Professor Profile: Richard "Dick" Gibson

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One can say that every student at Jacksonville University has heard of William Shakespeare. One of his several famous quotes says, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages.”

A person at JU who would know this quote by heart is Richard “Dick” Gibson, Ph.D., professor of English. Dick, as he likes to be called by his students, received his doctorate in renaissance drama from the University of North Carolina.

As he comes close to finishing off the last semester of his teaching career, Gibson looks forward to the future in his hometown of Deland, Fla. and will retire with fond memories both in and out of the classroom from when he first began teaching in 1965.

He did not come into the teaching route when he first entered college. He had originally planned to study psychology but after taking a few introductory courses, Gibson changed his mind.

“I found out it was about statistics and rats and boxes and I thought it was about people,” he said. “I said that’s not what I want. So I went over to the English department, and that’s when I became an English major.”

He received a Woodrow Wilson Scholarship to attend graduate school in English and decided on UNC where he also received his doctoral degree.

“There was no point where I fell in love with English, but in retrospect that’s what I should have done,” he said. “Actually what I really love is renaissance drama, Shakespeare. I always liked plays.”

Gibson is a one-of-a-kind professor with his 47-year teaching experience. He has come across all types of students– from ones that would rather sleep their classes away to ones that would never miss a class. He admits to seeing a downfall in the quality of his students over the years.

“Well 50 years ago they were much better prepared than today’s students are,” he said. “They had stronger linguistic skills partly because almost all Americans were acquainted at least with the King James’s version of the Bible, which is 400- year-old English.”

Many Americans today are monolingual and are not even familiar with an older version of English, Gibson said. Being this is North America, he feels as if Spanish and French languages are something at least a majority of Americans should know. Not knowing more than one language means Americans are unprepared for a global economy.

“I truly don’t see how a lot of these people are going to have jobs not just linguistically,” he said. “They seem absolutely shocked to be required to actually read something. They seem unprepared to read any difficult material, and again a large part of this is cultural.”

Gibson believes that if a person’s main form of communication is Twitter or texting, it makes the person by definition linguistically-challenged. Dick himself is actively learning German, which he says is extremely easy except for the noun system.

Fifty years is a long time to do the same thing over and over again, but Dick has found ways to keep himself and his students interested. He considers that to be the most rewarding part of his career, working with students on active projects. Walkies, sword fights, singing, acting and cheering on your classmates as loud as you can are all part of Gibson’s courses here at JU.

He enjoys having the creativity and energy in his classes. Some of his students have even written plays and put them on.

“I am constantly surprised by what students come up with when I give them assignment to take a text and turn it into a play or a song or whatever,” he said. “Every semester people do things that I think, ‘Dang, I never would have thought of that.'”

As his career comes to a close, Gibson leaves with some fond and some not-so-fond memories. He will definitely not miss grading papers, he said.

A couple of the most memorable moments of his teaching career were the second performance of “The Tempest,” a play by William Shakespeare.

“We did a performance at lunch which was a good try but didn’t make it,” he said. “But then that night it absolutely all came together. And the exact same thing happened when we did “A Midsummer’s Night Dream.” At night when we did it for an audience; the audience all wore glow lights, we wore glow lights and it was really cool. The whole thing just fell together; just a really beautiful, really wonderful thing.”

When it comes to what his students have taught him, Gibson simply says “lots and lots of stuff.” He thinks most of what he learns in classes is mostly negative in the sense that he ends up trying a new approach the following semester.

“As for learning stuff from students, giving them assignments and working with them and seeing the kind of interesting, creative things they come up with, when you tell them to do an assignment rather than tell how to do it, it’s a whole different way,”Gibson said.

Gibson’s love for teaching is just as immense as his love for Shakespeare. His office, once filled with literature and culture books is now almost empty. He has given a lot of the decoration pieces he owns away for free, as he has done with his several art, literature and language-learning books from all over the world. Gibson is ready for retirement, but he has made sure he keeps busy after his big sign-off at JU.

He has two major books written. One is a World War II combat novel that is centered around Mount Olympus, an area he knows pretty well with from his several study abroad trips.

“It’s bloody and gutsy and in a lot of ways is a men’s action novel,” he said. “But the two heroes are committed gay lovers. And also just completely unexpectedly it wasn’t supposed to be funny but it turned out to.”

Even though the whole book is completed, Gibson calls it a “sprawling mess” and something that needs review are the characters. The other book he has already finished is a textbook on diction, which is how to pronounce English.

There has not been a new book in that for 70 years and the last one was very elitist, he said. His concept with this textbook is to democratize American diction for the stage. Since his speciality is Shakespeare, Gibson based his textbook on his works.

Something else Gibson is going to keep busy with– a series of little murder mysteries set in St. Johns County in St. Augustine and a fantasy novel set in Northern Africa where in the 19th century Africans threw out the British, French and the Germans and history is altered.

Gibson’s time at JU has been memorable. During his career, he has come to love more than just his students. He mentions how he will miss JU as a whole, especially the old oak trees that stretch across the alley outside the Council building where his office is located.

“I will also certainly miss some of my colleagues, I will miss some of my students, but that happens anyway,” he said. “I don’t know what else because it hasn’t happened yet. Frankly, at this moment I am just ready. It’s like senoritis.”

Gibson may be ready to leave and move onto to the next stage, but his former students have mixed feelings about him leaving. He understands why it may be difficult for some but he uses a simple metaphor to explain why he is excited about retiring after 50 long years of hard work and dedication.

It’s like a house, he said. When you get a new house, your heart is into it, but after awhile for some reason you have to sell it and move on to another house and all you care about is the new house.

Gibson’s footprint has been engraved in the Council building where he holds his classes. The familiar sounds of his afternoon classes cheering, singing and sword fighting will be missed. His keen nature and love for his students has helped many develop a love for literature, or at least appreciate it.

He has played his part on the JU stage, and now it’s time for him to move back to Deland with his partner. But before he leaves, he does have some words of advice for his colleagues at JU.

“I am trying to think what Spock used to say, peace and prosper,” Gibson said. “For students my last word would be, wake up, take foreign languages, start working at your studies if you want to do what you think you are going to be able to. And for faculty I would say let the students learn the content at home and in class, let them show how they can work with that content.”

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