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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Long-tenured DePauw professor retiring in June

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

June 30 will mark the end of an era at DePauw University.

"I started in 1956," Bob Newton said. "I taught lots of different courses. I was in the Philosophy and Religion Department at the beginning. I stayed with philosophy when they split those subjects into two departments (in 1994)."

Ken Owen, executive director of media relations at DePauw, said students and faculty would feel Newton's departure.

"He leaves as one of the longest-tenured professors in DePauw's 171-year history," he said.

Jim Rambo, senior professor of modern languages at DePauw, said to his knowledge Newton has served the second longest of any professor at the university.

"Officially, Henry Longden served for 54 years, but I have not found evidence that he taught during the last four years or so before his retirement," Rambo said. "The only other person in this longest-serving category in DePauw's history was Edwin Post, who taught Latin at DePauw for 53 years. Since he seems to have been a full-time teacher for most of the time -- even though he served as the university's first librarian -- he is apparently the only person to have actually taught longer than Bob Newton."

For years, Newton said he would retire when he "could no longer take the stairs two at a time." Although he can still do that, he decided to retire anyway.

"I just thought the time had come," he said. "I'm nearly 80 years old. Fifty-two years is enough time to work in a lifetime."

Newton called teaching "stimulating."

"I've found students don't bring specific knowledge and principles into the classroom," he said thoughtfully. "For me, I've learned something about the way humans appropriate things. It's been about how people learn."

For instance, Newton said, the ability of people to read and write has been "impeded by computers."

"You've heard the term sound bytes," he said. "Well, students are now learning from sight bytes. They get lots of bits of information. It's more than a dictionary, but less than a book."

Currently, he teaches biomedical ethics and a course about God and the meaning of life.

"Biomedical ethics is a field of very controversial issues," he said. "God and the meaning of life is more of a classic course it covers things like why an omnipotent God would allow evil to occur, why we continue to exist and the prospects for satisfaction."

Teaching such thought-provoking subjects has proved interesting for Newton.

"One thing about young people is, their own deaths are hard for them to think about," he said. "It's interesting when they start talking about what their lives will have contributed and what made them significant."

Newton had his students write advance directives -- documents that stated what they would like their families and doctors to do should they become incapacitated.

"That was an interesting exercise," he said.

Newton and his wife Ann, a retired counselor, have been married for 57 years. The couple have two children -- daughter Beth is a chaplain for a hospital in Avon, and son Christopher is the assistant director of DePauw's Eugene S. Pulliam Center for Contemporary Media.

Newton said his wife loves to travel (she's a Red Cross volunteer and went on missions for Hurricane Katrina and the California wild fires), and he is planning on doing that with her after he leaves DePauw.

"We're taking a bike and barge trip to the Netherlands in September," he said.

Newton also plans to keep on learning.

"I'm going to read all the books I would loved to have read, but I had to read students' papers," he said with a chuckle.

Newton is looking forward to more time with his family, but there are things about teaching he will miss.

"A burden will definitely be lifted," he said. "But I'll miss talking philosophy with the students. I like to do that."

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