Barry McNamara  |   Published May 05, 2016

Quite a career

Award-winning sociology professor Steve Buban retiring after 39 years
  • Professor Steve Buban, then and now.
When sociology professor Steve Buban makes a particularly salient point to one of his classes, he is fond of saying, “I’m not even going to charge you extra for that.”

Buban, who is retiring at the end of this semester, thought about that phrase when assessing his 39-year teaching career at Monmouth.

“I like to think I gave my students their money’s worth,” he said, “and I gave Monmouth College its money’s worth.”

That is true inside and outside the classroom, evidenced in part by the Hatch Academic Excellence Awards that Buban received for both teaching and service.

“I tried to take every student seriously,” Buban said. “If I could tell they weren’t motivated, I was eager to try to help motivate them. I didn’t just decide to let them sink or swim. That’s what Monmouth College does – it works with students like that and has patience with them. I tried to get to know the students and to see things from their point of view. I also tried to sell them on the importance of a liberal education – to not take it for granted.”

Buban said he enjoyed teaching all of his sociology classes, perhaps none more so than “Social Interaction,” which he taught during his final semester. Other favorites include courses about social movements, research methods and the sociology of medicine.

“The ‘Social Movements’ class dealt with social protest and paid attention to the civil rights era, in particular,” he said. “That was a pretty eye-opening class for the students.”

In addition to the relationships he formed with students, Buban said faculty relationships were just as special.

“You hear about large universities being ‘silo-ed’ – that people only know other people in their department,” he said. “We’re not silo-ed here at all, and that’s a real plus. I have friends from every academic discipline.”

Those friendships were on full display at a reception in Buban’s honor. An outpouring of love began with a statement from Dean David Timmerman and included plenty of laughter, including English professor Craig Watson’s story about Buban’s legendary indecisiveness when ordering at restaurants.

Watson also cited Buban’s “generosity of spirit and unshakeable faith in the richer possibilities of the human community.”

“Steve is humane, thoughtful, seldom reduced to anger and never selfish,” said biology professor Ken Cramer.

Philosophy and religious studies professor Hannah Schell shared that Buban was a calming influence when she first arrived on campus in 2001 and was stressing over the absence of a Starbucks.

“’You know, Hannah,’ he told me, ‘you might find you can create a pretty great life here.’”

Despite growing up not far from campus in Alpha, Ill., Buban didn’t imagine he would wind up close to home.

“The joke during our job search in grad school was ‘Has UCLA called yet?’” he said. “Coming to Monmouth and teaching at a liberal arts college was not on my radar screen. I probably had an incorrect image that colleges like Monmouth were an elite place for rich kids.”

Buban soon came to appreciate Monmouth’s “diversity of social classes,” adding, “Its emphasis on teaching was a good fit for me.”

So was the opportunity to serve. Buban was “very heavily involved in faculty governance,” including serving as chair of Faculty Senate, and he also coordinated the ACM Urban Studies program for three decades, which “greatly enhanced my experience and brought a lot of connections with Chicago.”

On campus, Buban also was involved with the Black Action Affairs Council and coached the women’s tennis team to some of its best seasons during his six years in charge (1982-87). In the community, Buban has served on the boards of the Warren County United Way and Warren Achievement Center, and he and his wife, Nancy, organized the local team tennis program for many years.

“It’s hard to picture disassociating from the College,” said Buban, whose house is one block south of campus. “I’m going to miss the students a lot, but I’m sure I’ll maintain the valuable ties I have with faculty and staff.”

Buban hasn’t ruled out teaching a future course or two, but says it won’t happen within the first year.

“I’m not feeling any strong emotions yet about retiring,” he said. “I’m not the least bit afraid of being bored. I can’t remember the last time I was bored. Nancy doesn’t believe it, but I might learn to be more handy around the house.”

That said, Buban admits he’s “very good at leisure. I think I’ve perfected the art of leisure.”

He concluded, “You get to practice leaving teaching every spring for three months. I might miss it in the fall, but right now it seems like any other year.”

However, department colleague Petra Kuppinger knows that Monmouth will miss him.

“Steve is part of the heart of this institution,” she said. “What he did for this institution is something we’ll really feel when he’s gone.”

On the bright side, though, his house is just a block away.
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