David Downing is a part-time English professor at UC Clermont, and he is one recipient of this year’s Excellence in Teaching Award given to an adjunct professor at UC Clermont.
Professor Downing is “ebullient” about receiving this award (again). He describes it as “walking on a cloud 24/7.” He’s a unique professor compared to others in many universities today. His class brings in relevant and controversial topics, allowing students to hear one another’s opinions, and lets them practice supporting their own positions. Downing says, “Well, we spend no time worrying about microaggressions or trigger warnings in my class. We study rhetorical argument by hitting the rhetorical arguments that are going on all around us in the real world, where there are no ‘safe places.’” This is a different technique to teaching, where universities and colleges around the country create safe spaces from controversy rather than expose them to it. Without this exposure, students don’t learn and practice defending their arguments.
David Downing says it loud and clear and proud: “Too many teachers have become politically correct clichés, which is pretty boring. Most students don’t want to become perpetually offended snowflakes. They want to be winners, not whiners. That human desire to be better, stronger, and smarter is the side of the street I try to work. I really like students who are motivated to succeed.” Students agree with Professor Downing, regardless of their political beliefs, religions, and age. His class is a place where their opinions aren’t shut down. He brings logos, pathos, and ethos to life with his hard-hitting questions and discussions.
Many students enjoy his class because it’s one of the few places where they’re not afraid to speak out. He opens the class to raw opinions and then works those into well-argued stances. He truly encourages independent thinking. Many students hear that their professors want them to think independently but it’s never really seen that way. They enjoy the way he plays “devil’s advocate” and enjoy the challenge that it brings. One student said of Mr. Downing, “He doesn’t care whether or not you agree with him. He wants us to form our own opinions but to do so in a logical, well thought-out manner. He wants us to be credible writers. He wants us to write well. Our opinion is not part of the grade; how we present it is.” His students believe him to be entertaining, intelligent, animated, and actually willing to listen to their opinions.
Something Professor Downing has learned while teaching is his amazement with “the richness and depth” of Western civilization. He describes it as the “Harley-Davidson” of cultures and wishes he would’ve realized this earlier in his teaching career. He’s learned a lot from teaching, and from the wisdom of Socrates, Aristotle, and Marcus Aurelius, and he wishes that these classics were embraced again. He also hopes to see the silliness seen in postmodern society “jettisoned.”
Surprisingly, the beloved professor never wanted to be a teacher. He says that he didn’t even major in education, but when he and his wife moved back to Ohio, he needed to find a job and the first place to hire him was a parochial school. He actually enjoyed it and then went on to earn a Master’s degree in education. He explains how he’s had students from the age of twelve to seventy in every class and he always manages to learn something new. He enjoys camping and hiking and his one tip for camping is to not sleep in a tent, but a hammock instead.