Profile: Ken Calhoon

In more than twenty years at the University, Ken Calhoon’s career has spanned the spectrum of academia from pedagogy to administration: He has taught and mentored hundreds of students in several disciplines, presented scholarly papers and lectures to national and international audiences, directed dissertations and academic programs. But when prepping for his lower-division comparative literature courses, Calhoon still writes out five to seven pages of notes for each fifty-minute lecture. “This helps me develop the connections that I want my students to get,” he says. “It also focuses my attention on my own writing and research. In many respects, these courses represent some of the most fruitful teaching I’ve done.”

His enthusiasm has not gone unnoticed: A 2010 winner of the UO’s Thomas F. Herman Faculty Achievement Award for Distinguished Teaching, Calhoon displays dedication that is lauded by colleagues and students alike. During the award nomination process, one student noted, “He had an incredible ability to make connections between texts, and to guide us to the main points for even the most difficult and complicated readings.”

Comparative literature is a place where students with different majors find ways to talk about common topics from various traditions—literary theory, philosophy, language, and culture—and to pursue projects that tie those perspectives together. It’s a difficult concept, and Calhoon knows that students are challenged—yes, sometimes even intimidated—by his courses. “The material we deal with in the humanities is intrinsically hard; it’s Nietzsche, it’s Freud, it’s abstract art, it’s musical theory,” he says. “I don’t ‘dumb-down’ the material. On the contrary, I give them something to reach for a bit. My philosophy is that if it’s clear to students that it’s hard for you, they’re not so bothered by the fact that it’s also hard for them.”

Name: Ken Calhoon

Education: BA, 1979, University of Louisville; MA, 1981, University of California at Irvine; PhD, 1984, UC Irvine.

Teaching Experience: Joined the UO’s German faculty in 1987; has served several stints as acting director of Comparative Literature and Creative Writing programs. Currently undergraduate director of the Comparative Literature Program, he still teaches courses in German and the humanities.

Awards: 2010 Thomas F. Herman Faculty Achievement Award for Distinguished Teaching; Rippey Innovative Teaching Award, 2002–4; Reinhold Foundation Faculty Support Fellowship in Arts and Sciences, 2000.

Off-Campus: Calhoon enjoys gardening, listening to music, and spending lots of time with his grandson.

Last Word: “Nothing makes me happier than when my students don’t sell their books at the end of the term!”

—By Katherine Gries ’05, MA ’09