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Interview with Paul Harland

Interview with Paul Harland

English professor retiring at the end of the academic year

What inspired you to choose teaching as a profession?

I had wonderful teachers and so they inspired me to do something they clearly loved doing. I had a number of wonderful teachers that taught in very different ways. For them literature obviously made a difference in shaping their lives. It seemed the right sort of thing that I would like to do.

What do you like most about being a professor?

Living in literature. When I get to teach students I get to convey my enthusiasm and delight in literature. When I am teaching I get to live in a literary world, a world of imagination, and for me it’s always exciting and it’s a joy to convey that kind of depth of understanding and pleasure in that literary world.

What you don’t like about being a professor?

Grading papers. I always enjoy reading student papers that are thoughtful and brilliant but the sheer volume of papers, exams, test and quizzes is hard.

What are the accomplishments as a professor that you are proud of?

Probably the thing I am proudest of is having taught hundreds of students about the joys of literature. As far as my research is concerned I am happy about the work I have done in English resonance, particularly focusing on the author John Dan and more recently, work on apocalyptic literature which is quite a different field for me.

What you aspire to do after retiring?

I am planning to move to Victoria. I hope this will give me a chance to do things like hiking and cycling, kayaking, reading whenever and wherever I want to read, doing things like seeing plays, doing more traveling, and seeing my children.

Is there any book which you really like?

One book I keep coming back to very much and enjoy a great deal is ‘Possessions’ by A.S. Byatt. It’s like a literary mystery. It runs on two tracks. There is a 19th century track and a contemporary track, two stories inform one another. I think I enjoyed that because it conveys that there is always a glimmer of possibility even when we think that there is no way out. In the past, I have come back to ‘Paradise lost’ by John Milton, it is an epic, it also has some very big issues. It does so well with humour, intelligence and its sensitivity. It is one of my companions, it is something I keep coming back to.
Are there any political or social issues you feel passionately about?

Yes, the environment is something which is really important to me. I think that climate change and halting human destruction of nature is something that we all need to be concerned about. That’s one reason I got involved in a course called ‘The end of the world – contemporary apocalyptic literature’, because it often offers warnings about the destructive path human beings are on. The destruction of the environment is something we all need to be concerned about.

What is some misconception students often have about you?

I think some students, because I am older, think I am very strict. If a student has a problem and comes to see me, I am pretty much a marshmallow.

What is the best compliment you’ve ever received?

Well, I have had some students who have come back to me and said that my teaching has made a real difference in their lives and really changed their lives.

How were you as a university student?

I think as a university student I worked pretty hard. I took it pretty seriously. I really enjoyed my classes and my teachers. The stuff I got to read was really exciting for me and I was a strong student. I really enjoyed what I was doing and it was hard work.

How do you define a good student?

Somebody who is very curious. I don’t really care about students’ intellectual level. Something that is important to me is whether they want to find more, if they are interested and have a curious mind.

What do you know now that you wished you knew when you were my age?

I think I would say take advantage of the many opportunities that are around you. Go to plays, go to hockey games, go to concerts, have a broad, wide experience, don’t be narrowly focused on your discipline. Give yourself a broad education that goes beyond your courses.

Is there anything we have not talked about that you would like to share?

One thing that has made all the difference here is having wonderful colleagues to work with who have been very supportive and understanding of me and my personal situation. You often read about or talk to colleagues who have departments where there is a lot of backstabbing and wars between different factions. I think Augustana is remarkably free of that sort of thing, it is easy to get along with a wide variety of colleagues here. I think that has made Augustana a great place to work.

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