Hendrix Magazine

Class Dismissed

Ralph McKenna

By Bruce Haggard

Dr. Ralph McKenna drove his family to Hendrix in the heat of the summer of 1976. Some of his future colleagues distracted him while one of them jumped into his overloaded U-Haul truck and raced it down the nearby hill, and then slammed on the brakes in order to shift the load of everything he owned forward enough to free the rear door so it could be opened. Fortunately most of the belongings survived. The faculty ‘moving crew’ couldn’t resist laughing at the sight of his toboggan when the door was opened.

Who knew that this Connecticut Yankee, his wife Linda and their five children (Colleen, Tim, Kevin, Daniel, and Connor, who was yet to be born), would play such a vital role at Hendrix and in the Conway community.

Ralph and I co-founded the Hendrix Faculty Colloquium Series that gives faculty an opportunity to present their experiences or discuss their research with their colleagues once a month throughout the academic year. Ralph was very active in the Hendrix AAUP faculty organization that played a significant role in helping form a sense of community and in dealing with multiple Hendrix faculty concerns over the years. He is a community activist, working to implement bike trails throughout Conway, and has a real passion for organic gardening.

Ralph plays a mean sax and had his own swing band starting in junior high. He drove his used 28 hp Volkswagen to local gigs, making the three-hour trip from Connecticut to gigs in New York to earn his way through college. He was a music education major and taught secondary school music before going to the University of Connecticut to obtain a Ph.D. in Social Psychology. He still loves to jam and can usually name the song, the singer, and give you the rest of the lyrics upon hearing a single key phrase from any 1950-70s rock and roll song. He used his knowledge of music as a DJ on KHDX and for the development of some unique courses such as "American Roots Music and Southern Culture" as well as "Psychology, Music, and American Culture."

Ralph was co-founder (1985) of the Arkansas Symposium for Psychology Students. He has been recognized for the quality of his teaching on multiple occasions (including Teacher of the Year) and clearly enjoys mentoring student research, as well as conducting research and presenting papers of his own at the annual Southwestern Psychological Association meetings. He is teaching three courses this spring, though he officially ended his phased retirement last year. He thoroughly enjoyed leading the Hendrix-in-London Semester in the spring of 2005. Not so much his roles as Chair of the Department of Psychology for the 10 years between 1980 and 1990, followed by his ‘sentence’ as Chair of the Social Science Area from 1990 to 1994.

Alumni who wish to contact Ralph should email him at mckennarj@hendrix.edu. I am sure he would appreciate hearing from you. Ralph has helped lots of alumni to achieve their goals.

Bruce Haggard

By Ralph McKenna

"You’ll really love the Haggards – they’re into organic gardening and have goats – just like you all do! They have kids around the age of your oldest two, and recently moved to a house on a lake with three acres of land.
And … his wife Pat is a potter!"

So went my introduction to the Haggard family when I interviewed for a position at Hendrix. One of my first memories of Bruce is holding up one end of a monster 8,000 pound player piano that Linda and I had brought from our Pennsylvania farmhouse. Bruce and Jon Arms, holding up the other end, were stuck going down a flight of stairs, as the rest of us debated where the piano should best be placed for aesthetic prominence. Both have keen memories of that day whenever their backs go out.

Bruce and Pat, Tina ’87 and Kelly ’88 preceded the McKennas to Hendrix by four years, coming straight from Indiana University and some world-class graduate work in genetics. An unabashed Hoosier in the land of the Razorback, Bruce brought his love of sport to Conway. I remember his tree-like presence as center for our faculty intramural basketball team, and his rifle arm as center fielder for the faculty city-league softball team, where I had the brief chance to play right field. Many alumni will recall Bruce’s 10 years keeping the scoreboard for the Cliff Garrison- and Jim Holland-coached Warriors, working alongside Bob Meriwether (announcer) and Larry Graddy (statistician).

After 39 years at Hendrix, Bruce is retiring from his position as Virginia McCormick Pittman Professor of Biology at the end of this academic year. For years, Bruce was the "kid" member of a legendary department in biology, teaching nine courses per year alongside Art Johnson, Tom Clark, and Albert Raymond. This biology lineup had a statewide reputation for its highly successfully pre-med program. Over these years, Bruce has taught well over 400 students who have gone on to become physicians.

