“I’ve just been showing up for a long time,” remarked Margaret and Roger Scholten Professor of International Studies Dr. David Barclay. Jokingly he continued, “didn’t [Woody Allen] say that 80% of life is just showing up?”
Having taught parents of K students and even current K professors, Dr. Barclay has borne witness to five presidents, seven provosts and four decades of K history.
But after 42 years at K, why retire now?
“One reaches a certain point in life where one figures they want to do other things,” Dr. Barclay explained, quickly adding, “though I will still be involved in the academic world.”
“I have been directing the German Studies Association—a group of historians, political scientists, economists, and other academics who study the German speaking world—for the past 11 years, and it will continue to be a part of my life.”
Beyond involvement in administrative duties, historical research won’t end for Dr. Barclay, who explained, “I have three book projects that I would like to bring to completion in the next few years, and I’m pleased that I finally get the chance to finish my [highest priority] project.”
Dr. Barclay is currently writing a history of West Berlin, covering the cold-war years between 1945 and 1994. He expects the book to be finished by next year.
Works concerning Germany are common of Dr. Barclay, whose academic expertise lies in modern European history.
“[People] assume that I must be of German ethnic origin…but my roots are mostly Scottish. My interest in European, and specifically German, history is actually a direct result of growing up as a baby boomer surrounded by World War II veterans.”
Dr. Barclay accredits the distillation of his long term interest in history—one that began “in the 4th or 5th grade”—to his late undergraduate professor Dr. Max Kele, who was “truly remarkable…and pushed the intellectual envelope.”
“I owe him a massive debt,” Dr. Barclay observed.
After ten years of university study, Dr. Barclay’s Kalamazoo career began with his arrival in Michigan.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived. I knew nothing almost about small liberal arts colleges. And I had never set foot in the Midwest.”
“I found an institution that was absolutely devoted to international studies as one of its defining features. All of that was quite extraordinary; I wound up staying, and next thing you know, it’s 42 years later.”
Dr. Barclay now has the chance to reflect on four decades of professorship.
“I’ve had a lot of interesting experiences at K. It was very gratifying to receive the Florence J. Lucasse Fellowship in 1984, and I was hugely surprised to get the Lux Esto prize a few weeks ago. These are some humbling highlights.”
“If you look at [higher education] faculty, if you look at corporate leadership, one discovers that [liberal arts graduates] are disproportionately represented, and so places like this have a deserved status of excellence.”
Though Dr. Barclay holds K and similar institutions in high regard, he foresees a challenging future, saying, “One of my concerns…about the future of the liberal arts in general and the future of the humanities…is that liberal arts institutions—a uniquely American form—find themselves under siege. Given…skyrocketing college costs, the perennial reality of American anti-intellectualism, and the short sightedness with which many people go about career planning, I worry about the future.”
Specific to K, Dr. Barclay scrupulously disclosed, “Every excellent institution of higher learning needs to examine itself critically and respond to problems creatively.”
As for the future of K students? “Be less serious and have more fun,” Dr. Barclay said, a smirk forming on his lips, “K students have always been a serious lot.”