McCloskey achieves another curtain call

McCloskey plays the roles of teacher, mentor, and thespian.

MCCC is poised to lose one of its leading lights at the end of this semester.

English professor William McCloskey has made it his mission in life to pass on his wealth of knowledge to those who would listen.

“I’ve always been a big reader,” he says, leaning back in his chair thoughtfully. “Ever since I was pretty young, about the sixth or seventh grade.

“But I had no idea until I got into high school, when I went to (Monroe) Catholic Central, really what I wanted to do. However, I wasn’t sure if I was going to teach English or History. Those are the two I had the most interest in. So I wasn’t sure what was going to happen.”

If Science and Math are sister subjects in their intent to figure out how things work, then English and History are sister subjects in that they both deal in storytelling. So it’s fitting that this chapter in McCloskey’s story will be coming to an end.

He’s quite sure of what’s going to happen now: he will have his curtain call at the end of the semester into a well-earned retirement.

“I’ve accepted it whole-heartedly. I made a conscious decision to do this,” he says. “I’m looking forward to it.”

The 66-year-old is a lifelong resident of Monroe, and has been teaching since he received his bachelor’s degree from Eastern Michigan University in 1972. 

He started out at Jefferson High School, teaching 11th and 12th grades before moving into an assistant principal position. During that time, in 1977, he received his master’s from EMU as well.

“And then I decided… I don’t know what the reason was, necessarily, that I wanted to pursue the doctorate,” he says. “But it was basically just for me. I wasn’t going to make any more money, I wasn’t going to compete with anybody or anything. It was just something I wanted to do.”

McCloskey received his doctorate from the University of Toledo in 1990.

“It was a personal goal for me,” he says. “I tell everybody who is interested in doing that that you have to really want to do it. If you’re doing it for other reasons, other than ‘you want to do it’, then it might not be the best thing.”

His answer to why he came to MCCC is simple.

“I always wanted to teach at a college level,” he says. “And in the 1970s, when I was teaching at Jefferson, I always kind of wanted to do something here. But I couldn’t do anything until I had my master’s degree.

“So, in 1977, as soon as I got my degree, I came out here and applied to teach as an adjunct. I started teaching here – English Composition 1 and 2, a lot of the other courses like literature – like on Saturday, as they offered courses on Saturday. And then, in… 1992? 1992, I think. I interviewed for the job of dean.”

He was hired as dean of Humanities and Social Sciences, beginning in winter semester of 1993. This began what would become a record-breaking 12½-year tenure.

During that first semester, he split his time between his new role and his existing duties at Jefferson.

“I got to meet a lot of people,” he says. “I also got the chance to see a lot of people teach, which is something I don’t get to do as a classroom teacher – you typically don’t go into somebody else’s classroom. But as a dean, some of my jobs included doing evaluations and observations. I saw some very, very good teaching, and I liked doing that.

“But after a while, I just said, ‘Wow, this is just so boring.’ I just didn’t like doing it. I missed teaching.”

Now, although he feels he’s through teaching, he’s planned a final hurrah. He’ll be on the 2017 Study Abroad Trip as an adjunct.

“It was really only because I promised last year that I’d do it again, because I’d liked the first time,” he says. “And I thought that I was going to work here until the end of the year.”

While everyone is understanding of McCloskey’s decision to retire, some are disappointed to lose their colleague and a man who is, by all counts, an enormous amount of fun and a tremendous asset to the college.

“I’ve known Bill since we were in high school,” says fellow English professor Cheryl Johnston.

“I wouldn’t say we knew each other well at that point in our lives, but we had similar backgrounds, so we knew each other. Then years later, he started teaching at Jefferson, where I was a substitute teacher, so we crossed paths again!”

“Then I became an adjunct here, and we were adjunct professors together. Then he became dean of the department and I left SMCC (Saint Mary’s Catholic Central) to teach here full time. So we’ve had this intertwining relationship. We’ve known each other a long, long number of years.”

It’s been said by some that they’re so close they might as well be brother and sister; a view Johnston fully supports.

“We have a very friendly rapport,” she says. “And so we kid each other. When we went on the (Study Abroad 2015) trip together, it was just like going on vacation with your brother.”

McCloskey visits the London Theater during Study Abroad.

Professor of Political Science Joanna Sabo also has known McCloskey for years.

“He mentored me when we were both deans,” she says.

She’s speaking of when she was first hired as dean of the Business Division in 1994. Her intended mentors went AWOL – Jim Stanley quit and Sue Wetzel went on maternity leave a week after her hiring. McCloskey stepped up to the plate.

“We had a lot of fun, and I think we both would agree that one of the things that was nice about being in administration was that we knew we were caretakers of the institution,” she says. 

“Both Bill and I cared deeply about the college as administrators. Because he’d been assistant principal [at Jefferson] before he came here, he had more education background than I did. I came from business and industry, so his insights were very helpful.

