Professor Stavig died on Sunday, Easter morning, April 5, 2015. He was 87 years old. During his tenure at the College Professor Stavig established his legacy in several areas. Generations of students remember him for his inspired teaching, careful scholarship, preparation and dedication to excellence. Colleagues at home and abroad owe a great deal to his skills as a gifted administrator. The College community benefits from the legacy of his high ethical and moral standards.
In 1955 Professor Stavig began his 37-year career at Kalamazoo College as an assistant professor of English. Some 30 years later–in a speech he gave on Honors Day (October 31, 1986) about the beginning of study abroad at Kalamazoo College–he described his feelings on being chosen to accompany the very first group of 25 K students to experience three months of foreign study in the summer of 1958:
“Wonder of wonders, a thirty-year-old untenured assistant professor of English who had been at K only three years, who had never been to Europe, and whose oral language skills were minimal was selected to take the first group over [on the ship Arosa Star, departing from Montreal on June 17] and give them–what else could he give them–minimal supervision. Plans had been carefully made, but there was simply a lot we just didn’t know. We did know, however, that we were involved in a great adventure, an adventure that had tremendous implications for us and our college. And we knew we had the responsibility for making it work.”
That same year he accompanied the first group of students to study abroad Professor Stavig also was promoted to associate professor English.
He became a full professor in 1963 and served in that capacity until his retirement from K in 1992. And he did much more. In 1962–the year the K-Plan launched as the College’s curriculum–Professor Stavig became K’s first director of foreign study. In this role he established procedures and goals that are still valid today. Five years later he was named dean of off-campus education. He served in both of those posts until 1974.
In 1982, Stavig was awarded the Florence J. Lucasse Fellowship for excellence in teaching, the highest honor for pedagogy, and one conferred by one’s faculty colleagues. Stavig’s speech accepting the award is a study in keen and humble insight into the art of teaching. In the speech he shares 11 observations about the profession of college professor. Among those observations one finds these favorites: “2) Education is life for the students, teachers, and others who are engaged in it. Each of us should, therefore, seek to provide pleasure, satisfaction, rewards, and a sense of worth for all those who participate; 5) Anyone who claims to understand completely what happens in the classroom is either a fool or a liar. Each class, each day, is inevitably a new adventure. Sometimes everything clicks and the world is beautiful; sometimes, for whatever reasons, nothing works and one wonders what sins could possibly have earned such punishment; and 7) The longer I teach, the less concerned I am with supplying good answers and the more concerned I am with asking good questions.”
Rightly considered one of the founders of the K-Plan, Professor Stavig loved, believed in and advocated for the educational leaps that result from foreign study. He credited study abroad in large part to the vision of his friend, English department colleague, and fellow K-Plan architect, Larry Barrett, who also died on an Easter morning. “Larry Barrett saw foreign study as a unique opportunity for us to experiment and innovate,” said Professor Stavig, “to see if a boldly different kind of educational experience could be made to work. And he wanted this because he always wanted education simply to be better for the students.” And so, too, did the man who wrote those words about his friend.