In Memoriam – Richard Stingle, 1925-2014

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Richard Macmillan Stingle, a former Western English professor and academic freedom advocate, died Nov. 22 at University Hospital in London. He was 88.

Dick was the very model of the teacher-scholar – in the undergraduate classroom and graduate seminars, in private conversations and public talks, in essays, reviews and monograph. Moreover, his principled and courageous stand during the Crowe Case at United College (Winnipeg) in 1958-59 was a significant part of the development of the defence of academic freedom and tenure in Canada.

Dick was born into a family of miners in Timmins, Ont., on Nov. 26, 1925. He entered the honours program at Victoria College (Toronto) in September 1944, part of the class described by Canadian literary critic and theorist Northrop Frye as the most brilliant he had ever taught. He earned his MA from Toronto in 1950, with a thesis on William Morris. By that time, he was enrolled in the PhD program at the University of Wisconsin, where he remained for three years, before accepting his first major teaching position at United College.

On April 16, 1958, United College principal W. C. Lockhart called W. A. Packer, associate professor of German, to his office and showed him a letter addressed to Packer and signed “Harry” – Harry Crowe, that is, associate professor of history. Packer had not seen the letter, and asked how it had come into the possession of the principal. Lockhart eventually told him the letter had appeared in a blue envelope with an unsigned note:

“Found in College Hall. We think you should read it. Some staff loyalty???”

Such was the beginning of the Crowe Case, in which the central issue was the principal’s use of a private letter addressed to a colleague to dismiss the author of the letter.

Dick was a member of the faculty association’s executive, and his role in subsequent events has been well documented. At the inquiry into the affair, Dick was praised for relying only on what he knew, when hearsay and rumour had obscured both issues and facts. He, Stewart Reid and Ken McNaught were the first three faculty members to resign in protest against the principal’s actions. Students did, as well, and eventually most of the third- and fourth-year honours students transferred to the Fort Garry campus. Among them was Bruce Lundgren, Dick’s student and friend, and later long-time colleague at Western.

Fifty years later, the Canadian Association of University Teachers honored the remaining participants in the affair, and Dick, looking back on that time, defined the most lasting part of the experience:

“The working together of those of us involved at the local level of the CAUT in Winnipeg created a community that drew on very different personalities, talents and experiences. For me, that earlier community turned out to be the origin of a very similar experience in team teaching.”

That was in the Department of English at Western, where Dick came in 1962, after one-year stints at the University of Saskatchewan and Laurentian University. He was to stay at Western for the next 30 years.

His areas of specialization were Victorian literature, 17th-century English literature and Canadian literature. He taught everything from first-year surveys to graduate courses in Dickens, Rossetti, the Pre-Raphaelites, Morris, Carlyle and the Victorian novel, but it was his experience of team teaching, that had the greatest impact on him and others. The chief innovations were the presence of the whole team in every hour and the interaction of team members in dialogue, discussion and symposia instead of the usual lecture by one person.

Dick was an outstanding teacher, whether with a team or on his own, and in 1986 the university gave him its award for excellence in teaching. The honour depended, to a large extent, on the testimony of students and colleagues, and their letters document their experience of his classroom. “Intense,” “challenging” and “intellectually stimulating” were adjectives that turned up again and again.

As a teacher, Dick was constantly moving in two directions – centripetally, into the tropes, schemes, shapes and patterns at the centre of all literature, and centrifugally, into other disciplines and into cultural and social patterns. Though students saw Dick as demanding, they also saw him as fair, kind and open-minded, himself an example of the high expectations he had for them. His classroom was never just one more room in the ivory tower of popular myth – remote from so-called ‘real life’ – but a testing ground where the “mental fight” Blake named as crucial to the future of society could be waged. One student remembered Dick’s saying about the classroom, “but you know, this also is reality.”

Dick had the kind of mind from which colleagues, as well as students, could learn. Conversation with him was a seminar, punctuated with laughter. Its impact becomes apparent when one looks at the unusually large number of acknowledgements naming him in scholarly books and articles, in a wide variety of fields.

Donald Hair is a professor emeritus, Department of English.