The last communication I received from Dr. Alan Baharlou was an actual letter, the one that comes in the mail. He wrote, “If you completed half of what your resume says then you really did a lot of good during your career.” That was in 2013. What a nice response, I needed to let him know. But I didn’t, I was about to retire and very busy.
Recently, I learned he had died in Estes Park from a stroke. He was young, just a few years older than me.
As if it were yesterday, in 1970 he was sitting on the stairs looking up at me as I pleaded for another point in his natural science course. I just needed one point to go from an 89 to 90 and an “A.”
He was a compact, classic Persian looking gentleman with expressive eyes, sometimes sympathetic, inquiring, friendly, excited or, in this case, serious.
“OK, answer this question and I will see if the answer manifests what you learned in this class,” he said. I stood, my mind going blank but driven to get another point for that A.
The question reflected his goal that we learn, not just get grades. But grades were how the world worked, not necessarily an outcome of knowledge.
The question: “Trace a raindrop from India to Enid, Okla., (the site of our university). Explain the physics and theories of how the drop could arrive on our campus.”
For the next hour, I stood in front of him, stumbling through my answer. He would gently ask clarifying questions causing small lightbulbs to go off in my head — oh yeah that helped. I got the point, in more ways than one.
Dr. Baharlou served as our fraternity sponsor, always balancing letting us have fun and not getting into too much trouble. A task that I learned much later while serving in the same role. It was not easy.
Then we heard he was leaving. We discovered the paperwork to award him tenure was delayed by the provost. So with my fraternity brothers, we went to the provost’s home late that night and demanded he make a decision. Now as a former university administrator, I shudder at our aggressive behavior.
He was allowed to stay. During my teaching and student interactions I always tried to mirror the wonderful professors I had at Phillips U.
Dr. Baharlou modeled empathy, a sense of humor, love of learning and most of all his values and moral compass which I admired so much. I wish I could have told him one more time. But knowing Dr. Baharlou, he probably knew.
To this day, I am still learning from him. I vow to be in touch with folks now, without putting it off. I could do with a little less TV anyway.