Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Opinion | Give professors some grace. You could learn something

CW / Abby Cope
Management professor Ron Dulek poses with his nickel jar.

How many times a day do you interact with your professors through email, on Zoom, in class or otherwise? Now, how much do you know about your professor? And I mean more than just their office hours schedule.

Do you know their troubles, what’s going on outside the classroom? You probably don’t. There is a level of professionalism that is proudly held at The University of Alabama, but it can create a disconnect between student and professor. 

Between scholastic commitments, social life, and other ways we as students spread ourselves too thin, it can be easy to assume that our teachers are obligated to pick up our slack. 

Though we may see them only in a professional setting, that does not mean that their entire lives revolve around their professions. Our teachers are far more than a Blackboard page or a grade. They can be valuable mentors we have brief, but possibly extremely beneficial, time to learn from. 

We all know that with age comes wisdom, but are we squandering the access we have to that wisdom? Per the UA registrar, some of the University’s professors have been teaching here for upward of 50 years: 50 years of life experience and tips and tricks, 50 years of first hand exposure to the ins and outs of the Capstone, 50 years of dedication and a desperate need for a spotlight on it. 

Professor A.J. ‘Lonnie’ Strickland has been teaching at The University of Alabama since 1969. With time, patience and incredible perspective, Strickland shared his once-in-a-lifetime college experience with me. From building relationships with Paul “Bear” Bryant to training to brave the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro, Strickland’s story is nothing short of amazing. 

Strickland, a young strategy professor with a doctorate in international business when he started at the University, still remembers receiving his first piece of campus mail.

“It came to my office one day,” Strickland said. “It read, ‘Professor Strickland, if you have some time, I would like to talk to you. I understand you are our new strategy professor, and I’d like to learn what that is all about. When it’s convenient for you, would you mind calling my office?’ He signed it ‘Paul.’”

Strickland became a sideline strategy coach alongside Bear Bryant himself, and was assigned a third-string player to talk through the games with him. 

“I knew nothing about football,” Strickland said. “And when I would tell him [Bryant] that, he’d say, ‘That’s why I want you here.’”

Apart from his coaching gig, Strickland gave me insight into his life outside of his infamous GBA 490 class (with an equally infamous post-exam shot at The Houndstooth Bar). Strickland co-wrote the 22nd edition of “Crafting & Executing Strategy: Concepts and Cases” and had a brief stint as the national president of the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity, after becoming an alumni initiate. 

As for future plans, Strickland said, “My walking buddy and I, we’re going to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania soon. And I’m 82 years old. We’ve been training. We’ll climb about 20,000 feet up.”

And who is this walking buddy, you might ask? None other than fellow UA management professor Ron Dulek. Or, as Strickland lovingly calls him, “No. 2,” as Dulek is the second-longest-serving professor at The University of Alabama. Dulek told me of a few of the many impacts he’s made on his students during his time here. 

“I have a class entitled ‘Never let the bastards get to you,’ and I give the students a nickel, and I tell them I want the nickel back in five years. And I want them to tell me what the nickel did. … I have PowerPoints of past nickels and letters my students have sent me, and it’s so fun.”

Dulek continued, “My most recent one, I had a student who wrote a list of what all he’d done, his life since graduation. He’s a doctor in Ohio now. One of the items on it was ‘F—ing COVID,’ and underneath was written, ‘Lost my first patient as a doctor.’ Underneath that was, ‘Woke up with the worst hangover of my entire life and decided to never do it again.’  It couldn’t have been easy for him to share that with me, but he did. Because that’s what Alabama is, has been, and will be. It’s a home.”

These stories, these connections, are all living proof that the Capstone is a home. No matter where on the map students may come from, they all have one particular place, and maybe a professor, in common. One person may not change the world, but one person’s influence can.

In fact, business professor Robert McLeod told me that at one point in time, every local Tuscaloosa bank president was a former student of his. McLeod will be entering his 47th year at the University this upcoming fall. 

Getting to learn from a UA professor shouldn’t be taken for granted. It’s a privilege. 

Each semester, we watch students attend lecture after lecture on autopilot instead of engaging with the visceral life experience right before our very eyes. The University is lucky enough to have retained quite a few extraordinary professors with the life experience to match. 

So, the next time you talk to your professor, go in with some compassion. Teachers — they’re just like us!

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