I will never forget Professor Shipley. I met him at UIC when I was taking English classes.
UIC didn’t offer any journalism courses, so I took creative writing courses and ended up majoring in English. I loved taking literature courses because I really felt that I would learn to be a writer by studying the great writers. During my second quarter at UIC, I took an interesting British literature course Professor David Spur where all my classmates and I would try to sit in the front row, in the center. Professor Spur made the class very interesting. I usually would beat everyone to the class and get to sit in the first row, although not always in the center. The class before ours would end promptly ten minutes before the hour and I would have time to sit down, review the assigned readings, and relax for a few minutes before our class began.
After I settled down to my pre-class ritual, I noticed that the professor, Professor Shipley, for that was his name, from the previous class was still there until almost the minute when our class started. Students would continue the class discussion with him for as long as possible. He was an elderly gentleman with distinguished gray hair and reddish beard with some gray. He wore a tie and earth-tone sport-coats with elbow patches. And he always put on his hat before he left the classroom. Occasionally, Professor Shipley didn’t have students detaining him with questions or comments about the class readings. But he would take his time to pack all his notes and books into his brown leather accordion briefcase. He always smiled and looked very friendly.
One day, I smiled as I watched him pack up. He smiled back. He wanted to know why I was so early for class. I didn’t have the nerve to tell him that he was actually running late that day. After a while, we always greeted each other and we usually engaged in small talk. I asked him what he taught and he told me Swift, Dryden, and Pope. I was intrigued. I had read plenty of Swift and a little of Pope on my own, but Dryden scared me a little.
The next semester, I enrolled in Professor Shipley’s survey course of British literature based solely on my conversations with him. He was a very interesting lecturer who never bored me, or the class for that matter. He had such a friendly demeanor. In fact, everyone in the class loved him! He commanded such respect. And he was thoroughly knowledgeable about the British literature he taught.
My memory of the class is very hazy now when I try to think back to those days. However, two events do stand out from memories of that class. The first one involved a paper we had to write. I don’t even remember the topic. Sometimes before class, we would sit on the floor in the hallway discussing the readings. Some students would get there at least thirty minutes early and we would have some very good discussions. One day, we were talking about the paper that we were about to turn in that morning. Suddenly, one classmate jumped up and said, “What? There’s a paper due today?” He had forgotten all about it. He told us to leave him alone so he could write the paper before class started. We all stared at him in amazement as he scribbled furiously into his spiral notebook. When everyone turned in their neatly typewritten papers, he asked Professor Shipley if he would accept his paper even if it was handwritten. Professor Shipley was nice enough to accept it as is. The next class, Professor Shipley returned our papers. Occasionally, professors like to read from a student’s paper that demonstrates exemplary writing and critical analysis. Well, he read from the only paper in the class handwritten on lined paper ripped from a spiral notebook. My classmates and I were all amazed at the high quality of the paper because we watched him write it while he was sitting in the hallway before class. He received a well-deserved A.
The other incident I remember always makes me laugh. We were reading Dryden’s “The Dunciad” in class and he really taught me to find the humor and satire of the poem. One day, Professor Shipley announced that he had a special treat for us. Well, we were all excited because he totally caught us off guard. He had never given us any sort of special treat before. So, he opens his brown leather accordion briefcase and pulls a small book in a plastic baggy. He announces, “I have a first edition book of poetry by John Dryden!” Maybe most of the class was a little nerdy, but we all looked at that book in awe. Professor Shipley slowly opened the bag. With tenderness, he took out the book and carefully opened it. Suddenly, the books started falling apart–actually it was disintegrating! I was reminded of the scene from the movie The Time Machine when they find the last existing books on Earth and when they open them they disintegrate. Professor Shipley stared in disbelief. “Oh!” he said and put the remains of the book back into the baggy.