“He’s a really calm thinker, so I really appreciated his help over the years.”

Wendy Wysocki, professor of Business and Economics and one of McCloskey’s co-chairs on the Learning Assessment Committee, says much the same.

“I really appreciated the opportunity to work with him as a co-chair for the LAC,” she says. “He really proved to be a wonderful mentor. He’s a wonderful person – he runs meetings well, he’s very knowledgeable.

“I think I appreciate the fact that he allows people to have input as well. It’s always been a pleasure to work with him. I’m looking forward to going on the Study Abroad trip with him as well, and I hope he has a wonderful retirement!”

McCloskey’s knowledge and insight are two of the things that History professor Edmund LaClair will miss most about him.

LaClair tells a story of a time recently when faculty were updating some forms and policies. Even staff who had been at the college ten years or more seemed to not know the purpose of it all.

“And then,” he says with a grin, “Bill just sends me an e-mail, ‘Oh, here’s why we did it, because 20 years ago we did it for these reasons. Here’s how it could be improved, here’s how it could be fixed, and let me know if you have any questions.’

“That’s the power of Bill McCloskey that people don’t see. In the classroom he’s an excellent teacher, but outside it he knows everything worth knowing about the college.”

LaClair emphasizes that McCloskey’s expertise is what the college is losing, and most people won’t even be able to appreciate that as they won’t know.
Student Antoinette Kuzich shares how she’s learned much under his tutelage.

“Bill makes learning both fun and instructive,” she writes in a letter. “He opened my eyes to Shakespeare… and has portrayed both King Lear and Macbeth at the college. When he reads various characters aloud to the class, it creates a new level of understanding of the subject matter. His teaching style is unique.”

Plenty of others have said much the same, including the current dean of Humanities and Social Sciences, Paul Hedeen.

“His teaching was always top-notch. Never had any problems,” Hedeen says. “I appreciated everything he did. He was always a great teaching leader. He just did everything at a very high level of professionalism and sense of humor.

“To be in one of his classes, especially early in one’s career, with the best experience the division had to offer, was probably one of the great college experiences for a number of people. We’re going to miss him.”

When suggested that this, among other reasons, is what makes McCloskey a cornerstone of the college, LaClair’s eyes widen.

“Cornerstone might almost be too light of a term,” he says. “He’s a foundational stone – he’s been here long enough!”

He’s been here so long that his son has begun working at the college as well. Another professor of English, Scott McCloskey has worked for the college as an adjunct for 19 years, winning Adjunct of the Year in 2014. Occasionally, he puts on plays in the Little Theater in the basement of the C Building.

McCloskey plays and directs “King Lear” in a Monroe Community Players Production at Meyer Theater. 

Scott isn’t the only one of McCloskey’s progenies at the college. Brady Spitulski is a writing fellow and McCloskey’s stepson, and describes his stepfather’s tendency to extend his theatricality offstage.

“I think, because he’s really into theater, he’ll play roles even in real-life situations,” says Spitulski. “He was telling us – my family, me and my brothers – about when he was assistant principal at Jefferson, and he would be a real tough guy.

“He’d get into that role. And that wasn’t him – he knew that, even at that time. He would just do it for fun… I feel like he plays roles a lot. It’s not always him, but a role he’s playing?”

This highlights another facet of McCloskey: his theatrical presence. He’s shone onstage both in his capacity as a member of the Monroe County Community Players and at the La-Z-Boy Center’s Meyer Theater, which McCloskey helped design.

“I remember a couple of us sitting down at a table and drawing the outline of what we thought the theater should look like,” he says. “And that was given to the architects, and they took a lot of those ideas and the theater looks like many of the ideas we had. So I was very pleased to have been on the ground floor of the Meyer Theater.”

On the stage, he’s performed as the title character in William Shakespeare’s “King Lear,” which he cites as “one of the greatest plays ever written.” Lear, McCloskey contends, is one of the best characters ever written.

A prior president of the college, who McCloskey still remains very friendly with and keeps nameless out of respect, was continually frazzled by the plays McCloskey put on. He recalls these with a chuckle and a mischievous twinkle in his eye.

“He was always concerned that we were going to cause some kind of scandal at the college,” he says. “We did ‘Equus’, and he called me up and said, ‘Bill, I hear there’s going to be nudity.’ No, no, there was not going to be nudity – they wore body suits.

“‘I heard there’s animal cruelty.’ Well, no, but the main character does stab out the eyes of horses, but it was all symbolic. So he was always very concerned.”

After a celebrated career, McCloskey has definitely earned his retirement.

A quote hanging in his office, of course from “King Lear,” holds special meaning.

“For worse I may yet be. The worst is not, so long as we can say ‘This is the worst.’”    

“I like that line because it reminds me to quit complaining. Because if you complain,” he says, “it might just get worse!”