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April 29, 2010



To the editor:

I  wasn’t able to attend Alec Stewart’s memorial service; I was covering a class for a sick colleague. (I debated this choice for a moment, then asked myself, “What would Doc do?” I decided to teach the class.)

As expected, the reports from the service had a central theme: what a kind, thoughtful, giving man he was. I shouldn’t speak ill of the dead, but here’s another side of Alec Stewart: I saw him angry. I saw him very angry.

Nothing upset Doc more than those who didn’t value undergraduate education. He was patient with the sometimes-awkward choices made by the students themselves, but he had little patience for faculty and/or administrators who saw undergraduate education as “lesser among equals.” While he would never trivialize the vital, redeeming work done by the multi-talented researchers at Pitt, he knew it was not our sole identity. Our essential mission is to educate the next generation to the best of our abilities; Doc Stewart’s recognition and passion for this mission led to the creation of the Honors College and the myriad accolades that followed its formation.

I’m sure this point was made repeatedly at Alec’s memorial service; I’m equally sure there was a lot of polite nodding by those in the audience. But it takes more than nodding and lip service to run a college. It takes an unwavering commitment to an earnest value: that we are here to serve, and we can be of no better service than as mentors, teachers and advisers to our undergraduate students. There is no more lasting or appropriate tribute to Alec Stewart than to honor this simple wish.

Mark Collins

Coordinator, Environmental Studies Program

Department of Geology and Planetary Science

(Editor’s note: G. Alec Stewart, dean of the University Honors College, died April 7. See obituary in the April 15 issue of the University Times.)


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