Philosophy instructor reflects on 50 years in higher education

Philosophy instructor reflects on 50 years in higher education

Paul Ermak

Assitant theology professor Paul Ermak, pictured here studying in a 1978 "BCU Prospectus" yearbook photo. Ermak is in his 50th year teaching at Briar Cliff.

When Paul Ermak started teaching at Briar Cliff College (now University) in the fall of 1965, the school was officially still a women’s college.

“The college had already announced that it would be going coed and a few men had been admitted for the 1965-66 year,” said Ermak, assistant professor of philosophy. “The men’s dorm did not open until January or February of 1967, and so at the beginning, men were housed in private residences in the city. When the men’s dorm did open, the first floor was taken up with faculty offices, including mine.”

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When Ermak started at the college, there was not a business major and no nursing courses at all. Now, students majoring in business and in nursing are two of the largest groups on campus.

“The college has added graduate programs and has become a university,” said Ermak. “A smaller proportion of the student body is interested in ‘liberal arts’ degrees and many more are interested in jobs or professional preparation.”

The biggest change in the 50 years, Ermak said, has been a major cultural shift.

The professor explained that he counts it as a success “of sorts that I can still communicate across the cultural divide between older people and young people that has developed in my lifetime as a teacher."

A sign of success for Ermak are the occasional notes from students who have been gone for 10 or more years, thanking him for having had a positive influence in their lives.

“Sometimes, the influence was not in philosophy,” he said. “I worked on weekend retreats called Searches for a good number of years, and maybe I had as much influence there as in the classroom. It was through Search that I met one of the former students that I have the most contact with these days.”

Ermak is committed to teaching ethics for another year and will take one year at a time.

“I am not yet ready to let go of teaching altogether, if I have a choice about the matter,” said the professor. “When I retire altogether, I think there will be opportunities for me to volunteer at a local nursing facility.”

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Tags: Alumni, Academics, Theology, Faculty, Theology Faculty