Remembering Phil S. Haring.
I write the following in honor of Phil Haring. I think this is justified by the large number of Zephyr readers and subscribers who studied with Professor Haring; or who have some connection to Knox College. At many levels, the college, its students and its employees are intertwined in the common project of education, a project that Phil Haring took seriously all his life.
Prof. Haring's obituary has been published locally, so there is no need to recapitulate it here. We need only to observe that he was a long time member of the Knox faculty and influenced and excited generations of students. He was highly regarded by his students and his colleagues. We will all miss him and mourn his passing.
I was one of Phil Haring's students; he was my advisor, teacher, colleague and friend. I was fortunate to attend Knox at a time when three remarkable teachers of political science engaged us in the classroom: Phil Haring, John Houston, and Rene Ballard. I could and should write of all of them. But today, for this purpose, I will focus on Phil Haring. I will try to do it in a way that brings more to the reader than the necessary brevity of obituary prose. I will try to give you a sense of the man.
I studied political science at Knox from 1959 to 1963; I returned to teach at Knox in the fall of 1967, enjoying his collegial company until his retirement in 1980. Phil was a gracious mentor and I learned a lot from him about pedagogy and political philosophy. I am honored to hold the same endowed chair that he held, the Robert Murphy Professor of Political Science and International Relations. He was a wonderful colleague, warm and engaging. And he could always be counted on to fully engage in argument and analysis. We had many such conversations in the Gizmo, in the department offices, and off campus in homes, restaurants, and even bars.
I had many encounters with Prof. Haring when I was a student. My first term at Knox I enrolled in Phil's European Government class. About four weeks into the semester, I got my first undergraduate shock, a paper returned to me with a C+ grade and the irritating handwritten comment: "OK, but not very profound." I steamed into his office, paper in hand, and rather archly informed him that I didn't realize that someone could decide to be "profound." With a gracious smile he said to me that to the contrary, it was relatively easy. If I would sit down he would explain. I then received an extemporaneous exposition on topics as lofty as paper topics (demanding, but not too demanding; never safe or easy), analytic levels (look for a problem, try to solve it, exercise the theory...), style (clarity, clarity, clarity), sources and references (how to find serious sources, before the days of the internet and search engines...). It was in fact, a mini lecture on how to be a serious student. I realize in retrospect, that my experience was not unique and that many other students had received some variant on this topic. They all valued the experience.
Prof. Haring's lectures were intellectual voyages, with a starting place and an end. They all started with the word "god" written at the top of the blackboard, and with some variant of "us" at the bottom. In between would be the latest of Phil's research and/or reflections on, say, St. Augustine; or Karl Marx; or Dwight Eisenhower; or the federal reserve. He would think in front of us, drawing us in to a labyrinth of possibilities, interpretations, and critiques. He would challenge us in those lectures, in the best possible sense of the term. I remember vividly my roommate taking in his first Haring lecture. He was a student that took copious notes in all of his classes, who prided himself on paying attention, came to this first lecture with three sharp pencils and a yellow pad. At the end of the hour he looked at me and said, "What happened?" He had taken no notes, utterly fascinated with and overwhelmed by the lecture, distracted by the ideas from his normal routine. He eventually resorted to a technique that many of us adopted in a Haring course, to write our impressions down after class, rather than during it.
I don't think I'm doing justice to the good professor's style yet. Let me try this. Prof. Haring was an enthusiastic smoker during a period of time when this was permissible in the classroom. As he lectured, he was wont to produce a cigarette in one hand and a match in the other. As he talked, the cigarette would bounce in his mouth and he would eventually light the match. There then followed a predictable crisis as he continued to talk while the match burned and the cigarette bounced. Eventually, the flame would come perilously close to the professorial fingers and be waved out elegantly without burning either the professor or the tobacco. The drama would then begin anew, with a new match giving its life to this classroom drama. I have seen students study this behavior during class with the same attention that a mongoose gives a cobra.
He had a wonderful voice and a distinctive laugh. In some previous life he must have been a gymnast or a contortionist, moving around the classroom, sitting on the desk, leaning on the chair, hands gesticulating in a descriptive of the theory he was exploring, body leaning into the class conspiratorially, feet tapping. Not one of those "behind the podium" kind of lecturers, Phil was in constant and fascinating motion, of one kind or another. And that infectious, distinctive laugh.
I have, over the years, encountered many of Phil's students at homecomings, graduation exercises, conferences and the like. As they talked and reminisced about him, they would use words like "warm" and "empathic" and "interested" or "stimulating", "exciting." Often they revealed a conversation important to them, perhaps about profession, or love, or disease, or war. Phil often talked about war, and when he did there was a certain intensity that people sensed and reacted to. There seemed to be something in the background that colored his observations. Many of us knew that he had been in the navy during WW II. Most of us learned the details only after Phil was in the maturity of his career.
The details of his service in the navy are notable. The key fact of Phil's wartime experiences is that he was serving in Pearl Harbor at the moment of the attack on our bases there. In fact, he was serving on one of the battleships in the harbor, the California, I believe and it was sunk in the harbor. Phil was one of a number of junior officers that had prepared for just such a moment, and they were able to manage the battleship's demise, ensuring that many of their colleagues could and would survive that naval holocaust. Phil's feet were badly burned as he ran across the deck and swam to shore. Like many veterans of WW II, Phil had little to say specifically of his experience at Pearl. Only later in his maturity did he talk publicly about those events. When he did, his experiences gave weight to his opinions on war and peace, topics he never tired of engaging with his students.
Phil Haring lived his life with joy and energy. He loved his wife, his daughter and his grandson. He thought that Galesburg was one of the great places on earth and, in spite of his Bostonian background, he spent much of his life here. We are all the better for it.