Thursday, June 25, 2009

A Well-Earned Rest

I received via e-mail this morning a copy of a publication of the University of Colorado's College of Arts and Sciences that was heretofore unknown to me. Apparently the College of Arts and Sciences, which counts me among its alumni (PoliSci '89), publishes a little periodical that it distributes on-line. At the risk of having my Alumni Association dues returned to me, whether this is the maiden voyage of this publication or its silver anniversary edition I know not. I simply have no recollection of ever having looked at it before.

This morning it commanded my attention however because it featured a piece on my favorite college professor, Edward Rozek. Professor Rozek died this spring at age 90. He lived a life that if set out in technicolor on a movie screen would have seemed impossible to believe. He was, in my humble opinion, simply a remarkable man.

Professor Rozek was staunchly conservative, passionately anti-Communist and patriotic in a degree that was at once impressive and unsurprising - given the route he took to get to America. He was a son of Poland who became a professor in America, along the way picking up his degree at Harvard University and counting Henry Kissinger among his contemporaries. He was decidedly and proudly out of step with the liberal setting in which he chose to work. Boulder Colorado is among my favorite places on this planet but it is not an exaggeration to say that when we had meetings of the College Republicans Club on campus a quarter-century ago, we needed slightly more space than that afforded by two cafeteria tables to assure room for our entire roster. Given that twenty-five years ago, slightly more than 25,000 undergraduate students were enrolled at CU-Boulder, we were not exactly representative of the majority position on campus.

What made Professor Rozek special to me was not his political or ideological bent. Rather it was his somewhat crazy rules, which demanded self-discipline that one might otherwise have been able to avoid as an undergraduate student. I had two classes with him in college, both of which met at 8:00 a.m. two mornings a week. Among his rules were: (a) no coffee in his classroom; (b) no soda in his classroom; and (c) no hats to be worn in his classroom. While it may seem corny, when he explained to you during minute one of day one of the semester that the classroom was the temple of learning and that you had to arrive at the temple of learning prepared to learn, you would find yourself nodding your head in agreement.

My second and final class with Professor Rozek was fall semester of my senior year. About a month or so before Thanksgiving he made the pitch that he made to each of his classes during the fall semester. It was that he recognized that not everyone could travel home for Thanksgiving. He and his wife Beth lived in Boulder and he invited any student who could not afford to travel to his or her home for Thanksgiving to stay in Boulder and join his family at his home for the holiday. He used to tell us the same thing every time he went through this pitch, which was that his wife made incredibly tasty borscht and that anyone who came would be amazed by his special turkey, which consistent with his political philosophy had two right wings. I was able to travel home for Thanksgiving so I did not take him up on his offer but I had a classmate and friend of mine who did. My friend spent the rest of the semester talking about what an extraordinary evening he had spent at Professor Rozek's home and the stories the professor had told him - simply sharing some of his life experiences with him.

Edward Rozek was, and remains, an enormous influence upon my life. He taught us more than political science; significantly more. He overheard people in class one morning making some sort of derogatory or obnoxious comment about the night janitor in the Political Science building - as if the man's life was nothing more or less than the perceived value of his profession. It was the angriest I ever saw Professor Rozek as he laid into the students who had made the comments. I remember him telling all of us that a man's value is not measured by what he does but how he does it. A man who works hard, who provides to the best of his ability for his family, who loves his family and makes them aware of how much he loves them and appreciates them is a man whose value far exceeds someone who has a more "prestigious" job than he but is deficient in all of those other areas.

Value is inherent in who we are and not what we do. A life lesson I shall never forget. And a teacher I shall remember always.


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