A matter of degrees
Six degrees and separation
Tom Porter won’t return to school. No reason to.
“I have five degrees,” he said. “I think.”
Actually, it’s six. And that’s six more than the professor of English and former liberal arts dean figured he’d get as a high schooler.
Dr. Porter grew up a rangy baseball pitcher in Cleveland and thought about making a career out of the game. Perhaps he would have succeeded. After graduation, he was offered a minor league contract.
He turned it down. Early on, something else caught his eye.
“On my way home from grammar school, there was a library,” he recalled. “I learned there were a lot of books in that place.”
Instead of playing ball, Porter would become a Jesuit priest. He told a member of the Jesuit order that he wanted to go to college. “He told me to try the life for a semester,” Porter said.
One semester turned into nearly 60 years as a student, teacher and administrator.
Porter’s credentials include degrees in classics, philosophy, theology, drama and English, most from Jesuit schools. Before coming to UTA in 1978, he was dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Detroit, a Jesuit institution.
He left the cloth, he said, because there wasn’t enough challenge in being supported by the Jesuit order. A bigger thrill came in the classroom. For a while, Porter opted to keep his students from knowing about his past.
“I didn’t want students to think I was putting a religious slant on what I was teaching them,” he said.
Everything he has learned has come in handy. It’s not everyone who can read Latin and Greek, or who can teach philosophy with the same skill that he handles Shakespeare.
The old pitcher has come a long way.
“I’m kind of like a utility infielder for the English Department,” he said. “And I love it. To have that kind of variety is something I’m grateful for.”
The ballplayer/priest/professor is also something of a dramatist. In fact, one of the two books that he’s written, the one on modern American drama, is so in-depth that one critic accused him of being a sociologist.
He laughs about that. Of all the things he is or has been, Porter says, sociologist isn’t one of them.
“I don’t pretend to know more than I know,” he said. “But I’m not at all done learning. I’m still taking stuff down.”
Consider the last few months. Porter has worked hard to learn enough Czech — for him, a fourth language — to join his wife, Laurin, on an overseas teaching assignment. An English associate professor, she’ll teach at a university in Prague while her husband oversees advanced English courses for high school exchange students.
He’ll also share his knowledge of drama at a Eugene O’Neill conference in Paris.
Paris is a stretch from the after-school library and the sandlot ball fields of Ohio, but Porter has come out just the way he wanted.
“All the education, I really did enjoy,” he said. “There was always something interesting, exciting and challenging. Education offers that kind of life.”