Literature professor uses sabbatical to revitalize

Jonathan Dent, Contributing Writer

OBU professors are known for pouring unreservedly into their students, and they all deserve a break in the semester routine.

Courtesy Photo / The Yanseh

Those breaks can sometimes take the form of a sabbatical, which are paid leaves professors take for study or travel. One of the latest recipient of the time off is Dr. Benjamin Myers of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences here on Bison Hill.

Myers is the Crouch-Mathis Professor of Literature and a professor of literature and English; he is also the Poet Laureate of the State of Oklahoma for 2015 through 2016.

His sabbatical took place during the spring semester of 2016, ten years after his appointment at OBU, and he returned to teaching this fall. Myers said he believed his sabbatical was time well spent.

“It was definitely successful,” he said. “I wrote a lot, and I’m as happy as I ever am with what I wrote. Most artists are never satisfied for long, but I feel like the time was creatively productive.”

When he’s not writing, once can find him teaching the common core classes of Comp I and II, as well as both semesters of Western Civilization. His specialty is Creative Writing, and teaches the cycle of Introductory through Advanced Poetry Workshops.

Stephen Briggs, a senior computer science major with a creative writing interdisciplinary, has taken the intro workshop with Myers and is currently in the advanced course.

“Dr. Myers teaches poetry fantastically,” Briggs said. “I think that everyone who goes into his poetry classes comes out either liking poetry or loving it just because he teaches it very well. So you can definitely feel the passion he has for his craft, and he’s got a good way of passing it on to his students.”

Briggs is one of many who have sat in the cold, hard seats of Shawnee Hall and felt the passion in Myers’ classes.

Even as Myer’s students express satisfaction in his courses and teaching style, Myers said the one thing he did miss while being on sabbatical was “the students.”

But even though he was missed and missed campus life, he said the time was productive.

“My main project was writing poems for my third book of poems. That was the real purpose of the sabbatical. I also worked on some essays and book reviews that have already come out or will be coming out soon. I read a lot. I thought about my classes. I did a lot of traveling, reading and teaching for the poet laureate position.”

As full as his time was, there was still time for leisurely activities such as climbing a mountain for instance. One destination was Colorado’s 14,000 plus Quandary Peak.

“It was indescribable,” he said. “I climbed it with some old friends, to mark our transition into our 40’s.  It was physically demanding but deeply rewarding. I will definitely do it again.”

There may be no mountains here, but Myers has created his fair share of memories on this Hill too.

Briggs said he remembered his freshman year in the intro poetry workshop.

“Dr. Myers is kind of known for being against technology,” Briggs said. “Me and my workshop group were trying to figure out what this poem was, and we asked him if we could use our phone to reference. And he had this kind of [thoughtful] look on his face. It’s like ‘using evil to do something good.’”

Briggs said that Myers denied their request, but they eventually figured out which poem they were discussing.

Myers may not prioritize easy technology, but definitely prioritizes classroom performance.

“I spent a lot of time thinking about poetry and poetics and working through poems, so that should pay off in my workshops,” he said. “I read a lot for all the kinds of courses I teach. I also spent a good deal of time reading about and thinking about teaching.”

The sabbatical is a part of higher education that can benefit both professors and their students.

OBU students who take courses in the English department currently or in the future will have a rejuvenated literature professor teaching and assigning papers. They just might be better off using pen and paper more than smartphones.

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