- Published on Thursday, 09 May 2013 21:46
By Daniel Perez
UTEP News Service
The longest-serving faculty member in the history of The University of Texas at El Paso is calling it a career at the end of the spring 2013 semester – sort of.
John Haddox, Ph.D., will retire officially in August after 56 years in the classroom, but he plans to teach a class or two at least through the spring 2014 semester so he can be part of the University’s Centennial Celebration.
The native of Pawnee, Okla., was named a professor emeritus of philosophy during the recent 2013 Honors Convocation at Magoffin Auditorium. While proud of the title, he was happier that it meant he could stay in his second-floor office of 30 years in Worrell Hall. It's an ideal spot for productivity and creativity, with shelves stocked with books and mementos of history’s great philosophers, and tables and desks covered with stacks of papers and artwork.
Haddox, who will turn 84 in August, is an international expert in the fields of Latin American and Native American philosophy and has been an active proponent of peace, ethics, human rights and social philosophy. He developed the University’s first course in Chicano philosophy and has lectured throughout the United States, Mexico, Brazil, England and the Czech Republic. He authored several books about Chicano philosophy and the great philosophers of Mexico.
“I think it’s time – 56 years,” he said in a soft voice. “I still love it. I still want to keep teaching, but it’s time. I have to slow down.
“In a way it’s sad, but not too sad because I will continue teaching. But I know I’ll be crying.”
In the beginning
The Army drafted Haddox, the son of a homemaker and physician father, while he was a student at the University of Notre Dame. During a vacation in Pawnee, a small town about 20 miles northeast of Stillwater, he was seriously injured in a car accident. He lost the vision in his right eye and needed several surgeries to reconstruct his face. The last of those operations were done at what was then called William Beaumont Army Hospital in El Paso.
During his rehabilitation, he frequented the city library Downtown and met Carmen Mendoza, a pre-med student at Texas Western whose father was a physician with a practice in Juárez. Within a year the two had married. After Haddox's separation from the Army, they decided to move back to Notre Dame so he could complete his studies. He stayed on to earn his master’s and doctoral degrees in philosophy.
While vacationing in El Paso as a doctoral student, Haddox met Cecil C. Crawford, Ph.D., chair and professor of philosophy, who offered him a job upon graduation. Haddox agreed and began to teach at Texas Western College in fall 1957. He said Crawford gave him four classes, including one he was unfamiliar with – Latin American philosophy. He researched what he could and tried to stay one class ahead of his students, he recalled with a laugh.
Haddox immediately was drawn to Latin American philosophy because of its focus on family, community and appreciation of natural beauty. It reminded him of the Native American philosophy he grew up around.
“It was a wonderful, exciting time,” he said of his early years of teaching.
Making a mark
In 2009, a group started the John Haddox Endowment for Excellence in Philosophy at UTEP to benefit the department’s faculty and students doing research in the same vein as Haddox. Among the donors was Robert Washington, a retired grant administrator and philanthropist who earned his bachelor’s in psychology from TWC in 1963.
“He was the best professor I ever had,” Washington said during a telephone interview from his San Antonio home. He praised Haddox for his intellect and his spiritualism. “He was a natural born teacher. You could tell he liked what he was doing.”
Through the years Haddox’s reputation grew as an academic and as a supporter of civil rights and student rights. El Paso lawyer Fernando Chacon, a former spokesman for the University’s MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán) chapter, remembered Haddox as an adviser who “did some downfield blocking for us” with UTEP administrators.
Chacon said Haddox was patient with students and open to their ideas. “He was an extraordinary person,” said the alumnus who served as Student Government Association president (1977-78) and earned a bachelor’s in Chicano studies and political science.
The professor had a reputation as someone who helped Chicanos find their inner selves, said New Mexico Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero, a longtime community advocate who has known Haddox for more than 40 years. As a student, she helped him develop the Department of Chicano Studies.
“He taught that the beauty of humanity was its diversity of language and cultures and that each cultural identity brought strength of character, which is the combination of values and belief systems,” she wrote in an email.
Another former student, noted Chicano playwright Carlos Morton, Ph.D., praised Haddox for introducing him to philosophy and literature in the early 1970s. He earned his bachelor’s in English in 1975. Morton recalled the professor’s quiet demeanor, wry sense of humor, and Socratic teaching method that encouraged dialogue and critical thinking.
“(Haddox) was a seminal figure in my development,” Morton said. “It was a stimulating time and (Haddox) was at the center of it,” he said during a telephone call from his office at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he is a professor of dramatic arts.
Colleagues and friends will be able to honor the retiring professor and his work during a conference of the New Mexico and West Texas Philosophical Society tentatively scheduled for the spring 2014 semester at UTEP.
Haddox said he looks forward to the conference as well as his retirement. His plans include traveling around the country to visit family (he has 11 children and 10 grandchildren), working on an anthology of the 40 articles he has written about Native American and Latin American philosophy for academic journals, and teaching at least a course per semester for UTEP’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), a program aimed at those 50 and older who want to keep learning.
“I like that there’s no grading, and (OLLI students) know when to laugh at my jokes,” he said with a smile.
As he reflected on his time at UTEP, he noted the impressive growth in size and ambition. He credited University President Diana Natalicio for maintaining her focus and turning her vision into reality. He acknowledged – almost begrudgingly – the benefits of technology in making things easier. The one constant by his standards was the quality of the philosophy majors.
“They’re all good kids who want to learn,” he said.
Longtime friend and collaborator Jules Simon, Ph.D., associate professor of philosophy at UTEP, said his department’s leaders decided that their next hire will need to specialize in Latin American and social philosophy.
“This is retirement for Dr. Haddox, but not his important work,” Simon said.