J. Rufus Fears, three-time professor-of-the-year, dies at 67
AT A GLANCE
Read blog posts, listen to podcasts and watch videos of J. Rufus Fears in action at his website.
AT A GLANCE
Timeline of accomplishments
1990-92: Started working at OU as College of Arts and Sciences dean
1992-present: Selected as Center for the History of Liberty director
1996: Selected as UOSA Professor of the Year
2002: Profiled as Outstanding Teacher in Oklahoma Today magazine
2006: Oklahoma Medal for Excellence in College and University Teaching
2009: Inducted as honorary member of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars for outstanding teaching excellence.
Three-time student-selected OU Professor of the Year J. Rufus Fears died Saturday, according to a press release. He was 67. Fears was well known for his classes Freedom in Rome and the Freedom in Greece, which were two of the most popular courses on campus, according to the press release. The cause of Fears’ death was not given.
“Rufus Fears was one of the greatest teachers in the history of our state,” OU President David Boren said in a statement. “His death is not only a great loss to the university but to the future generations of students who will be deprived of learning from him in the classroom ... Our hearts go out to his wife, Charlene, and their children.”
Fears contributed to other organizations outside of OU’s classroom. He wrote blog posts for Bigthink.com and posted videos and podcasts on his blog Drfears.com.
Letters senior Sam Clancy took Fears’ Freedom in Rome and Freedom in Greece classes. Fears was Clancy’s favorite teacher, and he said Fears loved teaching and OU.
Fears stood out as a professor because he not only taught history but also life lessons like ethics and leadership, Clancy said.
“This place won’t really be the same without [Fears],” Clancy said. “It does remain enriched by his spirit and his passion and his zest for life and his love for teaching. I will miss him very much.”
Billy Adams, 2007 advertising graduate, said Fears’ teaching style and his passion stood out the most. It was so evident that he cared about history, and he got students involved by acting out different scenes, Adams said.
“He would carry around a broomstick, and it would become a spear, pointer or javelin, whatever he needed,” Adams said. “He would use the broomstick and act out different parts of the battles. He would roam the lecture hall of 200 plus students ... you were rife with attention.”
Institute for the American Constitutional Heritage director Kyle Harper took several of Fears’ classes, including the capstone course. He had a teacher’s heart and impacted thousands and thousands of students, Harper said.
“He had a special charisma and was a unique performer,” Harper said. “He had a profound understanding of history ... the combination of these traits made him absolutely unique.”
As a colleague, Department of Classics and Letters chairman Samuel Huskey said Fears was “tremendous” and always looked out for the success of the department. Huskey not only worked with Fears but also took his classes in the ‘90s.
He would bound around the stage; it was remarkable what he could do, Huskey said.
“He was a fantastic storyteller and a terrific performer,” he said. “The ability to capture the interest of a whole room full of people ... just a terrific storyteller.”
The announcement of Fears’ death on Twitter and Facebook prompted quick responses from some of the students who knew him. Students posted how they were saddened by Fears’ passing and wrote of how much they enjoyed his classes.
Students said he was a “favorite professor” and a “great storyteller.”
Fears joined OU’s faculty in 1990 as a professor of classics. He served as College of Arts and Sciences dean for two years and was named G.T. and Libby Blankenship Chair in the History of Liberty. He received several teaching awards, including the Medal for Excellence in College and University Teaching from the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence, the Great Plains Region Award for Excellence in Teaching and the National Award for Teaching Excellence from the University Continuing Education Association, according to a short biography on the Department of Classics and Letters website.
Memorial services for Fears are pending.