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Duncan Harris Leaves Legacy of Kindness, Respect

September 15, 2014
Man smiling
University of Wyoming English Professor Duncan Harris will be honored at a retirement reception Monday, Sept. 22, from 3-5 p.m. in the Wyoming Union Ballroom. Everyone is welcome to attend. (UW Photo)

Duncan Harris has witnessed a lot of changes during his 44 years at the University of Wyoming, but one thing has remained constant -- he has always been respected and admired by colleagues and students alike.

Having influenced the lives of thousands of students during his years as a teacher, mentor and colleague, Harris will be honored at a retirement reception Monday, Sept. 22, from 3-5 p.m. in the Wyoming Union Ballroom. Everyone is welcome to attend.

A Shakespearian scholar in the UW Department of English and director of the University Honors Program and Summer High School Institute, Harris is universally held in high regard by colleagues, administrators and students.

“The university nurtures good teaching, and the students inspire it,” Harris said upon receiving the Ellbogen Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007. “I believe that good students make good teachers, not the other way around. I have been lucky to have had so many great students.”

Such passion for helping students learn has made Harris a model teacher.

“No one cares more than Duncan about maintaining the highest academic standards and helping our students attain -- and surpass -- them,” says English Professor Susan Frye, dean of the UW Outreach School “It's not surprising that his students never forget him. I've been at his home a dozen times when former students have called to catch up or ask advice. Duncan brings to his work such kindness, generosity, hard work, and absolute commitment to excellence that he defines the very best of what a faculty member and administrator can aspire to be.”

Peter Parolin, head of the Department of English, says Harris’ colleagues treasure him.

“He has mentored us all and never ceases to inspire. Through his commitment, his skill, and his measurable success with all levels of UW students, Duncan Harris exemplifies the qualities that we all strive for as teachers,” Parolin says. “If I can have a fraction of the impact on my students that Duncan has had on his, I will consider my career worthwhile.”

His teaching philosophy has shaped the Honors Program, which he has directed since 1993 and which has nearly tripled under his leadership to more than 850 students. The program's growth reflects Harris' belief that students who desire to become high academic achievers should have that opportunity.

He has guided students to amazing successes over the years, including two Rhodes, six Truman, 12 Goldwater and two Marshall scholarship winners.

Harris excels in the classroom, too. Parolin notes that his students see him as both comfortable and exacting -- comfortable because he genuinely likes his students and exacting because he demands that they push themselves beyond their intellectual comfort zones to achieve more than they thought they could.

Wyoming Honors Program President Stan Devore of Casper, a senior in physiology, says Harris’ personal touch was a major factor in his decision to enroll at UW.

“Throughout the years, I have thoroughly enjoyed and am honored to have had the opportunity to work with such a wise, passionate gentleman. To me, he is more than just one of my professors, but also a mentor and friend,” Devore says. “I have never had a discussion with him that was not engaging, and I can always ask him for help. Over the past four years, Duncan has taught me so much -- not only about being a scholar of Shakespeare, Dante and Homer, but also about making a difference in the world.”

Harris received an A.B. in English, with a minor in history (1965) at Stanford University, an M.A. in English (1966) at Boston University, and a Ph.D. (1972) at Brandeis University.

For his efforts on behalf of UW students, Harris has won the national U.S. West Excellence in Education Award and the Outstanding First Year Advocate Award. At UW, he has won the John P. Ellbogen Meritorious Classroom Teaching Award and Golden Apple Award to recognize teaching excellence in freshman-level courses in the College of Arts and Sciences.

But even though Harris is retiring, there is no doubt his presence will continue to be felt at the university.

As Devore put it, “His contributions to the world around us here at the University of Wyoming are endless and, no matter what he chooses to do after retiring, my friends and I know that he will always have a place here at the university and, especially, in our hearts.”

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