UNC Charlotte professors share love of education through community engagement

Since 2013, Dr. Jürgen Buchenau has held a series of intellectual salons to continue education

| April 8, 2015

Dr. Jürgen Buchenau, professor and chair of UNC Charlotte’s Department of History, shares his love of learning with the Charlotte community in a series of intellectual salons sponsored by the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences.

The salon program, which is supervised by Nancy Gutierrez, Dean of the college, has operated since 2013. These salons are 50, to 60 minute community lectures followed by half hour discussions. Buchenau said lectures are held after 5 p.m. at a salon host’s private home, and are given by liberal arts professors.

Salons are organized by matching interested host families with professors. Citizens can request a specific lecture be held at their home, or professors can suggest a lecture series to Dean Gutierrez.

Lectures are voluntarily, and speakers aren’t compensated. However; for Buchenau and other professors, teaching for the sake of knowledge is payment enough.

“We like to teach for the sake of teaching,” said Buchenau. “I don’t think that the university is there to prepare people for a specific career, I think the university is here first and foremost to train your mind.”

Buchenau said an undergraduate education should emphasize critical thinking skills, and turn people into lifelong learners. It was one man’s long devotion to learning which resulted in the program’s foundation.

The program grew out of a private tutoring session Buchenau had with and elderly South Park gentleman named Henry Pharr. According to the Charlotte Observer, Pharr was a retired real estate attorney who was unable to attend graduate school because of poor health.

Pharr’s friend, William ‘Twig’ Branch, asked Buchenau to help Pharr find a tutor, and Buchenau volunteered to tutor Pharr himself.

When Pharr began inviting friends to sit in on Buchenau’s sessions, and it soon became the first of a series of lectures.

Since then, Buchenau said other professors have lectured at the salons. David Goldfield and Erica Edwards of the History department have both lectured, and John David Smith will speak next fall. James Tabor from religious studies also has a salon.

A salon audience is very different from your typical classroom. Like the Pharr’s, salon hosts are typically elderly, affluent Charlotte citizens. Buchenau said these older ‘students’ tend to be more alert listeners.

“I know their attention span is longer than the one of younger people because they’re not constantly on their electronics, said Buchenau. “ I also know that they’ve lived through about half of the stuff I’m talking about.”

Most salon members were born before the Cold War, and even served in the Vietnam War. They already relate to the history Buchenau teaches his students.

Buchenau said he has to be more provocative when lecturing a salon. He might begin one by saying that he thinks the Soviet Union didn’t cause the Cold War, but the United States was more responsible.

“With older people there are different buttons I can push…” he said. “ With our guys, with the younger generation they’re other issues they think are more provocative and interesting.”

Buchenau said it’s gratifying to lecture to an audience so interested in learning, and is glad to share something he’s excited and passionate about.

He hopes the salons will bring the college, and the university, much needed friends and potential benefactors.

His friendship with Henry Pharr lead to the creation of the Buchenau-Pharr Research Scholarship; which helps graduate students finance historical research. He said now that the state legislator keeps cutting higher education, all departments need private support.

Buchenau hopes the salons can give influential Charlotte residents personal experiences with UNC Charlotte professors, which would benefit the university.

“It could influence leaders in Charlotte to feel that UNC Charlotte is a more important asset than they feel now,” Buchenau said. “I think the nine miles that separate us from uptown are very far. And that a lot of people in Charlotte are not aware of what we’re doing up here.”

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