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Professor Emeritus Dr. Kenneth Christopher Spatz, 1940-2023

Retired Psychology Department faculty member remembered for collegiality, friendship

CONWAY, Arkansas (September 14, 2023)—The Hendrix College community is saddened by the September 11 passing of Dr. Christopher Spatz, a Hendrix College alumnus of the Class of 1962 who taught in the Department of Psychology from 1973 to 2003. He was 83.

Chris Spatz graduated from Hendrix alongside his spouse, Thea Siria Spatz, then went on to earn his M.S. and Ph.D. from Tulane University. After having taught a few years at other institutions, he learned of an opening in the Psychology Department at his undergraduate alma mater. He joined the faculty Hendrix in 1973 and spent the next three decades teaching a variety of topics including general psychology, statistics, research methods, and biological psychology. 

Dr. Ralph McKenna, who retired from the Psychology Department in 2010, recalls meeting Spatz 47 years ago. They became friends almost from the moment Spatz picked him up at the airport for his interview visit to Hendrix.

“Chris had arranged a wonderful dinner in my honor, way beyond the usual search committee interview I had come to expect,” McKenna said. “Chris had brought together faculty couples and administration members for our wonderful evening meal held at a large, old Southern home on Robinson Avenue. The rest of my Hendrix interview followed a pattern similar to what Chris established that evening.” The two even went on to become doubles tennis partners, which McKenna now views as “a metaphor for my relationship with Chris.”

“Chris and I worked side by side in the Mills Center; we traveled together to meetings of the Arkansas Symposium for Psychology Students; we co-mentored some of our best psychology majors, helping them gain acceptance to excellent graduate schools,” he said.

Spatz was the author of Exploring Statistics: Tales of Distributions, a popular college textbook first published in 1976. In 2015, seeking a more student-friendly sale price for the book, he and Thea established Outcrop Publishers to revise, publish, and market the 11th and 12th editions.

Dr. Jennifer Peszka, Virginia A. McCormick Pittman Distinguished Professor of Psychology, who is among the group of scholars now working to publish the 13th edition of Exploring Statistics through Outcrop, recalls Spatz as a supportive and nonjudgmental colleague who helped her refine her own approach to teaching. 

“He never said, ‘This is how you’re supposed to do it’ or ‘It would be better if you did it this way,’” she said. “Instead, he helped me find my way to teach it.” 

Peszka recalls Spatz stopping by her office door to chat one day early in her career as she was doing some frantic last-minute preparation for a class: “I said, ‘Chris, I can’t talk about this now, I’m freaking out, I’m getting ready for class still and it starts in five minutes,’ and he said, ‘Cancel your class and get yourself together. Those students are getting their money’s worth from you.’ Then he hollered out to one of my students who was walking to my class and said… ‘Laura Smith! Are you getting your money’s worth from Dr. Peszka’s class?’ and she vigorously endorsed that she was. I didn’t cancel my class, but I did get Chris’s message that doing a good job is important but not breaking your neck to do it was also important. Chris always modeled hard and dedicated work, but a reasonable balance in life.”

Spatz_HalfCenturyClub2012_sq.jpgDr. Kim Maslin, a politics professor, officed next door to Spatz when she began teaching at Hendrix. She recalls moving into that space with her five-year-old son, Kyle, in tow. From that day forward, she experienced her office neighbor as “very encouraging and a supremely calming presence.”

“I was unpacking boxes and organizing my office. Kyle was basically hiding under the bench in the hallway. At one point, I heard this distinctly older voice,” she said. “I came out of my office and there was Spatz lying down on his back on the floor, talking to Kyle, who was still hiding under the bench. He looked up and said, ‘Well, hello there, neighbor’ – with his characteristic chuckle. My whole body relaxed and I remember thinking, ‘If my senior colleague is willing to get down on the floor to put my five-year-old at ease, this is going to work out just fine.’”

The family invites all alumni, faculty, staff, and friends to a reception on Friday evening, September 15, from 5:30 to 7 p.m. in The Dawkins Welcome Center on the Hendrix campus. 

A memorial service for Spatz is scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday, September 16, at First United Methodist Church of Conway. Gifts in his memory to First UMC, UMCOR, Hendrix College, Norbert Schedler Honors College, or Ozark Society are appreciated.

Listen: If These Bricks Could Talk podcast episode featuring Spatz, recorded April 30, 2021.