Best Professor: Ralph Williams

Luna Anna Archey/Daily
Buy this photo

By Zak Witus, Daily Arts Writer
Published April 10, 2015

When I told my Uncle Morley that I was taking the Bible as Literature with Ralph Williams this semester, Morley’s eyes lit up and he said, “Wonderful to see you all! The wind is so very much up!,” quoting a Williams catchphrase.

Anyone who has listened to one of Williams’s lectures will agree that he is a performer. In fact, Williams said that in another life he would have joined the theatre.

Some might consider his lecture style “eccentric,” in the pejorative sense of the word, or worse “masturbatory.” These killjoys probably prefer that academia be black-and-white and boring.

Readers of the Daily evidently find his style endearing, or else they find him and his teaching so extraordinary that they forgive him for his occasional shouts, dance moves, catchphrases, and Williams-isms (a Williams-ism is something like a truism coined by Williams – e.g., “We live within the parameters of the stories that we tell ourselves”).

Williams began teaching English literature at the University in 1970. He retired in 2009 due to, among other things, “near exhaustion” – he claims to have gone about 15 years without sabbatical – but he returned by popular demand in 2011. Today, Williams is 73 years old, has won the Golden Apple Lifetime Achievement Award, and says he still feels the same youthful vigor in mind and body as he did when he was 20. Though he confesses that his mirror doesn’t always reflect this vigor, his teaching certainly does.

Thanks for turning on your afterburners, Mr. Williams. What a privilege for us students that you returned from retirement. On behalf of the readers of the Daily who voted you Professor of the Year, I wish you many thanks.