In fall 1987 when new faculty were introduced at Austin College and the name Rod Stewart was mentioned, something of a common response was to add “not the rock star.” As his 31-year teaching career in the College’s Department of Philosophy comes to an end and the name Rod Stewart is mentioned, the added response is often “yes, the classroom rock star.”
Stewart is one of those faculty members who has faithfully poured his heart and soul into teaching and preparing his students every day, without a lot of fanfare. He knew the value of good, sound teaching. As a 1970 graduate of Austin College, he had seen that solid teaching in action, both from the “characters” of that era, like Myron Low, Jerry Hinkle, and Bruce Lunkley, and the traditional, quiet professors. They all had an effect on his life, and that was the important thing he took into his own teaching career.
After graduating from Austin College, Stewart earned his master’s and doctoral degrees at Syracuse University and taught in temporary positions at liberal arts colleges, large state schools, and a large private school. When the opportunity to teach at Austin College arose, he was quite pleased to take the position and wanted it to be a lasting one. He already knew that the small classes and opportunity to work closely with colleagues and students provided the academic environment he preferred. Since Austin College also was coming home, that had particular appeal.
Teaching alongside some of his own former teachers caused some initial trepidation, but as he was an experienced teacher, he quickly put those doubts aside and returned to his thoughts that being able to teach at his alma mater would be “the greatest thing in the world”—and it was. “I really do appreciate the support I got from the generation that hired me,” Stewart said. “They were always there, even if we disagreed, we were always collegial and worked through issues. Administratively I received excellent support when I wanted to consider new teaching areas or scholarship.”
Stewart wasn’t content just to teach; he still had learning to do. Having taken German as an undergraduate, he wanted to learn Spanish as a faculty member and was able to take time to do intensive work in the language, even presenting professional papers in Spanish. He also participated in an eight-week National Endowment for the Humanities summer seminar that Stewart described as similar to a graduate school course, as well as opportunities with the German Academic Exchange Service and the Fulbright Summer Fellowship in summer travel and learning.
Teaching, however, was the foundation of his experience. He said that he and colleague Patrick Duffey of the Spanish Department often joke that “we have to pinch ourselves to be sure that someone is paying us to do what we do.” At Austin College, he said, teaching within the broad liberal arts education is what everything is about. “We want to teach students to think critically and to challenge conventional wisdom,” he said. “We have academic freedom and academic freedom includes academic responsibility—to keep up in our field, to deliver information to our students in ways that will make them become engaged with it.”
“In most cases, parents are sending their students here at considerable cost,” Stewart said. “They have entrusted us with the students because they value the small setting and the personal attention received at Austin College. I think that’s a good model and one that still works.”
What else works for Stewart is the interaction with his colleagues, something he values greatly and already is creating some “withdrawal” symptoms for him. Stewart said that Austin College is like a small town and for his personality that works well. He has enjoyed the opportunity to teach alongside faculty he perhaps didn’t know in the beginning, as well as those he hand-selected for joint teaching projects. “Those were good situations,” he said. “You learn so much from each other.”
A 30-year career can’t be captured in a few paragraphs. Stewart’s included Heritage courses and the various changes that program underwent; mostly on-campus January Term courses that often addressed race and ethnicity within social and political philosophy structures; departmental courses that adapted to address world events; Communication/Inquiry specialty courses; opportunities for personal growth through collaboration with colleagues and professionals in his field; and more students than he can name quickly, but given time could begin to recall many whose stories he can tell, whose successes bring pride, whose lives influenced his own.
Stewart’s “classroom rock star” status has evolved over the years and come from official sources as well as public opinion. He received Austin College’s Teaching Excellence and Leadership Award in 1992 as well as its nomination for Minnie Steven Piper Professor nominee in 1998, the nomination itself an Austin College teaching award. He was an alumnus inductee into the campus Phi Beta Kappa chapter in 2002 and has been active in its leadership ever since. He also was installed in the George R. and Julia Blucher Jordan Chair in Humanities in 2003.
And no doubt he has achieved some rock star status with his four grandchildren. Most congenial and engaged grandfathers do—especially when he moves just around the corner, as Stewart and his wife, Marcia, also a 1970 graduate of Austin College are doing. Marcia retired from the Sherman ISD several years ago, and now that Rod has finished his teaching career, the retirees are moving full time to Rowlett, near one son, his wife, and two daughters. Eye problems continue to plague Rod and the nearness of family will help should need arise. Another son and his family, including a grandson and granddaughter, live outside Austin.
For now, spending time with those families, particularly the grandchildren, is really the only agenda. He and Marcia may travel, perhaps do some volunteer work, but it’s all pretty open-ended—leaving plenty of third-act encore options for a rock star.