James LeRoy Smith has been teaching at East Carolina University for 50 years, starting in 1969, and after holding multiple offices at the university, plans to retire after next year.
Sitting in his office, Rivers 201, surrounded by pictures of his family, James LeRoy Smith reflected on his 50 years spent at ECU, and after thinking of all of the positions he has held throughout the years, he says that being a professor was his favorite.
When James Smith first entered college in 1961 at Pennsylvania State University, he declared his major as an aerospace engineer but realized that philosophy and teaching were his calling, therefore he changed majors.
James Smith said he realized teaching was his passion after he worked as a teaching assistant for one of his professors and had to help a student with her homework.
“I don’t remember her name, but I can barely make out a picture of her in my head. She will probably never realize the impact that she had on my life,” James Smith said.
When James Smith came to ECU in the fall of 1969, he had only taught one course in his life at Tulane University. He said that when he first came to the ECU, he hated it.
“It was flat and hot, among other things that I dislike, but ECU has offered me something every step along the way,” James Smith said.
After coming to ECU, James Smith taught philosophy and served in multiple positions on the faculty, including Chair of the Philosophy Department, Chair of the ECU Faculty and Faculty Senate, executive assistant to the Chancellor and he was chosen from a national search to be Provost.
But when asked what position was the most enjoyable for him throughout his tenure at ECU, he simply stated that being a professor was his favorite.
“By far and away the most enjoyable thing I have ever done at this institution is enter the classroom. I tell people that I have not one time ever regretted crossing that threshold thinking ‘I wish I was doing something else,’” James Smith said.
James Smith went on to say that he enjoys interactions with his students during class, either by starting conversations or leaving his students with something to think about after they leave.
Another facet of the university experience that James Smith enjoyed was the experience of seeing how interconnected every aspect of university administration truly is and learning how he should operate in these settings.
“How all these things fit together, to supplement my understanding of the university, which is based on my understanding of what we need to be doing,” James Smith said.
James Smith has been writing a book in recent years, titled Leading the Modern University, which he hopes will have an impact on the school system and how they choose what should be core curriculum.
James Smith feels that having a solid core curriculum is an essential part of helping to develop and educate college students and show them what a liberal education can offer.
“I hoped that I could work through the honors program and develop a voluntary six-course core curriculum for honors students that would reflect the history of university’s evolution with regard to what has been involved in core curriculum,” James Smith said.
James Smith is currently going through a phased retirement, with next year being his final year teaching at ECU.
He said he isn’t sure exactly what he will do once he is done teaching, but he is sure that he will continue to write his book.
“I’ve been fortunate to be a part of the growth of this institution, and I got to meet a lot of leadership in those days and learned a lot from them and they did good getting this place going,” James Smith said.
Mitchell Kittle, a sophomore majoring in clinical laboratory science, took an ethics class with James Smith last year. He said that James Smith has a knack for relating personal stories to the material that he covers in class.
Kittle says that due to Jame Smith’s ability to relate topics to everyday life, he can more easily apply the concepts that are taught in the class to his normal life.
“By taking one of his classes, you learn how to think differently about everyday situations,” Kittle said.
Kittle said he was sad to hear James Smith is retiring after next year.
“It is always sad to see such a great professor leave, especially one who has had such an impact on ECU during his tenure,” Kittle said.
Cameron Smith, a sophomore majoring in computer science who additionally took a professional ethics course with James Smith last semester, said James Smith is one of the smartest professors he has ever had at ECU.
Cameron Smith said the class helped him to realize things about ethics that most wouldn’t normally consider, such as there being a baseline moral code people should follow when making ethical decisions.
“Dr. Smith tries to teach his kids what it takes to make an ethical decision and the proper way to go about it using reason and a set of moral codes,” Cameron Smith said.
Cameron Smith said he is sad that James Smith is going to retire, but he understands that the professor has been teaching at ECU for half a century, and deserves retirement.