Arkansas summers were never complete without the Haggards’ Fourth of July celebration, which brought together colleagues, kids, friends, mimosas in bloom, a keg or two, kids lighting fireworks, and some folk music singing from the newest biology kid, Joe Lombardi, on guitar.

Though a confirmed biologist in his training, Bruce’s thinking and behavior began to be permeated by the liberal arts. In 1974, he was chosen as one of nine faculty members to spend six weeks at Columbia University studying ways to best implement a new liberal arts curriculum at Hendrix. Six years later, Bruce was asked to help establish the Arkansas Governor’s School, legislated into existence by then Governor Bill Clinton. Bruce was director of the program from 1983-2000 and fended off considerable controversy over teaching methods and content, especially when Clinton ran for President.

Bruce was also central to the formation of a Hendrix chapter of the American Association for University Professors, the closest thing we have to a union, dedicated to protecting and promoting faculty rights. An avid canoeist, Bruce fought to save the Cadron Creek watershed from damming; a decade later he was immersed in the Arkansas Creation Science controversy. He was even elected a Faulkner County Justice of the Peace.

Hendrix was a different institution in the 1970s. When hired, Bruce was instructed not to do research or serve alcohol at parties (even parties attended only by faculty friends and spouses). Rumor has it that he nearly ran down our president of that time, Roy Shilling, zooming away from Buhler on his Honda 250 motorcycle in the winter’s darkness. In many ways, Bruce Haggard’s Hendrix career symbolizes a time of intellectual commitment, innocence, social camaraderie, family bonding, and community activism in the history of our college. It’s been fun, too.

Eric Binnie

By Werner Trieschmann ’86

The impending retirement of Dr. Eric Binnie will leave – just on the auditory level – the Hendrix College campus bereft one distinct Scottish accent. For Binnie’s collegues in the Theatre Arts and Dance department and for former and current students, the loss is greater than his warm vocal burr.

"Over the last twenty years I have shared books — novels, plays, memoirs — films and good stories of travel and coffee, both good and bad, with Eric," says Ann Muse, chair of the Theatre Arts and Dance department. "His enthusiasm for what is good in life is a source of joy for me."

"Dr. Binnie’s attendance at student performances and presentations is legendary," says theatre professor Danny Grace. "I can remember only a handful of departmental performances he might have missed. He knows as many great places to eat in the world as anybody I have ever met. And he is happy to share that information with you. Like so many of our retiring faculty, Eric cannot be replaced."

Binnie was born and raised in Kilsyth, a small mining town in central Scotland. He was hired by Hendrix in 1989 and was working at Northeast Missouri State (now Truman State) before coming to Conway. Did he have any hesitation in relocating?

"I enjoyed the faculty and students I met then," recalls Binnie. "If you had ever seen Kirksville, Missouri, you would not ask this question — anyone would be glad to get out of there. But I was surprised here by the striking natural beauty of the surroundings here, particularly Little Rock, of which old black and white film images from TV had burned themselves into my mind — so a very pleasant revelation, indeed."

In his time at the Theatre Arts and Dance department, Binnie worked as a director and taught classes in theatre history, voice and acting. It is clear that, over the years, Binnie became known for his classes on stage movement and the Alexander Technique.

"About ten years ago when Dr. Carole Herrick and myself began teaching the Alexander Technique on campus, one young student in particular was very resistant, and frequently challenged our claims for the demonstrable efficacy and relief involved in use of the Technique," says Binnie. "We could both see that she had changed during the length of the course, yet she was unwilling to admit this. She graduated at the end of that semester and, the next day, the local newspaper had a wonderful photograph of this particular student smiling to those around her, and clearly demonstrating what, in the Alexander community, is called ‘good use.’ At last I had the proof she needed, so I mailed a copy to her the next day."

In Binnie, students found a mind that wasn’t narrowed or preoccupied with one aspect of the theatre.

