy for hardly anybody. I've enjoyed it and I've tried to keep some project
going all the time. Although my scholarly output is not nearly as large
as many scholars at this university or others, it's been a satisfaction
for me. In fact, I intend to do that until I retire ╔ or change my mind.
[Laughs] But people ask us all the time -- [To Frye] I assume they ask
you -- what do you intend to do when you retire. Well, I don't know for
sure, but one thing I know is I want to continue to use my education and
experience. Since I won't be in the classroom as much in the future, but
I think I would like to continue to read and to write. Because not only
is it a satisfying activity for me, it's also another dimension of this
business we've talked about -- service. Can you make a contribution to
the learning of the community, the broader community, the reading community?
I hope so. I've gotten a lot of feedback from that. I was at a conference
in Connecticut a few years ago on religion and journalism and a reporter
came up from Los Angeles, I believe. "I read your book That Godless
Court about Supreme Court decisions on church-state relations in a
seminar I was taking in a journalism program It was so useful to me."
Hey that's good, I thought. And there have been others saying similar
things. So I think being a classroom teacher, first of all, and also having
the opportunity to read and write have been points of satisfaction to
Ditto. [Laughs] I agree with what he's said. I've heard Bill Koehler say
many times that the central mission of this university is teaching. He
defines that broadly, as I think he should. There's teaching in the classroom.
Teaching in the studio. Teaching in the lab -- chemistry lab, physics
lab, whatever kind of lab. But for me, what I am proudest of is that I
have been allowed to teach from freshman honors up through Ph.D. seminars,
and occasionally it's worked. I was asked two or three years ago to be
the facilitator or moderator of a series of breakfasts on teaching. We
looked at a book by Parker Palmer called The Courage to Teach exploring
the inner landscape of a teacher's life. My colleagues from across campus,
for whom I have a lot of admiration, came over to this seminar and allowed
me to be the leader of it. I found that to be an extraordinarily satisfying
experience that they would allow me to do that. I was surprised in many
ways. I think one of the things I appreciate most about my career here
is the respect and willingness to allow me to do what I think I can do,
which is teach. Part of that is writing. I've done some writing and publishing
along the way. I haven't done nearly as much as some. Ron and I were very
active early in our careers in service. I even coached the women's basketball
team. So we've been very much a part of this institution in ways that
I think sometimes some of our younger colleagues just don't realize how
gratifying that is. They don't understand how rewarding that is to be
part of a particular institution. I think sometimes there is a sense that
one is loyal to one's own profession within the university. I think both
he and I feel we have a very close connection with this particular institution.
He's exactly right about that. I would agree with that.
That this has been a very special place for both of us to learn and to
grow and to teach and to contribute in a variety of ways. I guess for
me that's very satisfying to think that Ron Flowers even knows who I am.
I'm pleased to have him as a colleague and close friend.
I thought about one instance that has kind of stayed with me. It's been
10, 15 years. Wait. Longer than that. It was before I became department
chair. Twenty years ago.
You were just a boy.
I was just a young lad. But anyway, I was sitting in my office upstairs
one afternoon late -- 4:30, 4:45 -- and it was quiet. Everyone was gone.
I was just reading and all of a sudden, a woman walked in. She introduced
herself as a former student. She had taken my course Sects and Cults in
American Religion. I didn't remember her, but she introduced herself to
me. Told me she had been in that class , and she said, "You know I was
on campus today and I wanted to come over here and say to you that that
course has meant so much to me and my whole life because you taught me
to be open minded." She said, "I came to that course with a particular
religious faith, and I went away from that course with that same faith
except for the fact that you taught me by examining 15 or so other religious
groups, some of which I had never heard of, some of which I had heard
of and thought were pretty nutty, to respect those people for who they
are and to respect those people even though I disagree with them theologically,
that they have a right to believe the way they do." She said, "You gave
me a habit of open mindedness that has been enormously useful to me in
a variety of ways throughout my life." She was in my office 10 minutes
at the most because she had to scoot. We had a brief conversation, but
I have thought about that conversation so many times because that is precisely
the kind of thing I hope I have been able to do for all these hundreds
and thousands of students I've had the last 37 years. So, that one anecdote
really is a microcosm of what I hope and believe I've been able to do.
And I know Bob would concur as well in his field.
Yeah, I can think of two brief anecdotes. One is for many, many years,
especially when my children were young and still at home, I got up very
early. I got up about 4 and started grading papers at 4:30 or so.
That's a sickness. Not a virtue. [Laughs]
[Laughs] I'm not saying it's a virtue. At the time, I thought it was a
necessity. I'm a very slow grader and very thorough grader. I really write
a lot of comments, copious commentary as they say, on these papers. All
this green ink. I use green because it's less menacing and the bleeding
of red and all that.
I use red. [Laughs]
[Laughs] But in any case, I got up especially early one morning, 3:30.
