It’s all about passion

There aren’t many people who will quote Shakespeare or Chaucer from memory if they run into an old teacher at the grocery store. But if they were once in Professor Eugene Clasby’s class, they just might.

“They’ll never forget,” said Clasby, who is the recipient of the Faculty Senate 2005 Outstanding Teaching Award. “They remember what’s important.”

What his students remember, more than any sonnets or famous lines, is him. Some come back years later to tell Clasby how much his class meant to them; others are inspired by his passion and take that with them after they graduate.

“Professor Clasby always reminded us that it’s not the end of the world if we don’t get an A,” Jessica Pouza, sophomore, said. “As long as you understood the value of Shakespeare’s work, he felt his job as a teacher was complete.”

This year’s Outstanding Teaching Award is a recognition of his passion and effectiveness as a teacher. Nominated by Professor Lestor Goran, Clasby was then selected as the winner by members of the Faculty Senate committee.

Clasby grew up in Waltham, Mass. with his seven brothers and sisters. He graduated from Boston College and went on to the University of Wisconsin, where he received his Ph.D. in English and met his future wife, Nancy, who is also an English teacher at UM. It was during his school years that he discovered what he wanted to be in life.

“I had some wonderful teachers in high school and college,” he said. “My English teachers were an inspiration because they loved what they were doing. They taught me to love books and literature and to want to be like them. That was my dream.”

In his 37 years of teaching English at UM, Clasby has inspired that same awe in his own students and colleagues. His passion for teaching and his passion for the literature don’t escape his students.

“You can see just how much he loves the subject and how he wants nothing more than for his students to have that passion as well,” Pouza said.

Most of Clasby’s classes are based on discussion of the literature, which is why he never lectures from notes, and instead uses the material as a framework. He encourages one on one conferences with his students in order to improve their writing and, although understanding medieval literature such as Shakespeare and Chaucer might seem difficult to some students at first, he encourages them not to be intimidated.

“They’re not written for Ph.D.s,; they’re for human beings,” Clasby said. “Use your mind and your heart to understand them-then it’s yours.”

“His class gave me a better understanding of poetry,” Shannon Keating, senior said. “He’s very knowledgable and very passionate, and he made it easy to learn.”

To Clasby, teaching is a privilege, and his biggest rewards are seeing a student discover the confidence to write.

“The ‘I get it’ on a student’s face, to see them brighten-that’s what it’s all about,” Clasby said.

Eugene Clasby, professor of English and director of the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies program, will be presented with the Faculty Senate 2005 Outstanding Teaching Award at a ceremony on Wednesday, Feb. 16.

Natalia Maldonado can be reached at