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One on One with William Parente, Ph.D.

One on One with William Parente, Ph.D.
William Parente, Ph.D., sits in his O’Hara Hall office with his beloved typewriter.

Name: William Parente, Ph.D.
Title/Positions: Professor, Political Science Department; former dean, College of Arts and Sciences; and founder, University’s Fulbright program
Years at Scranton: 43
Hometown: Chicago, Ill.
Family: Seven daughters, two sons (One physician, two federal prosecutors, one school principal, MBA recipient, etc.)
Awards/Honors: Voted Teacher of the Year by 2006 Graduating Class; Voted Teacher of the Year in 2010 by Alpha Sigma Nu, University’s oldest honor society  
Most Remarkable Place You Have Visited: Having visited approximately 74 foreign countries, it’s difficult to name just one. “Every country is remarkable in its own way,” he says. Four Fulbrights took him to Germany, Korea, Thailand and Indonesia.

Question & Answer

There is little doubt that William Parente, Ph.D., is one of the University’s more complex figures on campus. His RateMyProfessor.com profile is wide-ranging, with commenters calling him “nearly impossible,” while others describe him as “hilarious ” and a “must-take.” One former student, Bill Colona ’08, recently posted on the University’s Facebook page that “No NEPA article on politics is complete without a quote from Dr. Parente.”

Beyond his “shtick” – his words, not ours – Dr. Parente has been much more than a lightning rod for opinions. He has been instrumental in the formation of the University as we know it – something even students who flunked his class can’t argue.

During his 15 years (1970-1985) as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, he created 18 – yes, 18 – different majors. He says his role in leading the creation of the University’s nursing, physical therapy and criminal justice programs is his proudest accomplishment. In addition, he established the University’s nationally recognized Fulbright program, as well as the Special Jesuit Liberal Arts Honors Program. For all of that, he still laments the University never got a law school off the ground, the plan of the late President Dexter L. Hanley, S.J.

The Scranton Journal recently caught up with Dr. Parente to discuss a myriad of topics. Without further ado, here is Dr. Parente in his own words.

1. Who is/was your favorite politician or political figure?

Reagan was the most effective, and I think most people would agree with that. He carried 49 of 50 states in his 1984 re-election campaign. He was conservative, but had a great sense of humor and kept us out of a war. I make this statement in class: I think it’s unfair how we rank presidents. If you don’t get us into a war that you then win, you never have the chance of being one of the great presidents. Washington, FDR, Lincoln, they are always ranked as the top three presidents. If you stay out of a war, you never get to be well thought of, or at least thought to be great.

2. Biggest mistake made by a candidate leading up to the 2012 presidential election?

There have been several essays in the newspapers about this. One of my favorites is if you are going to run for president, and you’ve already done this in 2008, and you are doing it again in 2012, who the heck would have accounts in the Cayman Islands? It just looks suspicious. That struck me as dumb by Romney. 

I didn’t think Romney was prepared for the obvious: That people are going to say, “You are a rich man; you are a millionaire.” Well, don’t prove it to them. You should try to look poor. [Laughs.]

3. How would you describe your classroom demeanor and your rapport with students?

The demeanor would be humorous – push the envelope. I try to be humorous, but I’m also rigorous, too. 

A student who comes late only does it once. Sometimes I’ll faint. Sometimes, if a student is really late, I’ll  grab at my heart and fall down on the floor. 

I think I have a good rapport with the bright students, who might take six or seven of my courses. On the other hand, I probably have a terrible rapport with the weak students – like this kid I just gave an F to, who will sensibly never take me again, which is fine with both of us.

4. How have you changed as a professor and teacher during your career?

Have I changed? I don’t think I’ve changed. I think I have the same shtick. 

5. What’s the most important lesson a student can learn from your class?

I suppose it would be if you work hard, you can get an A. During the first class, I tell the students, “I give more A’s than anyone in the department, but I also give more Ds and Fs than the entire department put together.”
I make use of the quarter grade so students don’t misunderstand where they are. I like the quarter grade, and I think more faculty should make use of it. When students don’t get a complaint at the quarter, they think you are a nice person and that there won’t be any problem at the end of the semester. It is better to be harsh at the quarter, wake them up and let them know that despite your fine personality and great sense of humor, they really are in trouble. They are warned and can rev it up. Hopefully they do, but not everyone does. 
If you work hard, you will do well. If you don’t, you will be doomed.

6. If you weren’t a college professor, what would you be?

I think I probably would have gone into law because as a lawyer all you have to do is talk, which is what you do as a professor. 

7. One student remembers you telling a class, as you were handing back graded exams, “If your blue book is wet, it’s because I cried over it.” Is this your best zinger?

I don’t remember that explicitly. But I say things like that all the time. It wouldn’t surprise me. 

Now I do remember saying, “If the ink looks a little blurry or runny on your blue book, it might be from the tears that came from my eyes when I read your terrible essay.” Students often remember things I don’t. I wish they would remember the text material as well.

8. You have been quoted as telling students, “Everything I say in class is a lie ... the truth is in the text.” Is this accurate and why is this true?

The truth is in the text. Yes, it is true. Everything I say in class is a lie, including that statement. 

9. A student recalls you once taped three pennies to her mid-term and told her, “Hope this helps you buy the text.” That same student called you a “genius,” adding “other schools should be so lucky to have him.” Any reaction to such high praise?

Sometimes I tape pennies, sometimes a dollar. Whatever I have on me. But it’s only a dollar and I’m making a point. As for the “genius” comment, she probably feels bad for me or something.

10. Do you have a guilty pleasure that might surprise your former students? Maybe a favorite TV show, musician or hobby?

I’m sort of a couch potato. I will watch football and baseball. It doesn’t sound too exciting. I go to bed early and I usually get here around 5:30 or 6 in the morning because I’m fresh and dynamic then, relatively speaking. By 7 p.m. I’m through. 

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