That does sound a little ridiculous. I used to have a dog when we lived
at our two-story house, and he would sit on the landing. And he would
put his head up and put it back down like, "You're crazy. No one should
be up at this hour." Even the students were asleep at this time across
the way because I live right across from campus. About 4:30, I hear this
little tap at the door, not the doorbell, just a tap at the door. And
I go to the door and there are four honor students from my freshmen composition
class. And they've been up baking cookies. They have chocolate chip cookies
and a couple of other kinds and they were hot out of the oven. They knew
I was up grading papers very early in the morning because we had discussed
it. So they saw the light and wanted to know if I wanted some cookies.
I said, "Well, this is not going to help your grade."
Because I do have this reputation for sort of being an ogre when it comes
to grading. Hard-nosed. Really difficult. This is not new. I've been consistent
for 37 years of being a very difficult grader. But I said, "It won't help
your grade, but come on in. I've got some milk." So we got the milk out
and sat down and ate cookies. It's still dark outside. One of those students
went on to get his Ph.D. and M.D. as well, and I still hear from him from
time to time. I think the point of the story is that since I am like an
elder classmate, they felt they could do this. I wanted them to feel comfortable
to do this although I don't know how they came out on those particular
papers. Some of those honors students would get back a D on a paper, and
they couldn't understand it because they never had a D in their lives.
But this is not an uncommon experience in my honors classes. The other
experience is along the lines of what Ron was saying. A young woman named
Elizabeth Lunday, a very fine student in the Honors Program, was an English
and Journalism. She was a brilliant student. I tell you -- I wouldn't say
this to too many people -- but it's a little scary sometimes to have such
Oh, boy, is it ever.
That's another privilege of working in the Honors Program. You really
have to be on your toes. You really have to be ready, so I really worked
hard at that. So Elizabeth came by my office on a Friday -- April 4, I
just happen to remember the date -- and she and I got to talking about
feminism. She was very interested in some feminist issues, and I told
her about a book I had been reading by Carolyn Gilligan called In a Different
Voice. Gilligan was arguing that, generally speaking, women sort of have
this nurturing side , and they want people to take responsibility whereas
we males are not always as willing to be responsible. So Elizabeth and
I talked about this, and I raised some questions about this Carolyn Gilligan.
We talked a little while and Elizabeth went away. Then on Monday morning,
she came by and gave me a nine-page, single-spaced letter in which she
talked about her position on these various feminist issues. Her opening
was something like this: "You've done it again. You've caused me to think."
She says, "I came in just to talk about some other things and we got to
talking about these issues." And she says, "it has caused me to go away
and really write this down and commit them to paper because I know you
have thought about these issues yourself." So she considered mea serious
artist. She said, "I hope that we together perhaps can discover some truths."
Well, I think that notion of a student working with a teacher is the epitome
of the good faculty-student relationship. Here you have this extraordinarily
bright young woman, who was co-winner of the Boler Award when she presented
her senior honors paper. Now, she's a graduate student at the University
of North Carolina, and I still stay up with her. I've written a number
of letters of recommendation for her, which is another side of supporting
students we haven't mentioned much. I know Ron does a lot of that, supporting
students in other ways outside the classroom. But this really epitomizes
the wonderful relationship that I occasionally have the opportunity to
engage in with students.
What's the most important lesson you've learned in the classroom or in
an area of service or publishing?
One thing I learned about myself is that I am a much better lecturer than
a discussion leader. What that means to me is that I developed my style
over the years. I do deviate from it, but I try to stick to it. But I
do think I am a pretty darned good lecturer.
That's why I'm listening now.
[Laughs] That's right. You're captivated.
That's right. Taking copious notes. [Laughs]
You mentioned your styles. How have your methods changed over your
I went on sabbatical in fall of '77, and when I came back, I decided to
use letter writing in the spring of '78. So I told the students I wanted
them to write a personal letter to me every week. I would not grade it.
And I would write them a personal letter every week. They couldn't grade
it either, but they were going to make some judgments, I understood. But
the only criterion for this was to make the letter worth the time and
energy to read it, So we did this letter writing over and above our regular
coursework. This was an honors section, but what this did was put me in
the same fix that the students were in. That is to say I had an assignment
every week. In fact, I did one this morning. I wrote one of my honors
classes this morning. But I started it in 1978 and I did it straight through
for 20 years, without fail, unless I was out of town. I wrote a letter
to them every week. I have written 350, 375 and they wrote me a personal
letter. I've kept every one of their letters. I have about 5,000 or more
of their letters. That's one reason my TCU roommate -- my wife, Alice --
says we don't have much closet space anywhere.
And they have a two-story home. [Laughs]
[Laughs] But really it helped me understand better the position the student
was in -- an assignment that must get done, even sometimes when you donb't
want to do it. So that was very helpful. I will also say that having two
children to go to TCU and being married to a woman who went to TCU, that
also gave me still another perspective. That helped me better understand
the students' perspective, puts me in their shoes, puts me in the same
fix they're in. So that was invaluable to me.
What did you write your class this morning?
I tried to write a letter of encouragement because these freshmen have
just been through the first two weeks of school and they're doing their
laundry for the first time, I trust. If they don't, we'll probably know.
