Bruce Haddox wore many hats during his 38 years at Simpson: Professor of philosophy and religion; interim academic dean; interim president; and academic dean. He retired in 2007 and currently lives in Indianola with his wife, Bette.
Of all your various jobs, was there one you enjoyed the most?
I liked all of them, but because I enjoyed students, teaching was my favorite. I also was interested in the art of teaching, and it is an art. Teaching is one of those things you never master. I don’t care if it’s your first year of teaching, or whether it’s your 25th year, you’ve always got a brand-new group of students and a brand-new challenge. Every class is different because every student is different, and a good teacher tries to connect to them all.
The challenge is how do you get students engaged in something? How do you get them motivated? Nobody has solved the issue of motivation, I guarantee you. One of the lessons I learned from the psychologist, Piaget, is that the creation of a puzzle or dissonance gets people interested in solving that puzzle. That was sort of the method that I used. I tried to create a problem or puzzle to solve, to get students to ask: “What is it that this course is about? What is it we are trying to solve?” My very best courses were this way. My very worst courses were: “Here’s a lot of information I’m trying to give you.” They could read a book and get that.
I found teaching to be a tremendous kick. It is high drama. Sometimes you really win—you have students who get it and write terrific final papers. And then sometimes you walk away from a course and say, “Boy, I wasn’t any good this time.” And you never know for sure whether it’s one way or another. It’s a complete act of faith. You can walk away from a course thinking that you did really great, and you may just be completely fooling yourself, because the students weren’t changed at all. Other times you can walk away saying, “I was just awful. I need to quit this profession,” and five years later some student from that class comes back and mentions a book that we read and tells you how it changed his or her way of thinking. A student will come back to see their teacher if that teacher meant something to her or him. But, be sure of this: No student ever comes back to see the academic dean. That’s why I think the best job is teaching, because you can make a difference in students’ lives.
What was it like being the academic dean?
I enjoyed working with the faculty. It’s different from teaching, because you’re in charge of supervising the entire academic program, and that’s extremely important to a college. The academic program will not shepherd itself. It needs to have someone who has some notion of what we are trying to accomplish in the academic program as a whole, and that includes both the majors and the liberal arts component. What are you trying to do? What education are you trying to give people? These are crucial questions. Of course, the most important thing an academic dean does is hire faculty, because you have to hire people who buy into the vision of the program you are trying to provide.
Did you ever think about applying for president of the college?
I thought about it, but I don’t think I would have been a really good president. I enjoyed that year (serving as interim president.) I met a lot of alums and did some good for the college. The vice presidents worked well together because we bonded together that year. Some of my closest friends were the other vice presidents. I think we worked together as a team. I enjoyed that part of the job. The truth is that I’m actually sort of an ordinary guy. So I did an adequate, ordinary job as president. But I think I did my best in my career when I was teaching or being academic dean.
What are your favorite memories of Simpson?
When I think of Simpson I think of the life I had in common with people. I didn’t think of it as a job. It was a shared life. My ideal was always to hire faculty to share a life with, and not just do a job. That’s pretty idealistic, but the truth is, it was not idealistic for me because that was my experience.
For example, I always enjoyed the faculty lounge. We’d argue about Marx, or we’d argue Freud. We always argued ideas. We’d argue curriculum. Of course we beat up on the administration; that goes with the territory. That’s one thing I learned as dean—you don’t take anything personally and you certainly don’t walk into the faculty lounge unannounced because they might be talking about you. It’s nothing personal, but faculty have to get their frustrations out and that’s what the lounge is for. Now when I go in the lounge, the only people there are retired faculty. It’s a different world. (Laughing.) How can you argue on Twitter?
What are you doing to keep yourself busy these days?
I’m pretty active in the United Methodist Church here. I teach a Sunday school class, and a Wednesday night class with Roger Betsworth. There’s also a serious topic Saturday morning book club, and a monthly book club, where we read fiction books and talk about them. I’ve somehow managed to survive by talking all my life—and I’m still talking. We also spend a lot of time with our son James’ children, Max and Mickey. They are a large part of the reason we stayed in Indianola.
Bette and I recently celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary with a trip to Italy and Austria. Our daughter, Susan, and son-in-law, Victor, guided us through Rome, Siena, Florence and Venice in Italy and Salzburg and Vienna in Austria. The whole trip was amazing. Italy was one wonder after another. Bette had asked to include Salzburg, because of Mozart and the “The Sound of Music.” In our hotel, they ran “The Sound of Music” every evening on TV. We saw the church that was used in the movie for the wedding. It was a wonderful way to celebrate being together for 50 years.