Professor Jeff Phillips Retired After 42 Years of Teaching Students that Knowledge Alone Won’t Change the World
There are many things that retired Literature professor Jeff Phillips is known for: Wearing white pants every day. Complex cover drawings on his syllabi. Radio shows. Wit and humor. His love of cult classics.
Phillips taught hundreds of lessons in his 42-year career at Northwood in disciplines ranging from English to philosophy to art, but there was one lesson that stayed the same year after year no matter which class he taught: To make a difference in the world, you must first start with finding value and love from within yourself.
“Part of ‘The Northwood Idea’ is that ‘Human beings can make a difference in the world in which they live,’ and I know that the only way for us to help others is to start with ourselves,” Phillips said. “As Robert Pirsig said, if you want to improve the world, the place you start is your own heart, head, and hands. Then move out from there.”
Phillips taught this life lesson by engaging students in unique and memorable exercises such as analyzing the meaning of Pink Floyd’s song “Wish You Were Here,” or reading an excerpt from the book “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”
When Phillips retired from teaching in May 2018, he had an impressive list of accomplishments: English Department chair for 18 years, leader to 840 students in the Honors Program, and keynote speaker for Leadership Midland 30 years in a row. He was a highly sought-after professor, even though teaching wasn’t how he planned to start his career.
“The plan was to get a cartoon strip and syndicate it through the United States and Canada, become independently wealthy by the time I was 40, then retire,” Phillips joked.
His passion for reading, writing, and drawing led him to get a Bachelor of Arts degree from Central Michigan University (CMU) in Art and Art History, but when graduation came, Phillips realized that wasn’t what he wanted to do. “Cartooning tends to be a solitary thing and I like working with people,” he said.
He went back to CMU and got a Master of Arts degree in Literature. Here, he discovered an untapped passion – teaching.
“Through an assistantship and some inspiring professors, I learned that teaching was an energetic, fun, and lively enterprise, and that led me to the gates of Northwood,” Phillips said. What kept him at Northwood for 42 years wasn’t the subject matter he taught, but the people.
“Gary Stauffer, one of the founders of Northwood, always said it’s the people who make the difference,” Phillips said. “I thought initially it was a nice public relations homily, but through the years, I realized the truth in that. My best friends are at Northwood and the faculty at Northwood are the most open, honest, wonderful, and funny people I’ve ever met.”
Not to mention the students, many of whom are still good friends.
In his retirement, Phillips is mastering the art of relaxation, spending time with his wife, reading, drawing, and working on a sequel to a book he published. If you’d like to purchase a copy of Phillips’ first book, email firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know that you’re interested in buying “Tickety Boo.”