[Laughs] They're making all these adjustments and have all this free time
and it's not as structured. It's a little harder to have the discipline
that they need. So I wrote a letter about the importance of letters, and
I used the story of Loren Eiseley, chancellor of the University of Pennsylvania
and who when he turned in his first English assignments in college, the
teacher said, "Oh this isn't your work. You can't write this well." And
accused him of plagiarism. It drove him right out of majoring in English
and he wound up majoring in science instead. He became this great paleontologist
and wrote a lot about evolution and eventually became the chancellor of
Pennsylvania. His inspiration came over one time when his father had died
and his aunt was taking all his father's letters and burning them. He
was able to read just on little section of one letter from his father
about his confidence he had in him and that gave him the strength and
encouragement to go on to be an extraordinary scholar and extraordinary
human being. He was an honors speaker here one year.
He was here the year I won the honors professor of the year.
That particular year, my TCU roommate, Alice, and I took Loren Eiseley
out to a party after the honors banquet in my old '38 Chevrolet, which
I still have. So I told my students a little about that in my letter.
I told them about how he signed his autobiography in the backseat of my
'38 Bonneville while I held a flashlight. I just tried to let them see
that letters really can make a significant difference I also told them
about one of my heroes, Vaclav Havel, whose letters made a big difference
in his work in Czechoslovakia . So my purpose in the letters today is
that letters can instill a great sense of encouragement, and especially
post-9/11, we all need encouagement.
From what I can tell Bob is unique in this and it's one of the things
that's made him such a great teacher over the years with this dialoguing
either on paper or one-on-one with students. I've not had the discipline
to do it myself so I take my hat off to him. Waters: What's a trait you
admire about the other? Frye: We don't have enough time on this one. [Laughs]
What I admire about Bob among other things is that he's a great scholar
and he's conscientious. In fact, I've said this to him. He's conscientious
to a fault. He gets up at 4:30 in the morning more often than the law
should allow. But he really cares -- about this place, this university,
the students. And he's a bloody good racquetball player. [Laughs] [Frye
He and I have played over the years a lot and he has mightily defeated
me, but I keep going back because he's so much fun to be with. I really
have a good time with him.
Of course, one of the qualities I admire is his patience. He's patient
with me. He's a very patient person. He's the sort of person that when
I have a serious question he really does have a thought. He's sort of
a pastor in that sense. I admire his scholarly work. He is one of the
foremost experts on church-state relations. He has a book in its fifth
edition. In terms of personal qualities, he's generous, modest about a
lot of things. I know he wouldn't say that. He's a terrific teacher.
How did you meet and become friends?
Funny thing. I don't remember exactly.
We were predestined.
Well, he is a Presbyterian. [Both laugh]
What is the best thing about TCU 37 years ago and the best part about
As far as today, TCU is forward looking. But I confess I don't agree with
everything that is going on here. In many ways, I feel TCU is moving beyond
me. I suspect that is a good thing in some ways. Still, it is difficult
to articulate what I am feeling. Mostly, it's a gut level thing. I have
been at TCU for almost 40 years and this seems like the perfect time to
leave. When I came here, TCU was much different. It has moved from what
was thought in some circles as a glorified high school to a first-rate
university. But along the way, they've de-emphasized the humanities. Not
to disparage anybody else, but it seems the school of business is the
tail that wags the dog. I would like to see them return that emphasis
on the humanities. I guess what I want to say is that I feel some dis-ease
about some of the changes going on here. But if I were starting a career,
I think TCU is still a place I would like to be.
I agree with Ron. I too have seen some of that loss of emphasis. We still
are a liberal arts institution, and I would like us to remain true to
those areas. But I've also noticed a good deal more emphasis on publishing.
And that's fine. I understand that. But teaching is still central to the
profession. Service is also very important too. I think we've lost that
collegial sense of our work. I would agree that careerism has begun to
rise among our colleagues. One thing is that I've noticed in students
is that there is an entitlement attitude -- to grades, finest facilities,
things of that nature. Those are all good things, but I have perceived
that students aren't as curious as they once were or wanting to learn
for learning's sake. Now they're more interested in marketing skills.
It's not true of all students, but it's how they've evolved since the
middle '60s when we stared teaching. Partially, it's TCU's fault. But
it's not just TCU. It's academics in general. Whenever co-curricular activities
take the place of learning or there's a threat of them becoming co-equal
with academics that's troublesome. Let me be blunt. A lot of these extra
activities are resume builders. I tell my students, "Think about learning.
Worry about learning and let the resume take care of itself."
The word erosion comes to mind. Not saying that any of us are know-it-alls,
but there's been a shift in philosophy and I don't think we're in complete
agreement. For many, many years, I thought I would work here 40 years.
It was a nice round number. But I won't reach that, and part of the reason
is the change in attitude in students and the university. This business
with the UCR [University Core Requirements], to put it bluntly, I think
it's a crock. I made the decision to retire a little early. I hate to
sound upset, but I am concerned about students.
What advice would you give students?
Take advantage of every academic opportunity you have. It's a rich place.
We're small but the size has been perfect. Yet we're large enough to have
enormously rich programs. Take advantage of co-curricular activities,
but don't let it get out of balance. Let your education be the principal
has recently published his fifth book, To Defend the Constitution:
Religion, Conscientious Objection, Naturalization, and the Supreme Court.