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College Says Farewell to Three Professors

June 16, 2003

With more than 100 teaching years among them, three longtime professors retired this year, taking with them the gratitude and respect of countless undergraduates. We asked Klaus Engelhardt, William Rottschaefer, and Vern Rutsala to share some memories with us. We offer here a glimpse into their particular passions.

From left: Vern Rutsala, Klaus Engelhardt, and William Rottschaefer.

 

Klaus Engelhardt

Professor of French and German

Forest gave way to farmland as the tour bus headed down the gentle eastern slope of the Carpathian Mountains. On a six-hour ride from Piatra Neamt to Iasi in northeast Romania, Klaus Engelhardt began contemplating his return to Portland—and his approaching retirement. 

Clearly, all he had learned about Romania’s 2,000-year-old history, architecture, religious art, and hospitable inhabitants was invaluable. It should not lie dormant when the 2001 overseas study program he was leading ended. 

Instead, this consummate leader of six academic forays into Europe is sharing his expertise with Lewis & Clark alumni in Romania this summer. For one week, his group will journey from the tree-lined streets of the capital city of Bucharest to the elegant eastern seaport of Constanta—the country’s second largest city and a staging area for U.S. military troops—and points in between.

“Klaus is a fun collaborator. He has made himself liked and respected by peasants in Romanian villages and by university professors; by the young and old; and by nuns, priests, and artists,” says Ruxy Lazarescu ’00, a native Romanian and three-time program assistant.

Originally from Germany, Engelhardt began teaching at Lewis & Clark in 1969 and remained until he retired in December 2002. He took students to France in 1972 and 1978, to Hungary in 1988 and 1992, to Poland (with a side trip to Romania) in 1997, and to Romania in 2001. His wife, Marie, and their son, Roland, and daughter, Marika ’00, often accompanied him.

Romania remains his favorite destination because of its people. Spontaneous and gracious, they welcomed Engelhardt and his charges into their homes. Hotel stays were a rarity.

Based at Bucharest University and Babes-Bolyai University in Transylvania, the undergraduate program included courses in language, art history, contemporary affairs/politics, and general history.

Engelhardt and his students often engaged in the lively political discourse prevalent in the streets and cafés of Bucharest. “I see the renewed political awareness of today’s students as a sign of hope,” he says.

While at Lewis & Clark, Engelhardt chaired the foreign languages and literatures department; launched Polyglot, the College’s foreign language literary magazine; and advised the Student Academic Affairs Board (SAAB) from 1992 to 2002.

Retirement, Engelhardt says, presents new opportunities. He plans to broaden his travels, catch up on his reading, and contribute work to an encyclopedia of French literature. 

William Rottschaefer

Professor of Philosophy 

Do atoms really exist? Was Darwin right? Is science merely helpful in making predictions and organizing our thoughts, or is it also about reality? 

In true Socratic fashion, William Rottschaefer has been posing questions like these in his popular Philosophy of Science course since 1975, when he arrived at Lewis & Clark.

“The hard thing is to be neither a skeptic nor a dogmatist, but rather to realize that science deals with probabilities, not surety,” he says. “It’s important that if we can’t know something for sure, we avoid the conclusion that we can’t know anything.”

Rottschaefer first flirted with philosophy as a Catholic high school student presenting theological proofs of God’s existence in religion class and mathematical proofs in geometry. He went on to earn advanced degrees in philosophy, theology, and physics. “I find that philosophy helps clarify scientific issues and vice versa,” he says.

Today, his work appears in more than 100 scholarly publications, including Philosophy of Science, Biology and Philosophy, Behavior and Philosophy, and Zygon: The Journal of Religion and Science.

