The End Of An Academic Era

On Monday, April 2nd an era will come to a conclusion when Professor Richard E. Haskell gives his final lecture from Meadowbrook Theatre on the campus of Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan.  Dr. Haskell has spent the past 46 years as a dedicated educator at the University as a professor of engineering in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering in Oakland University’s School of Engineering and Computer Science.  I’m sure to some people the significance of this lecture and tenured career is minimal.  To me it is a remarkable stake in time and the school’s history.  Richard E. Haskell is also my father-in-law.

I married Richard’s daughter in 1997.  Before I met him the first time I was certainly intimidated by his credentials as they were explained to me by my future bride.  His resume includes work in plasma physics, coherent optics, fuzzy logic, artificial neural networks, pattern recognition, wireless biometric authentication and a lot of other things I have no clue about.  He has worked at the NASA Johnson Spacecraft Center where he developed optical and digital methods of processing multispectral data.  Yes, my wife has reminded me many times over the years that she is the daughter of a rocket scientist!  I’ve always joked he can build a processor with a piece of twine and a paperclip.

Dr. Haskell holds six patents, has written twenty-six books and has published hundreds of research papers.  These are just a few things I have pulled directly from his online biography.  Anyone can access this information but not everyone knows the back story of what this man has accomplished during his tenure.  I am certain the impact he has had on so many students simply can’t be measured or quantified.  That would most likely be a mind numbing excursion.  But during the fifteen years I have known him he has continually amazed me with his intense desire to educate at the highest level.  He has never rested on or been satisfied with what he knows and what he teaches.  He continually researches and he constantly strives to challenge himself and his students as the technical world around us evolves.  One thing he has taught me is that the question is as important as the answer itself.

After reading those first paragraphs you might think this guy is just another computer geek college professor, but don’t rush to that judgement.  One of the reasons I married his daughter is because he’s a normal guy, husband, father and friend.  When Kim and I visited her mom and dad at their summer home in New Hampshire the first summer we were together (Dr. Haskell takes the summer semester off), I was amazed at how normal the guy actually was away from his academic world.  My mission was to ask Richard for permission to marry his daughter.  After that week-long visit I was convinced that New England was where I wanted to live.  He gave me the permission I asked for as well.

Over the years we’ve spent several weekends with Dr. Haskell and his wife Edie at their summer home.  The home is on an island on a large lake.  Quite the life, right?  But on any given beautiful summer day you’d most likely find Dr. Haskell in a room that has an awesome view of the water, researching and writing the books he’ll be using in the upcoming school year.  It’s a fitting environment for this man and his passion, surrounded by books he’s read and written, positioned in no particular order on the shelves that line the walls.  When lunchtime comes he’ll opt for a sandwich on the deck, maybe take a dip in the lake to cool himself off, then he’s back to work making sure his students will learn what they’ll need to know in this ever-changing and ever-challenging world.

I have never known anyone who is as passionate about information as Dr. Haskell.  He is always in the middle of a book, educating himself about history, former presidents, politics, fiction, non-fiction, anything.  His brain soaks up information like a willing sponge.  He has some sort of almost non-human drive to obtain knowledge and pass it on to others.  In the recent past he’s been researching the genealogy of his family.  He couldn’t stop at going a few layers deep.  That’s not his way.  With the help of his sister he has traced and documented his family lineage all the way back to 1577.  If you ask him about his family history he won’t need to reference any of his research from his documentation because it’s all there in his head, accessed faster than the microprocessors he and his students have created over the years.

Richard Haskell, with all of his knowledge and wisdom obtained through research, is still just a regular guy.  He enjoys the company of family and friends and yes, he knows how to have a good laugh.  He has a keen sense of humor and can find something funny in just about everything.  Some of my most intense laugh-until-my-gut-hurts moments were spawned by his unique wit.  Every winter he still packs up the van and drives thousands of miles to spend time with his children over the holidays.

Richard Haskell could teach for several more years if he wanted to but there is no need, as he has traversed above and beyond any academic standard.  The level of commitment he has upheld over these 46 years is deserving of far more than a Mr. Holland’s Opus.  He is the epitome of a truly devoted educator and he deeply understands the importance of knowledge.  The benefactors of his tireless pursuit of academic excellence these past 46 years have been his students.  Dr. Haskell didn’t get into teaching to become famous or wealthy.  The students have always been his priority and no one can deny he has served them well.

As Dr. Haskell heads into the next phase of his life he leaves behind a legacy that should be the new standard for all educators.  His pursuit of knowledge, the research of new horizons, the answers to new questions and the questions to new answers all compute into a final grand salute to this man’s teaching career.  I can’t attend his last lecture, but as he delivers it I will raise a toast in his honor.  I congratulate him and wish him well.  Cheers to you, Richard!

  • Blogger’s Note – Yes, I know I’ve been posting a lot of the more serious type of stuff lately.  Next week, it’s return to something lighter, semi-twisted and more to the liking of those who expect me to be a clown.  Promise.
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3 Comments

  1. Suzanne Gadreault

     /  April 18, 2012

    Wow. Great article Kurt! Debbie had the link on her Facebook. It is funny how as you grow older you learn to understand and appreciate a person and all they do as to me he was always just Uncle Dick. Hope you and Kim are doing well and maybe one of these summers we will see you guys.

    Reply
    • KDawg

       /  April 19, 2012

      Thank you, Suzanne. Your dad has quite a resume, too. Hope all is well, and thanks for stopping by and leaving your comment!

      Reply
  2. Nicole Jacobs

     /  April 1, 2012

    I have known the Haskell family my whole life, as a matter of fact my children call Dick and Edie grandma and grandpa. It will be an honor to sit at Dick’s last lecture, I only wish my father could be there. My parents were best friends with Dick and Edie, as a matter of fact my Mom and Edie were due with Kim and I on the same day. To me Dick was just my best friends Dad and another person in my world that worked at Oakland University. It was not until I was older that I realized Dick was more than just my parents friend, he was a professor, writer and, inventer. Our family vacations included fishing, swimming and eating lobster on that beautiful island, and they are my fondest memories growing up. I wish Professor Haskell the best in his retirement and I know my Dad will be raising a wine glass to him.

    Reply

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