“People often ask me what Wabash is all about,” said Professor Emeritus of Classics John Fischer H’70 to guests gathered Sunday in the Sparks Center Great Hall for the Honorary Degree Luncheon.
That’s the same John Fischer celebrated Saturday by Professor Jeremy Hartnett (at a reception hosted by Fischer’s Lambda Chi sons and brothers) for his “generosity, genuineness, zest for life, and devotion to students and friends.”
The same John Fischer who brought the word “feckless” into the Wabash lexicon, and whose honorary degree includes that very word, praising the “jubilant humanity” he “modeled and cultivated as a colleague, professor, and motivator—no, caretaker—of the feckless.”
“’Feckless’ is just such an appropriate marker for your approach to students,” Hartnett said in honoring his mentor. “You didn’t view us as though we were flawed, but just as if we were in need of a bit more oomph and direction. To be called ‘feckless’ by you sent a clear message: Get off your rear end, face the task in front of you, and get to it. It’s a word that warms my heart when I hear a rookie faculty member use it even today, since it means that Fischerian spirit, so central to good work at Wabash, lives on.
“You modeled being a professor at Wabash that we strive to imitate: engaged with and deeply committed to our students, but also calling them on their bullshit.”
So when John Fischer talks about what Wabash is all about, we’re wise to listen.
“I have yet to come up with the perfect word,” Fischer said, “but what I do use is ‘intimacy.’
“That ‘intimacy’ seems to be at the very heart of what we are all about and what I think of when I contemplate my years here. The key to it all is the relationship between professor and student, advisor and advisee, the open and not shut office door.
“I recall my advisees with great pleasure and think about all of the things we talked about whether in my office, in the Scarlet Inn, in a fraternity or dorm, or in my home. We talked about everything… One becomes friends with current and former students. I have had the great good luck to be part of many of my former students’ lives.
“Teaching here was great fun and I learned how to teach from my colleagues, the remarkable Jack Charles and Ted Bedrick. The combination of their mentoring and my classes with first-rate students made me a better teacher. I also learned other things outside of the classroom about the Midwest, soccer (my involvement with the beginnings of soccer here was a different education—I could not be prouder of my own players back then and their successful contemporary descendants). I also learned about the Monon Bell which resides, I am happy to say, where it belongs.
“The genuine openness of the Midwest and, more importantly, its native, bright students was a gigantic discovery for me and watching these students come to the College, find their footing, and move on is still something I regard with pleasure and delight. I was involved for some years with the off-campus study program and it was simply fun to help our students to find somewhere they could augment their education. It was a sheer pleasure to behold the energy and life such an experience would add to a young man’s time at Wabash.
“I also was advisor to the Lambda Chis, which was fun, interesting, and challenging. I enjoyed the relationships formed there and was happy to watch young men come in their first year and emerge four years later with firm sense of self and sound bond with the College and the fraternity.
“Thus, I taught and was educated myself in numerous ways during my four decades here. I reveled in amiable colleagues and bright eager students.
“I hope that “intimacy” and that bond is never diminished here: it’s what makes a Wabash education so powerful.”