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Remembering Abe Holtzman, one of our own

By Jeffery P. Braden:

Perhaps one of the greatest regrets I will have is that I never met Abe Holtzman. Professor Emeritus Holtzman died Monday (1-18-10), leaving an academic legacy that might surprise many who equate NC State with agriculture, engineering, and technology. Abe did none of those things-he was a professor of political science, and his career spanned five decades of scholarship and teaching. His scholarship shaped and influenced his field-and his lectures shaped and influenced generations of NC State students.

Although I never met Abe Holtzman, I know him. I know Abe from the alumni who pull me aside at football and basketball games and tell me about his class and the way he challenged their thinking. I know Abe from his colleagues who can’t hide their surprise when I admit I never met him, but quickly proceed to regale me with tales of his scholarly accomplishments and his stance as a liberal lion and stalwart defender of social justice. I know Abe from an alumnus in the Arizona legislature who called yesterday to express his condolences and tell us of the profound effect Abe had on him and his political beliefs-despite the fact his beliefs are so conservative he decries Senator John McCain as “too liberal.” I know Abe from legislators, judges, engineers, and architects, who run the gamut of the political spectrum, yet are united by a deep and endearing reverence for a man who challenged them, who demanded them not just to voice but to justify their opinions, and who never faltered in conveying and commanding respect.

Abe Hotlzman was the antithesis of our current culture, in which differences of opinion devolve into pseudo-political theater where the loudest voice wins. Abe used debate to bring out ideas, to push students out of their comfort zone, forcing them to examine cherished beliefs and grapple with prickly ideas. I don’t think it’s any accident that, as students have shifted from going to college to get an education to going to college to get a job, we’ve seen a decline in civil discourse. Instead of creating gumbo in which diverse people and ideas simmer throughout their time in college, we’ve moved to a cafeteria-style education, in which courses and requirements are neatly and discretely packaged to match student interests and career goals. Abe was from a different time, one that didn’t let students get by with taking what they wanted without demanding something in return-and those students, now alumni, tell me they are forever indebted to Abe for doing so.

So, no, I never met Abe Holtzman-but I know him through his colleagues, his former students, and the programs in our college that bear his name-and more importantly, that continue to bear witness to his legacy. Although I’ve never heard a bad word about Abe Holtzman, I’m not foolish enough to believe he was perfect-but I am smart enough to realize that his outstanding qualities as a teacher and scholar eclipse whatever imperfections he might have had. Abe is no longer with us, but his legacy continues to inspire those who were lucky enough to have met him-and even some of us who did not.

Jeffery P. Braden, PhD
Dean, College of Humanities and Social Sciences
Professor of Psychology

Thank you Jeff and thank you Dr. Holtzman.  Those like you make us proud; will always make us proud.

Passion Rules!

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1 Jenny Weston { 01.22.10 at 10:23 am }

Dr. Holtzman was one of my favorite professors. He was an amazing force in the classroom. He challenged his students to think about what they read and analyze why they thought what they thought rather than read and regurgitate. He would get in your face (literally) and force you to voice an opinion and then back up that opinion. He could be formidable in the classroom but he cared deeply about his students and what sort of people they would become. My favorite quote from Dr. Holtzman is “If I were the tyrant of the world, I would make it so that you had to take a pill to get pregnant.” Something that no professor would even think of saying in a classroom today. And his fashion sense was the topic of discussion among the students. His classic summer attire was a Banlon shirt, plaid bermuda shorts, knee-high navy nylon socks and sandals. He was his own person and an awesome role model. The academic world needs more Abe Holtzmans.

2 Joe Hice { 01.22.10 at 5:30 pm }

Abe sounds like Harry Griggs, my thesis chair. Always challenging, always expecting more. “Come on Mr. Hice. You want to be proud of your work. You want your mom and dad, your friends at school, you want everyone to be proud of your work. You can do better than this.”

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