Letter – In Praise of Chad Stutz

It’s a pleasure to mention in these paragraphs some of Chad’s qualities, habits and achievements which are doubtlessly already well known to colleagues and administrators. I’ll try to include a few less-well-known snapshots of Chad in action to justify our mutual high regard for our man.

Starting with his tryout lecture when he was a candidate. His aim was to convey a sense of the shifts in English literature through the 19th-century, and he did this ably—astonishingly, even—by bookending his lecture with two bird poems (poems about birds), composed at either ends of the century. Not only were students shown how to read a poem alertly, but they were then invited to compare formal, topical and tonal elements in the poems with Chad as he took them from the bucolic odes of the Romantics to the more brutal lyrics of the Industrial Revolution.

It was a tour de force, so good, in fact, that Paul Borgman was flummoxed. (Borgman, gentle reader, is not big on lecturers: he prefers a more Socratic mode of teaching.) After the class, at lunch in the Pendragon, Paul gave Chad his assessment: “It was such a good lecture that I’m going to vote against your candidacy.” He went on to explain that, in his view, Chad’s dazzling presentation had left no room for students to develop and insert their own readings.

We know, of course, that Chad won the day, and here is why this anecdote has further relevance: Chad’s good nature, his gentle spirit, his receptive attitude and good humor were evident in that exchange and have been reliably so in the years he’s been in our English department. If he took umbrage at Paul’s eyebrow-raising remark, he never gave a hint. And in fact, he has worked warmly, gracefully, effectively with Paul (and the rest of us), and we are better for him.

This warm demeanor he also brings to the classroom and the sidewalk. My advisees speak affectionately and admiringly of his approachability, and I have been present for several quad-side encounters with Chad, and have observed my students brighten at his approach and relish a lively chat. He is clearly held in high regard for his willingness to engage.

And also for his intellect and his teaching. Unbidden, during advising sessions, my students will effuse about Chad’s teaching. They appreciate his expertise in the literature and his skill in unpacking it (both of which I witnessed firsthand); they appreciate the larger and smaller motions of his courses, and they give particular praise for his ability to orchestrate conversations during class. (What a delightful irony in light of Paul’s objection.) My advisee Will Martin has signed up for several of Chad’s courses and declares that Chad is great at this: he manages to include many voices but somehow keeps everyone on point, keeps the discussion moving forward productively. He does this even in courses with lots of students in lots of desks.

Let me preach to the choir: this is good news for our classrooms, our major, our college. When a prof who knows his stuff can engage students thus, and entice them into owning the material for themselves, and direct them deftly toward what is difficult and what matters, then we have graduates who can think, and who can transfer that ability to any setting.

But we know this about Chad. We know he can be relied on to lead in a quiet, effective way. We’ve seen him do this at English department convocations and prayer sessions. We’ve seen him appointed to committees (like the Governance Committee) where his gifts and affect are in need and in evidence. We watch him in meetings with prospective students and their families, and are grateful for his winsomeness and credibility as he champions the major and the college. I want to credit and thank him here for regularly volunteering to be our ambassador at more than his share of these meetings, and to appreciate how he receives all comers—warmly, alertly—even those who bring bristling questions like, “You don’t read books like Catcher in the Rye, do you?”

This is a service, and it is a mark of his character, his faith, his commitments.

Chad enriches our community and elevates our conversations. His scholarship and teaching are leavening our English major, and will continue to do so as he settles into his courses and continues to add exciting, challenging, important new ones. His service and spirit are leavening our committees and considerations. We will turn to him increasingly, as we do in large and small groups, to pray aloud for us, to offer a wise, concurring or countering view, to carry and shape the ethos of a place we love together.

We need him. Let’s let him know.

-Chad was on a sabbatical leave this semester.

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