Tuesday, April 10, 2007
Eberweins’ 'Last Lectures' clearly not their last
Bob and Jane Eberwein, longtime professors in OU’s department of English, were honored on April 9 as they delivered Last Lectures in Meadow Brook Theatre, an Oakland University tradition. The pair will retire at the end of this semester after 38 years of teaching at OU.
|Jane and Bob Eberwein|
The Last Lecture series was recently revived by Coordinator of Campus Programs Paul Franklin, who envisions the tradition as honoring faculty members who have enriched the campus community through more than just teaching. “I can’t think of a better pair than Bob and Jane to exemplify that,” said Franklin.
Previous Last Lecturer and retired OU English professor Brian Murphy introduced Bob Eberwein with a Shakespeare reference, saying, “Bob is an absolute Horatio — the kind of friend we keep in our heart of hearts.”
Murphy remarked on Bob’s enthusiasm and passion, calling him “the walking embodiment of the words ‘friend’ and ‘colleague.’”
When Bob Eberwein reached the podium, he was quick to clarify his status as a Last Lecturer, noting that the title of his talk was “This Is Not My Last Lecture.” He reflected on the way the evolution of film technology influenced his teaching career, tracing the medium from celluloid in reels all the way to invisible digital files played on iPods.
He remembered showing rented, noisy 16mm films to his classes in the early 1970s; the transition to VHS tapes and later to laser disks.
“Both video tapes and celluloid film shared an inherent physical sequentiality; they unrolled or unreeled as one continuous piece,” he explained. “Laser disks were not only a different material, plastic, but the information on them was digitally encoded, unlike the information present on the tape. In class, one could access different scenes by using the remote, thus cutting from various scenes of, say, ‘Citizen Kane’ to show examples of similar deep focus shots or, more to the point, hop to a scene that had come up in discussions.”
Then came DVDs, and the power of the computer was added to film viewing (and teaching) experiences. Technology in making films, including special effects, is also changing film in ways that cannot yet be quantified. For Bob, “the digital technique at times can actually intrude on our experience of the narrative.”
Considering the aesthetic implications of these shifts, Bob expressed nostalgia for literal film and all its associated emotions, but also seemed at peace with the changes technology continues to bring to the cinematic genre.
He remembers receiving a small Keystone projector as a child in the 1940s. “What’s important to know, and the image I’d like you to leave with, is not of this old guy but of a little kid threading actual film through the sprockets of his projector and then projecting images on the wall. I could never have imagined then, and am still overwhelmed by the idea now, that I’d even be teaching and writing about film and that watching one would involve slipping a disk into a DVD player or a computer. This is why I don’t want this to be the last lecture. So much remains to be seen,” he said.
At the conclusion of Bob’s lecture, Joan Rosen, professor emerita of English, came to the stage to introduce Jane Eberwein. “I feel like the soft tomato in a BLT sandwich,” Rosen said, commenting on the difficulty of having to speak between two literary powerhouses.
Rosen called Jane “the person we all wish we could be,” and talked about the amount of hits that pop up when you Google her name. “She even shows up on MySpace. Who would have thought it?” Rosen said.
“She may be diminutive in stature, but in intellect, grace, and humility, she towers over us all,” said Rosen.
Rosen also mentioned Jane’s hilarious minutes from the University Senate meetings as well as her talents as a cook. “Jane serves like she teaches — with love, with grace, with charm, and with style.”
Jane’s Last Lecture was titled “Depravity and Grace in Academia,” and no description will come close to the wry and glittering style with which she spoke.
Jane opened, “I’m surprised to see anyone still here from the English department, because while this isn’t my last lecture either, it’s the lecture I never stopped giving,” referring to the five points of Calvinism: total depravity, unrestricted election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints. She said she would elaborate on two of the five themes, depravity and grace.
To elucidate depravity, Jane recalled a student “revolt” during one of her early years at Oakland. Two OU students entered and “took over” her classroom one morning, telling her class that they had “liberated” the cafeteria in the night and needed everyone to leave class to show their support for the revolution. When no one got up to leave, Jane suggested to the rebels that perhaps those showing their support were not in class.
Other examples of academic depravity Jane mentioned include students’ attempts to dodge deadlines, faculty cheating their students by ending classes early, “assaults on the English language, including the flagrant and willful splitting of infinitives,” and noted that there is “a special circle of hell for anyone who mutilates, hides, or steals library materials to prevent classmates from succeeding.”
But, for Jane, these are just evidence of the “frail and limited human condition,” transitioning into a definition of irresistible grace as a “transformative and saving force.”
Exemplifying grace for Jane was an episode that happened in her first year of teaching. She tried to get her 8 a.m. class to create an anagram poem using the name of the then-current president, Richard M. Nixon. “We got nowhere,” she said, and after class told a fellow faculty member, the late Maurice Brown, about her disappointment. On Monday morning, Jane found a Richard M. Nixon anagram poem in her mailbox from Brown. “It was a joyous surprise,” she said, “He came to my rescue.”
Jane also remembered anonymous thank you notes she received from students.
She also discussed the collegiality of the English department and the “truly amazing grace of my collegial marriage to Bob.”
“We are Pioneer-Grizzly hybrids,” she said of herself and Bob. “We will remain loyal members of this extended Oakland University community.”
After Jane thanked the OU community, Virinder Moudgil, vice president for academic affairs and provost, took the stage to say a few words about Bob and Jane.
Moudgil called the Eberweins “giants in the profession” and remarked on the “richness they have brought to this campus.”
“The country of Bangladesh began as a poet’s dream,” Moudgil said, reflecting on the importance of literature to the world.
After their retirement from Oakland, Bob will continue work on two books, one on the war film genre and the other on film stars of the 1980s, and Jane looks forward to more time for reading, writing, and “constructive leisure.”