"I found the culture of Hendrix reflected in many of his personal characteristics — intelligent, curious, warm and multi-talented," says James Mainard O’Connell, who graduated in 2003 and is working in theatre in New Jersey "In a world that increasingly values specialization, I was inspired by the variety of subjects that he taught within the general discipline of theatre. Each class that I took from him inspired a love of the subject in me. His advanced acting class, which focused on Shakespeare, so inspired a love of Shakespeare in me that I went on to earn an M.F.A. in the subject."

For his days after Hendrix, Binnie sees time to go to the gym, fix up his house and act when the occasion arises.

"I’ll be staying in the area, at least for a while, and I hope to continue to be of service to Hendrix College and to the community whenever possible, probably give more private Alexander Technique lessons than I’ve had time for till now."

So the good news is that Binnie’s talent, mind and — yes, his voice — won’t be completely absent from Hendrix for long.

Ian King

By Jay Barth ’87

I just didn’t understand Ian King when I met him midway through my undergraduate career at Hendrix — literally. My provincial ear just couldn’t get a handle on his British accent. But, it was also figurative. I didn’t understand his allusions to Monty Python sketches, his references to soccer and cricket, or his mentions of the politics in parts of the world that I had difficulty locating on a map.

It’s safe to say that I wasn’t alone. Hendrix—then a fairly provincial place with almost all of its students coming from Arkansas—didn’t fully get Ian King when he first arrived on campus in the fall of 1985. Wearing his trademark t-shirts, he didn’t look like a professor. His classroom style differed from the lecture style practiced by most of his older colleagues. His political views were challenging to a place that liked to describe itself as "liberal" but was very mainstream politically. And, his wife didn’t share his last name, a fact fairly disruptive to the norms of the Hendrix Dames (the already archaic faculty "wives" club that disbanded soon after his and Cindy’s arrival on campus).

My first engagement with Ian came during his first year on campus as we served together on a task force developed by President Joe Hatcher to study the College’s investments in companies doing business in apartheid-era South Africa. The following year I was a student in the first offering of "Politics and the Creative Arts," a course that became one of Ian’s most popular across time. In my two years of interacting with Ian King inside and outside the classroom, I slowly came to "get" him and to admire him personally and intellectually.

That admiration has grown exponentially across our 17 years as colleagues. Since 1994, I have watched his work as a faculty advocate, as a builder of the sense of community at Hendrix, as a model of life-long interdisciplinary learning, as a masterful classroom teacher and out-of-class mentor, and as a force for globalized thinking on the Hendrix campus. While his hard-headedness has occasionally frustrated me, Ian has been an irreplaceable colleague.

I had seen Ian’s willingness to challenge the Administration on the divestment task force because of principle. The willingness to confront those in charge has earned him the respect and appreciation of his colleagues across campus. It’s not accidental that Ian has likely served more terms as an elected faculty member on the Academic and Professional Concerns Committee than any other faculty member across his time on campus.

That sense of community building goes beyond Ian’s work on campus committees. It shows itself in his playing basketball or Wallyball with fellow faculty weekly, his showing up for the sporting events and theatre performances of his students, and his encouragement of the research of his colleagues.

Ian has also constantly strived to better himself intellectually with an eye to bringing that growth back to the classroom. Participation in seminars around the globe has taken his summers but enhanced his teaching about those parts of the world. Moreover, Ian’s teaching and research links to the natural sciences and humanities showing his students how the disciplines intersect. Ian is the model of a life-long, interdisciplinary learner that we strive to create in our students at Hendrix. That breadth and depth of knowledge combine with a sense of humor that deprecates himself and others to make him an extraordinary classroom teacher. His patience makes him just as good as an out-of-class mentor.

The ultimate role that Ian has played at Hendrix is in internationalizing the provincial liberal arts community that he entered in 1985. Year in and year out, Ian has worked to enhance the opportunities for students to spend time abroad and to enlarge the academic offerings related to global issues. Much has happened across the last quarter-century to make it clear that Hendrix College is part of a global community. But, it is Ian King that has ensured that we embrace that reality rather than resist it. As a result, hundreds of students (including this one) are more prepared to understand and shape that world.