Rottschaefer’s Philosophy of Science course examined science from the standpoint of epistemology—“how we know things and whether we know anything at all”—and metaphysics—“what exists and what is its nature?” Students examined two main revolutions in the sciences: first, in physics and astronomy from Aristotle and Ptolemy to Copernicus, Galileo, Keppler, and Newton, a period of change spanning roughly 2,200 years; and second, in evolutionary biology from Aristotle to Darwin. He asked his students to use the history of science to test the adequacy of philosophical theories about science.

Exams, at least in the standard sense, were not part of Rottschaefer’s teaching repertoire. Instead, he presented students with four or five question sets to answer based on assigned reading. After turning in their first draft, students could rewrite as often as they pleased until reaching what Rottschaefer calls “relative perfection.”

Alumna Amber Ontiveros ’95 reminisced with her former professor at a campus symposium titled Examining Philip Kitcher’s Science, Truth, and Democracy, held in Rottschaefer’s honor on March 8.

“Bill always placed the onus of motivation solely on our shoulders, frequently quoting the Latin adage Repetitio est mater studiorum, or repetition is the mother of all learning,” says Ontiveros, special projects manager at Portland’s TriMet, where she deals with diversity, minority community outreach, and transit equity.

She isn’t the only student to hold Rottschaefer in high esteem. Last year, the Dr. Robert B. Pamplin Jr. Society of Fellows named him the 2002 Teacher of the Year. “Bill is able to take a question that is completely off the wall, turn it around, and make it seem brilliantly insightful,” Grant Aaker ’02 said at the ceremony.

A quintessential scholar, Rottschaefer plans to continue researching theories in evolutionary psychology and moral-developmental psychology, expanding the scientific basis for his philosophical claims about what makes us good, or not so good, as human beings.

Vern Rutsala

Professor of English

Wearing a straw hat and his signature black-framed eyeglasses, Vern Rutsala rises from his outdoor perch, stubs out his cigarette, and walks into Miller Center for the Humanities to conduct a poetry workshop. Thoughtfully, he listens as a student reads an original poem. He nods, offers an insightful but brief remark, and sits back, allowing time for reflection and analysis. 

“I can’t teach someone to be creative,” says Rutsala. “That impulse must come from within. I simply react, point out what’s strong, and help students evolve.”

Rutsala came to Lewis & Clark in 1961 after completing graduate studies at the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa. During his 42-year tenure, he has published hundreds of poems nationally and a wide array of prose offerings. He has won numerous awards and honors, including two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships in 1974 and 1979, a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1982, and an Oregon Book Award for Selected Poems in 1990. He also received, in 1990, the only master’s fellowship ever awarded to a writer by the Oregon Arts Commission.

During the last four decades, Rutsala has seen the College’s creative writing program flourish, growing from one course a year to four or five per semester.

“What sets Vern apart is his singular poetic voice—the way he balances grimness and tenderness, darkness and humor, bleakness and warmth,” says Jonas Lerman ’03, who worked with Rutsala on his senior poetry thesis.

“Vern asks good questions in his poems, questions I’ve never thought to ask, which, once read, seem crucial and puzzling,” adds Lerman. “In ‘The Mystery of Lost Shoes,’ he wonders about random shoes seen lying along the roadside. How did they get there? Why are they rarely in pairs? The poem is very funny, of course, but its ending, like most of Vern’s poems, takes a sharp, stunning turn in tone.”

Over the years, Rutsala has offered students the wisdom of his own writing process.

He carries a notebook and jots down ideas that have a buzz of possibility. As the thought evolves, he writes a first draft and throws in everything. Slowly, he begins to revise, reshape, and take things out. “It’s important not to make up your mind too soon about content,” he says. He also encourages aspiring poets to read the work of established ones. Among his favorite 20th-century poets are William Carlos Williams and Elizabeth Bishop.

Though he has retired from teaching, Rutsala continues to write new fiction and poetry.

“Writing poetry or practicing any of the arts is an individualizing process,” says Rutsala. “Those parts of yourself that the larger world has little use for, your inner life, that’s where poems come from.”

—by Pattie Pace

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