Monday, November 15, 2010

Journey of Awakening – 13: The Academic Dream Deferred

Fall semester ’64 at Cotner School of Religion began slowly. Enrollment was down. I taught 2 classes, one on the Literature of the New Testament and the other The Four Gospels. Neither class had more than 10 students. I must have done well enough because they signed up for the 2nd semester and I even added one class on The Bible as Literature.

Milan Cotner-2

My own student year went somewhat differently. The classics department chair, whose reputation as a Greek scholar had drawn me to Nebraska, died half-way through my first semester. The University “imported” a visiting professor directly from Greece, who became my major advisor by fiat. Elias Kapetanopoulos was a young, arrogant, classic-featured Greek with pre-maturely graying hair who had an attitude best expressed by Gus in the movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding: “My ancestors were writing philosophy while yours were still swinging in trees.” We did not hit it off from the start and it continued to descend throughout the year. I probably can’t blame the whole sordid affair on his attitude. I was getting OK grades but not those I thought I deserved. I went to the acting department head and asked if he would take me on as my major advisor. He, understandable, refused, since it was only a 2 person department. I had to stick it out or quit the program.

On reflection I have to admit that there were two egos involved in the matter at hand: His and Mine. The fact that I thought I already knew as much if not more than he did may have been partly in play. And, as I reflect further, I recall having a similar problem for a time with my (now) beloved seminary professor, Ron Graham, until his patient and kind manner, coupled with his wry Aussie sense of humor, revealed to me one day how much I had to learn.

But with Elias K. it was different. He was neither patient nor kind, at least in my ego-out-of-control mind. So after one year my grad student days were over. For the time-being. But that is a story for later. Much later.

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