Academic Regalia, Then and Now
Every year the English Department hosts a silent auction for the annual Governor’s State Employee Food Drive. The silent auction typically features hand-crafted and hand-me-down items donated by students, faculty, and staff. One unusual item this year connected the department’s past and present.
Richard Leeson, who received his PhD here in 1981, donated his doctoral robes to the English Department when he retired from a career as an English professor, hoping to pass them on to a fellow literary scholar. Leeson’s donated regalia went into the silent auction and was purchased by Brian Psiropoulos, a doctoral candidate who will defend his dissertation in July.
Leeson wrote his dissertation on the fiction of Flannery O’Connor. He retired in 2004 from Fort Hays State University in Kansas, where he had taught since 1978. While there, he published books on playwrights William Inge and Lorraine Hansberry.
Leeson began his doctoral studies in 1974 after attending the University of California, Irvine and earning his MA at California State University, Fullerton. During his Oregon graduate career, he worked with many distinguished English Department scholars, including Glen Love, James Boren, William Strange, and Clark Griffith (who became Leeson’s dissertation director). Leeson says that, as an undergraduate, he was fortunate to have been a student of Robert Lee, himself a graduate of UO’s PhD program in English. Lee was, Leeson recalls, “one of the finest teachers I have ever had,” and he credits him with playing an integral role in his decision to apply to UO’s PhD program: “He recommended Oregon as a place to get a solid grounding in the subject matter and lots of experience teaching. I decided to enter the program, and it was everything he said it would be.” Leeson feels the education he received from the U of O prepared him well for the position he took at Fort Hays State University: “It gave me a solid academic foundation in several areas, including my focus on American literature, as well as the teaching experience that set me apart from other applicants for the job. The English program at the University of Oregon allowed me to have a marvelously rewarding career—one that I had always envisioned. I’m so grateful!”
Brian Psiropoulos will defend his dissertation on “Victorian Gothic Materialism” in July. His research relies heavily on the economic theories of Adam Smith, Karl Marx, and Thorstein Veblen, as well as the contested models of history developed by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and Herbert Butterfield. Psiropolous says, “my work argues that the gothic mode, adduced to otherwise realist nineteenth-century novels, became the perfect vehicle for ‘realistically’ figuring historical, socio-economic change and its associated traumas.”
Psiropoulos says his research interests stem from varied aspects of his life. A childhood trip to The London Dungeon wax museum with its portrayal of 2000 years of British war, witch-burnings, plague, and torture “provoked a lasting fascination with historical trauma and its legacies.” Psiropoulos began college in 1992 at Lane Community College, and after earning his Associate’s degree joined the corporate world supervising messaging agents at a Fortune 500 software company and developing services for global customer service organizations. There he developed his love of teaching while performing corporate training—and he also learned the importance of clear communication. About his interests in economic theory, Psiropoulos says, “A business trip to visit and evaluate outsourced call and messaging centers in Chennai and Bangalore sparked a continual interest in the relationship between capital and culture, and the dual character of ‘exchange.’” Using his employee benefit to return to school, Psiropoulos continued his undergraduate career at the U of O. At first he studied history but switched to English after taking Dick Stein’s “Victorian City” class and becoming what he calls a “Vic-lit junkie.” Having graduated with his Bachelor’s degree, he returned to the UO to earn both his MA and his PhD degrees. Psiropoulos will be a postdoctoral fellow in English next year, teaching composition and a course on the British novel and pursuing his scholarship. — Bjorn Smars