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Professor Christopher Newman is living history

Chris Newman

Adjunct Political Science and History Professor Christopher Newman

Thirty years at ECC has allowed Adjunct Political Science and History Professor Christopher Newman to master a few tricks.

When he walked into his first class of “Western Civilization, Renaissance to Napoleon,” Newman had his written lecture in hand when he decided to forgo it and just talk. The risk paid off and his classes involve more extemporaneous speaking from him.

Newman is proud to be a teacher-he's the fourth of five generations of his family to teach. Complementing him is his wife, Marjorie, who is a history buff herself (more about her later).

We caught up with Newman to ask him some questions about himself and ECC. Here's what he said.

In your words, what do you do at ECC?

I tell stories to illustrate points. This works particularly well with my subjects, but I've seen it used effectively in other subject matters (one tends to sit up and take notice in lectures about communication protocols in the Army if it's prefaced by "When I was on an operation in the rice paddies, I found that I needed to do X to survive.")

Additionally, as I have noted from time to time, Jesus did very well using stories-parables-to get His point across, so who am I to doubt stories' utility?

What is your greatest accomplishment since you've been here?

It has happened on numerous occasions. I get a student who is convinced that he or she is not smart to do well in college. With a little effort on both our parts (both sides of the equation are necessary), the student realizes that he or she is not only capable of doing college-level work, but excelling at that level (including subsequent bachelor's and graduate work).

What would you do if you were ECC president for a day?

I struggled with this question. From the standpoint of the education process, I think that students need to make much more and much better use of the library and its resources. The library is the key to acquisition of information and knowledge (two different concepts) and ECC has facilities and personnel who can make the process of inquiry and exploration more accessible and extensive, yet many students fail to make use of the opportunity.

If there was a movie about your life, who would you want to play you?

Harrison Ford. Bit of back story: I, like (Anthropology Professor) Marc Healy and (English Professor) Sara Baker, graduated from Ripon College in Wisconsin-although they graduated some decades after me. Mr. Ford was a philosophy major-hence his reference to "Bill Tyree" in one of the Indiana Jones movies-who completed his Ripon experience a couple of years before I entered.

Contrary to most recent reports, he did not so much drop out as come to the end of his four years with an academic grade point average just below the minimum required to graduate. If his grades in Military Science and Physical Education were included in his GPA, he barely squeaked by. Of course, he then went off to Hollywood to fame, fortune and monetary success.

What's on your “bucket list?”

To write up the research I've done over the last 20-plus years. I've been working on the application of complexity theory to various aspects of political science and history (revolutions, the rise of Cahokia near the Mississippi River, International Relations) and I'd like to write up my results before shuffling off this mortal coil (Kathleen Kenyon-who excavated Jericho-is a cautionary example of leaving such things to the last minute in that regard, as is Previte'-Orton whose Shorter Cambridge Medieval History was discovered by his death bed).

What's one fact we should know about you?

I'm married to Marjorie as a result of the best decision I ever made.

True story: On our first date (we were both past 40) we attended a dual meet between the wrestling teams of Iowa and Northwestern that the Elgin High wrestling coach had arranged to host. Afterward we went to the Cadillac Ranch on Lake Street in Bartlett (now Morretti's) and talked about the western novels of Louis L'Amour; stalling in collegiate wrestling; and how Henry VII of England united the Houses of York and Lancaster, putting an end to the Wars of the Roses. At that point I said, "This is the girl for me!"

Marjorie was head of the Reference Department of the Poplar Creek Public Library in Streamwood before her retirement and has a master's in history as well as her master's in library science, so we function as an effective team.

What's something about your job that others should know?

My work involves research as well as teaching. I've been going back and forth with Dick Simpson of the University of Illinois at Chicago for about 20 years on the relations between history and political science-he maintains that they are wholly separate disciplines (and has good reasons for his position) while I maintain that history provides the raw material for political science (otherwise it's just spinning increasingly tenuous theories) and political science brings history to the real world.

As of last year I've taken to formalizing the process of education in that I'm getting an MLA from Baker University in Kansas with a history concentration-no particular reason for this other than I want to do so.

What was your favorite class in school?

High school debate at San Ramon High School with Jack Mansfield.

What was your first job out of school?

After I got out of the Army, my first civilian job was as a corporate lawyer. Several years later, I decided that this was a bad career choice for me.

Complete this sentence: “I enjoy working at ECC because … “

It is an inextricable part of my DNA. 

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