Visiting Scholar Finds Home
Away From Home ... Among Students
December 13, 1999
ooking out across Mirror Lake from his office on the third floor of Arjona Building, Ken Simpson has watched the transition from balmy summer, to the vivid colors of a New England fall, and now the stark branches of trees in winter.
Simpson is director of the Centre for Scottish Studies and senior lecturer in the Department of English Studies at the University of Strathclyde, in Glasgow, Scotland. He has spent the fall semester in Storrs, as the Second Lynn Wood Neag Distinguished Professor of British Literature. He also has been the first Scholar-in-Residence, living among undergraduates in the South Campus residence hall complex.
"Scholar-in-Residence is a dynamic program that allows resident students to interact with faculty outside of the classroom, so that both can learn from the experience," says John Sears, coordinator for academic programs in the Department of Residential Life.
He says Simpson "has set an excellent standard for interactivity with students."
Simpson says he has appreciated the opportunity to get to know students as human beings, in a way that might not be possible in class. One of his favorite interactions with students has been the weekly series of Tuesday night dinners at South Campus dining hall. Over dinner, he has talked with students about concerns such as the globalization of culture, their intended career paths, and the differences between entertainment produced in Hollywood versus in Europe. Students have also asked him questions about kilts, haggis, and the Loch Ness Monster, the stereotypical yet intriguing curiosities of Scottish culture.
"The students I've encountered show a perfect mix of being friendly without being intrusive, which, outside of Glasgow, is very un-British," Simpson says. "They had notices hanging in the halls that said, 'Make sure to say hello because Ken is a long way from home.'"
He says he also has been warmly welcomed by faculty. "I've had a most cordial reception from faculty," he says, "although my duties as scholar-in-residence have left me less time to meet with faculty members."
Simpson has enjoyed other events with students, such as an ice cream social and a midnight charity concert in the Student Union Ballroom, where he saw a performance by his students' rock band, Prime Rib. "It was wonderful to see young people very happy without a drop of alcohol," he says. He also has attended a play that one of his honors students produced in a local town.
His academic responsibilities have included teaching an honors section of 18th Century British Literature. Although this is his 25th year of teaching Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy, Simpson says he gained new insights into it from working with students here. He also was impressed by the "incredible enthusiasm and stamina" of the honors students, especially in light of the challenges posed by the vernacular Scottish poetry he taught.
He says his experiences living and teaching at the University have been rejuvenating. "There is always something new to learn. My batteries feel as though they've been recharged."
He says he has observed a number of cultural differences between Scottish and American students.
"I find it admirable that time is so valuable here and that people use every minute to good effect. They even eat quickly," he says. And he enjoys the ethnic mix of America because of the range of perspectives that result.
He has also noticed different attitudes about ambition in the two countries. "In Scotland, they say, 'You'll get it if it's meant for you.' In America, the expression is, 'Go for it,'" he says. "When I am home in Ayrshire, in western Scotland, I draw inspiration from looking out over the Atlantic."
Simpson's appointment was made possible by the philanthropy of Raymond Neag '56, who established the professorship in honor of his late wife, a Scot. Simpson says the gesture is characteristic of American values. He says there is not the same history of philanthropy to higher education in the U.K. "Rarely do British millionaires endow education and scholarship to this extent."
Simpson will return home later next weekend. He says he will take with him new ideas, cherished memories, and many new friendships.
The Department of Residential Life is looking for Scholars-in-Residence for the future. The deadline for applications for the spring semester is Wednesday, December 15. Applications will be accepted in the spring from faculty members interested in the program for next fall. Faculty who wish to apply or who have questions may contact John Sears, at the Department of Residential Life: (860) 486-3430.