Last month my favorite college professor died. His name was Jerry Baum, and he was an English lit professor at Lewis and Clark College. I think teaching was what paid the bills--but social justice and community activism was his real vocation. Although we didn't bump into each other, he was apparently active in community based organizations. (And he walked his talk, tool--literally. In college, I was shocked to learn that he had given up his car years earlier to support public transportation.) He was one of the kindest, most gentle men I ever knew.
In class, he refused to call himself the professor and considered us all equals. He described himself as the moderator of the class. Although we were in the computer age (late 1980s), he requested that we write our papers by hand so that he could get a sense of our personalities. As an avowed anarchist (I think he was actually more of a latter-day socialist and humanist), he refused to grade our papers--and his classes were all offered "pass/fail" (everyone passed). Anyone could take his classes, enrolled or not, students of the college or not.
He led my friend's overseas trip to England, and they went straight to Edinborough, Scotland, where he taught them labor history. Many of their classes were taught at pubs.
The occasion I remember him most distinctly was when he popped his head into the booth during my radio show at KLC, the college radio station. I was playing Billie Holiday, and he smiled with great relish, held up the record (it was all vinyl back then) and said, "Subversive." I loved him for that.
The last time I spoke to him, maybe five years ago, I mentioned that I was a former student, and I could see he didn't remember me. Understandable, given the space of time since we last had a class together and the number of students he had in his 30+ years as a professor. Interestingly, this didn't seem to matter. He put his hand on my arm and asked what I was doing. I told him I was a researcher at the School of Social Work and he smiled and nodded. "Good," he said.
Rest in peace, Jerry. I'll crack an ale and toast you, wherever you are--