Faculty Faces - Dr. Duff Campbell

Duff CampbellDr. Duff Campbell

When Hendrix College math professor Dr. Duff Campbell once heard a drill sergeant yell, “About face,” he might have paused to consider whether it was an order or a metaphor for his life.

Prior to his basic training in Fort Sill in Lawton, Okla., Campbell was a student at Harvard. Campbell, who grew up two miles from the Atlantic Ocean on Cape Cod, went to Harvard for two years, starting in 1976. He dropped out for nine years and worked for a few years before later enlisting in the U.S. Army. Private Campbell was assigned to field artillery and served for four years in Kentucky and Germany. His main task was to run the computers that aim cannons but spent “more time making sure the trucks were running.” It was good experience, and it gave him the money and the discipline to go back to school, he said. Needless to say, it was also “a big transition” from the Ivy League to the Army.

Campbell returned to Harvard and finished his bachelor’s degree in mathematics in 1989. He headed straight to graduate school at Boston University, where he studied number theory and completed his Ph.D. in 1997. From Boston University, Campbell made another about-face move. After earning his doctorate, he accepted a three-year teaching post at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, NY.

“In graduate school, I was friends with a student from China, who was a communist; a student from South Africa, who was a Marxist/Leninist; another student from Mexico who was also a Marxist/Leninist; and someone from San Francisco,” he said. “In that room, I was really conservative because I was a Democrat.”

“It was a real whipsaw going to West Point … I was a liberal because I’m a Democrat,” he said.

Campbell had one more about face. After teaching at West Point, he joined the Hendrix faculty in 2000.

Moving to Arkansas to teach at Hendrix was “a big adjustment,” he said.

Campbell and his wife, Beth, whom he married in 1994, are both New England natives. They now live in Little Rock with their two children – daughter Eva, 11, and son Rafael, 5.

Though he specialized in number theory in graduate school, Campbell, who is now an associate professor, confesses he is “pretty much a generalist” and “use pieces of math from all over.”

“There are only two math classes I haven’t taught at Hendrix,” he said.

For the past three years, Campbell has also taught game theory during the College’s Maymester term, a three-week intensive summer program. He has also worked closely with Rwandan students at Hendrix through the Rwandan Presidential Scholars Program. He was the faculty advisor for three of the first four Rwandan students at Hendrix and traveled with Hendrix representatives on selection trip for the next year’s class.

“It’s been a great program,” he said, adding that he and his family have hosted Rwandan students in their home. “It’s been lovely for us as a family too.”

Teaching at Hendrix wasn’t completely foreign to Campbell, given his diverse background.

“Harvard, with 6,000 undergraduates, to me, was a liberal arts experience,” he said. “As a teacher, not that much has translated here from BU or West Point, so I tend to go back to my Harvard roots.”

But there are differences.

“As an undergraduate, I never went to office hours,” he said. “It just wasn’t structured that way.”

As an undergraduate, Campbell wasn’t exposed to things like group work, oral presentations, take-home exams, and class projects, which are all staples of the courses he teaches at Hendrix.

Most importantly, students at Hendrix have more contact with professors in the class and outside of the class through Your Hendrix Odyssey: Engaging in Active Learning, he said.

“What’s interesting to me, when Odyssey was brought on, they said this is a formal structure for what we’ve done all along,” he said. “And I totally agree with that.”

“It’s what was missing from my undergraduate experience … Projects that take more than one night and collaboration. You can’t start learning those skills too early,” he said. “I think it’s great, and, to me, that’s part of engaged learning.”

Campbell also enjoys the opportunity to work closely with colleagues from across campus.

“One of the things I loved at West Point was that I had 60 people in my department, so I had all these colleagues that were in my discipline,” he said. “When I came to Hendrix, there were 82 faculty members on campus, so I made friends with people in religion, history, psychology … It was really great and really broadening for me.”

Though there are more faculty members and more students to teach now, most of the growth of Hendrix in the years since he arrived is really positive, he said.

In preparation for the College’s next wave of strategic planning, one of the really intriguing ideas to Campbell is the discussion of a 3/2 faculty load, meaning faculty teach three courses one semester and two courses the next, as opposed to the current 3/3 load.

“I love teaching and don’t want to teach less,” he said. “But it would free up time and energy to do more that involves students, like getting students involved with undergraduate research.”

Last year, Campbell served on the Collegiate Center Review Committee.

“Thinking about how we can restructure the Collegiate Center is really important to me,” he said. “I changed my mind as a result of serving on the committee … and it’s not often faculty change their mind.”

Last year’s committee discussions were just the beginning of the process that, Campbell estimates, could still be two to three years down the road before it’s completed.

This spring, Campbell will teach a course titled “Vocations and Integrity” alongside four peers from the humanities area.

“It’ll be very interdisciplinary with great discussions,” he said. “I’ve never team-taught before, so it’s going to be really exciting. I’m really looking forward to it.”