The Many Metamorphoses of Robert Dupree

38_Robert DupreeThe UD stalwart is finishing a 57-year career of not standing still.

It was the eve of finals week, and students were unusually rowdy. As Robert Dupree, PhD, BA ’62, made his way to his chair, students continued their conversations. Here, Dupree took a moment to gaze around at each student. The class went on to review the influence of Ovid in Western literature. As class came to an end, the professor made his farewells.

“I look forward to reading your papers,” he said. “I hope to learn from them.”

Dupree has been an English professor at the University of Dallas for nearly 60 years. During this time, he has undergone constant transformation in true Ovidian style, flying easily between disciplines, gathering skills and languages and establishing an esteemed reputation among students and colleagues for his invaluable contributions to the university and the academic world.

Dupree’s career at UD began just two years after the university was established in 1956. He attended UD on a full scholarship for academic merit. In his first semester, Dupree was quickly recognized as a promising scholar for exceeding the expectations of undergraduate standards and succeeding in advanced courses in French and philosophy.

One professor in particular, the late literature scholar Louise Cowan, PhD, was especially drawn to the young scholar and was convinced he belonged at UD as an instructor. Dupree never wanted to be a teacher, though, much less an English professor. His original plan was to study physics. But after taking a course under the brilliant Cowan, he was enraptured.

Dupree graduated as class valedictorian in the spring of 1962. Afterward, he received the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship, a prestigious award that gives the recipient a full scholarship to the graduate school of his choosing. Dupree chose Yale. As fast as he was recognized for his scholarly abilities at UD, it wasn’t long before his Yale professors also started eyeballing him. One particularly eager professor urged him to begin his dissertation before the end of his first semester.

Even though Yale adopted Dupree quickly, it wasn’t UD. He belonged in Texas. Before he had even finished his dissertation at Yale, Dupree was teaching at UD from a distance on a schedule of grueling commutes and sleepless nights. The courses he taught, Menippean Satire and Survey of British Literature, have since become favorites among students.

During this time, he has undergone constant transformation in true Ovidian style, flying easily between disciplines, gathering skills and languages and establishing an esteemed reputation among students and colleagues.

After graduating from Yale in 1966, Dupree returned as a full-time faculty member to the University of Dallas, where he has spent decades teaching approximately 30 different courses and 6,000 students, including those from his time in France, Rome, Singapore and Liechtenstein. His courses have covered music history, French, drama and literature, including one of his last courses on Ovid and the influence of Metamorphoses. In a way, Dupree has enjoyed transformations of his own, becoming a jack-of-all-trades professor of manifold skills. One of Dupree’s former students called him “a true renaissance man.” Attempting to interpret Dupree’s metamorphoses from an Ovidian perspective, she settled on an image of flight.

“Dr. Dupree would likely be a nightingale because it sings so beautifully and flies on the wings of poesy, to quote Keats,” she said.

She’s right. Dupree’s constant search for knowledge can be compared to a bird’s airy ascendance, soaring beyond view, leaving superficial scholarship with the earthbound trees and rocks. Although it’s taken him time, he has persisted in an attitude of constant learning.

“You see, one of the reasons I stayed here was that I had the opportunity to teach almost anything that interested me,” Dupree said.

“Whatever they need, I’m willing to take on because it interests me and I consider myself as much a student as I am a professor.”

This is the legacy Dupree will be leaving UD: a professor with the heart of a student. We’re lucky for the course he took with Cowan — without her influence, where would he be? (Perhaps France? He seems to like it there.) As fellow student Peter Tardiff recognizes, it’s hard to see him go, and it will be even harder to find another professor to fill his shoes.

“UD will be losing something that it will never get back,” Tardiff said.

Indeed, the university won’t be the same with Dupree in retirement. What will he do in his time off, you may ask? For now, he plans to study Chinese literature; he’s excited to brush up on his classical Mandarin.

Dupree has been one of the best professors to grace the hills of UD. Speaking on behalf of all his students, it was a privilege to be in his class. We pray in thanksgiving for Dupree’s life and for his many contributions to the University of Dallas, without which the university would not be what it is today, a place where professors are scholars and students.



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