Dwight Hansen is retiring

My colleague and mentor Dwight is retiring. I have mentally prepared to give a retirement speech at his retirement party. But I know Dwight. He won't have a party for it. He is a man of faith and hence busy. He will move quickly to the next stage of life without looking back. So I type up my speech and put it here instead.

I was gonna reveal a big secret of Dwight. I was gonna tell you what Dwight and I always discussed in his office. (No, I am not sucking up to him, Rick) But Dwight is discreet. So I can't tell you the secret. He refuses to discuss certain things openly. On the surface, you might think that he is worried about being persecuted, but no, that's not the reason. He is respectful to other people. He is blunt, but won't hurt others' feelings by arrogantly shoveling his views into someone's mouth. That's his upbringing. I see the same respectfulness in Jan, Dwight's love of life, and James, their only son. What a great family.

What upbringing, you may ask?

First and foremost, Dwight is a religious man. Research has shown that people with faith are happier. I can understand why. A religious man thinks there is something bigger and more powerful out there than himself. So he is humble. A religious man is also not greedy because he believes there is punishment for that. How can a humble and modest person not be satisfied and happy, especially when he works so hard and has achieved so much?

What has he achieved, you may ask?

Dwight, together with Barb Larew, built Coe's accounting program from scratch. It is not just a couple of majors. It gives hundreds of students an opportunity to have a meaningful career. Many of them are practicing CPAs. Between Dwight and Barb, they have seen thousands of students through the gate and made sure they got a good first taste of business.

(Speaking of understanding business, I have to tell you the Mad Man story. I was an instant fan of the TV series Mad Man when the show started. Back then, I was young and stupid. I was so eager to have some people to talk to about Mad Man that I gave Dwight and Jan the discs and asked them to watch the show. That was arrogance. But Dwight and Jan watched it. They didn't just watch it. They binge watched it. He was amazed with the writing of the script. "How can they know so much about business?" was the comment Dwight kept telling me. Then we sort of started a TV-watching club, until the Boardwalk Empire's unnecessary sex and violence scenes got in the way.)

We don't know what a legacy Dwight and Barb had built until we started to find his replacement. For the first time, I am worried that Coe might not have a public accounting major. We are still hung on that possibility even after three different searches. It takes dedicated teachers who relentlessly put in efforts to make sure the rigor of the program is intact. Accounting is unlike most other disciplines in a college. Students eventually need to sit in the CPA exam, which has a high and consistent standard no one can just skirt around. Intermediate Accounting was always taught by Dwight. He insisted because he needed to be the gatekeeper for this important threshold in accounting learning. Once students got passed his Intermediate, they knew they have the confidence to go all the way.

At Coe, we academic advisers receive all advisees' midterm grades in the middle of a term, if they are at the risk of failing a course. I got so many D/F notices from Dwight's classes. Boy, was he harsh. But it was the bitter medicine needed. If students did not wake up to the fact that accounting is hard, they should consider other career options. Dwight demanded his students, but was always there to help them.

I used to have an advisee coming in to complain about Dwight. That was his first semester. He had Accounting I with Dwight. He complained about the class and the slow-paced office hours. We advisers collect stories like these, partly for future advising references and partly just for gossipy fun. So I took note of this episode. A semester later, the student replaced me as his adviser with Dwight. What a surprise! That is the real Dwight, who is demanding but generous in helping students. He wins students over with his kindness.

And with his humor.

For lots of students, accounting is excruciatingly boring and tedious. I never envy the job of accounting teachers. But the good ones have their ways of getting students out of the doldrums. Dwight sprinkled his lectures with his travel stories. He and Jan travelled every summer break; sometimes during the winter breaks, too. They have reached all corners of the world, but Dwight's stories were not just plain narratives of the trips. He added colors! A student once told me what Dwight said about a trip to Nepal. Vendors there were selling all kinds of oxygen cans. Many of them had exotic flavors. Dwight examined one and the label said, "Sex on the Beach." He shook his head and told his students that he could easily get that by bringing his wife to the oceanside. Later that day, students had an exam, which Jan helped proctor as Dwight always used more than one classroom. Students just could not shake off the story Dwight told them while looking at the motherly Jan in front of the room. Well done, Dwight.

I was one of the few colleagues who have read Dwight's travel log. He pokes fun whenever he can, even at James and his newly wed. I vaguely remember that he gave James impregnation advice, something like the aisle in the wedding chapel being a good place, etc. You get the picture. But he really could write. I repeatedly urge him to start a blog in his retirement. We will see how that goes when teaching is not part of his life.

Being funny sometimes got him into trouble. Jan hurt her arm pretty bad once. Dwight rushed to the hospital, saw the terrible wound, and almost cried. But once he realized the situation was under control, he started to goof around. He told the suspicious nurses, "She started it" (something to that effect.) They almost called the cop.

But he does not joke about his work.

Dwight is someone I look up to. He is one of the very few people I met that have the highest work ethics. Over three decades of teaching here, he took only one sabbatical leave, which we academics treat as perks and use when available. He came to teach on snow days when all kids hid in the dorm rooms. There was a time he checked into the hospital just to find out that he had appendicitis. It was almost life-threatening because of the delay in the ER. He had to cancel class, but wanted to go back to teach the next day. Thank God that the doctor talked him out of this nonsense. And, he tried to convince the nurses again that Jan had abused him, but to no avail, of course.

Dwight sets a good example for the younger generation. When people mention the modest, hard-working Midwesterners, I always picture Dwight. He is always honest. He doesn't take any job lightly. He wrote two letters for me for my contract reviews. Each time he asked to sit in my class. He took notes in the class, detailed notes I tell you. He then wrote a very nice, lengthy letter and gave me a copy before sending it out. His letters were nice, but didn't have any bogus claims. Everything is true to the tiniest detail. That is something I will definitely emulate in the future.

Kindness and integrity are what I see in Dwight.

Outside of work, I just see Dwight and Jan as two kind people with utmost integrity. When I had my gallbladder surgery, I asked them to be ready by the phone in case my wife needed to call for help. They didn't just do that. They offered to come to the hospital to be by my wife's side. They also brought us a nice meal because they knew we would not have time to cook. (Of course, we compared our surgical scars when they came drop off the food.)

Some people show their kindness once in a while. It takes a special personality to be willing to serve homeless people meals every week for decades. Dwight does that. He helps cooking at Green Square Meals every Tuesday for years. It is his faith, upbringing, and character that make Dwight the way he is, though sometimes I can't help but shake my head at his goofiness.

At the end of one fall term, Barb and I were communicating in email as we were at our first attempt to hire another tenure-track accounting faculty. Dwight did not participate for a while. I got worried, because that was not typical of him. So I drove by his house. The house was in dark. I asked the neighbors. They said they were home. Dwight opened the door promptly after I rang the bell. He and Jan were surprised to see me, but invited me in. It turned out that he was gonna phone us, but the couple were staying in after a long semester. They were just sitting in the couch, admiring the Christmas tree they just lit. I sat with them for a few minutes, hearing them talking about how a few international students who never decorated a Christmas tree helped erect the tree. I left and said to myself, "What a goofy, simple and happy couple!"

God bless them.