After 45 Years, Professor Bruce Holle Exits the Classroom But Not The Conversations

The 17th floor of Patterson Office Tower is strangely quiet this semester. Thanks to Covid, most of us are working remotely, and we greatly look forward to the day when POT will once again become its usual beehive of activity. But even then, if it seems quiet compared to what it was, that’s because Bruce Holle has retired after 45 years of teaching.

Bruce reckons he taught more than ten thousand students over the course of his teaching career, which began at the University of Michigan, where he got his Ph.D. in 1978, and ended at UK, where he has taught ever since. Nearly every one of them has visited Bruce’s office at one time or another. I should know, because my office was only a few doors down from Bruce’s. For as far back as I can remember, almost every time I walked past, he was in there talking to at least one student, and often to three or four.

Bruce was a student magnet, luring them up seventeen flights so they could extend the conversation with him beyond class about the history of Christianity. Or about the Byzantine Empire. Or about historical perspectives on the life of Jesus. Or about whether they should apply to grad school or to law school. Or about the Bears game last Sunday (about which Bruce, a Chicagoan’s Chicagoan, usually knew a lot). Or about the challenges of being a first-generation college student, as he was himself. Or about how they needed to raise their own game in his class, and what they needed to do to raise it.

Students took that long elevator ride to the top of POT because Bruce cared about who they were and about how he could help them become the best possible version of themselves. “Professor Holle is a mentor, friend, and hero of teaching to me,” said former student Joe Pearson. Alumni like Joe appreciated Bruce because he challenged them.

“To some, Dr. Holle’s methods may have seemed intimidating,” said Brooke Pauley. “Now, as a law student [at Ohio State], I’m realizing how rare it is to have been previously exposed to cold calling! But these methods were used with the intention of meaningful discussion and debate within the classroom, as well as high standards for his students.

“Outside of the classroom and since graduation,” Brooke says, “Dr. Holle and I keep up talking about the law, law school, the Michigan v. Ohio State rivalry, our favorite beers, and more. I am without a doubt a better learner because of Dr. Holle.” Thousands of students have reached the same conclusion, and that’s why Bruce earned the highest pedagogical honor available to a UK faculty member, the Provost’s Award for Teaching.

So it’s no great surprise that what Bruce misses most is the teaching. But he doesn’t miss the students, because so many of them remain in touch with him, allowing their conversations to continue.  All in all, Bruce says, “I had a great run—a lot of wonderful colleagues and students, and a few too many administrators.”

Heartiest congratulations on your retirement, Bruce! We’ll miss the enthusiastic greeting you always had for each and every one of us. We’ll miss the jokes and the laughs. We’ll miss your remarkable, inimitable self. The 17th floor will truly never be the same without you!

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