I ran into a former colleague at the gym today. The man’s name is Roger Haro, and after fall semester, he will leave the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse to accept a deanship at Northern Arizona University. Talking to him, even for just a few minutes in the gym’s lobby, gave me a chance to congratulate him and tell him he’ll be missed.

Roger is one of the best professors I’ve ever worked with. The chance encounter this morning reminded me of something very important, but also something I sometimes forget. Good professors are common, but exceptional ones are rare – and it matters less where young adults go to college than who they study with, it matters less what courses they take than who is teaching those courses. 

UW-La Crosse is a good school, but not an elite one. Still, during my twenty-four years of teaching there, I worked alongside several professors who are exactly the kind of people any parent would want as mentors for their kids. These professors possess a competence, a commitment to teaching, and an integrity that transcends the subject material. Most, but not all, are humble. All, at least among those I know, are also talented scholars, meaning they easily could move on to more prestigious universities, but because of the bucolic setting, the good public schools for their kids, and a merit system at the university that values quality teaching, choose to live and work in La Crosse. (I didn’t ask Roger why he was moving on after 20 years at UWL, but I assume he feels he has one more adventure left in him.)

Graduate students often choose a school because there is a particular professor they want to study with. Undergraduates don’t do this. They choose their colleges for other reasons, then hopefully stumble across one or two of these exceptional instructors. In this regard, it does not matter where an eighteen-year old kid goes to college. Every institution has special professors, and it is up to the student to find them. 

Steven Simpson