Is Paul Hedeen a writer who teaches, or a teacher who writes?
Fittingly, the answer is an academic one – rather like Hedeen himself.
Hedeen, who is turning 66 in May, has been in higher education for 38 years. The last seven of those were as MCCC’s dean of humanities and social sciences. He is also a published poet and novelist.
When asked why he decided to become an educator, Hedeen’s answer is indicative of both his careers and a love of communicating with others.
“It started as a way to use my love of literature and writing, I think. Now I like it for its own sake,” he says. “I fell in love with the process.”
Hedeen also finds enjoyment in the students.
“I like being able to sit in a room and talk about things I care about with sort of a captive audience,” he says. “The fact that they all learn together – it’s a nice little community-within-a-community.”
Before he came to MCCC, Hedeen was an English professor for just over three decades across the country.
After graduating from Northwestern University in spring of 1990, Hedeen accepted a position at the University of Maine. Specifically, a branch located in Fort Kent.
“It was great to be in the St. John Valley, to be in far northern Maine, so it was a bilingual community,” he says, referring to the large French population in the area. “That was very interesting.”
According to Hedeen, he taught at UMaine for five years before transferring to the University of Iowa. He taught there for the next 17 years before deciding it was time for a change and looking for administration jobs.
Editor's Note: Hedeen actually taught at Warburton University in Iowa. We apologize for this error.
“I noticed this job, applied for it and got it,” he says. “I had done some administrative work in Iowa – and in Maine, for that matter – so I had some idea what it was like.”
Overall, Hedeen has enjoyed his time as dean.
“It’s been a nice experience, I’ve learned a lot, and I’ve enjoyed being here,” he says.
Hedeen says he wants to take care of his family, get a second Fulbright scholarship, and teach overseas, specifically in Europe.
He also plans to continue writing.
“I’ve got another novel I’ve just begun working on, and I’m also working with my wife on a book for MSU press,” he says. “One of these Discovering Peoples of Michigan books, of different national and ethnic groups who have immigrated to Michigan. We’re doing the one on Ukrainians.”
Hedeen’s wife is from the Ukraine and works as an English as a Second Language teacher in Brownstown. Together they have two daughters, one born in the Ukraine, in addition to Hedeen’s two daughters from his previous marriage.
Hedeen himself was born in Wisconsin in 1953 and grew up there until he was 13. The family then moved to Ohio.
“I had a wonderful upbringing; small towns, good education,” he says.
Hedeen attended Kent State University and attained a Bachelor’s degree in English. After a four-year sabbatical, he attended the University of Akron to get a Master’s, then went to Northwestern in Chicago for his Ph.D.
Hedeen has taught many classes over the years, but he has a few favorites.
“Probably a realism and naturalism class I taught up in Maine – I liked that a lot. I’ve enjoyed teaching cinema a lot. Also creative writing. Those would be my top three,” he says.
Over the time he’s been teaching cinema, Hedeen notes, he’s developed a fondness for black-and-white films, particularly for their storytelling. That isn’t the only thing that’s made itself known to him through the class, however.
“I also like the way that students who have already seen so many films, by the time they took the class, were very conversive,” he says. “They were actually better cinema students than they were literature students because they watched far more films than they read books.”
Hedeen has also released two novels, two collections of poetry, and edited a collection of critical essays by poets.
Hedeen himself has captured the respect of his colleagues, such as adjunct professor of English Clara VanEnkevort.
“Doctor Hedeen has been a truly wonderful boss – considerate, reliable, and witty – and I know that this opinion is shared by my colleagues,” she writes in an e-mail.
Professor of English Jenna Bazzell has nothing but praise for the departing dean.
“Dr. Hedeen has been incredibly supportive of all my endeavors at the college,” she says. “Especially with the Images reveal.”
Kojo Quartey, president of the college, likewise has nothing but nice things to say.
“I find him to be a highly intelligent individual,” he says. “With his demeanor at times, you don’t realize he can be quite humorous. We hate to see him go; he has been a great asset to this institution and his division.”
Robin West Smith, adjunct professor of sociology, has worked with Hedeen for four years, and also sings his praises.
“I’ve worked in corporate America for 30 years. I can count on one hand the number of bosses that I would count as being worthy of my respect and admiration,” she says. “He was one of those.”
Living in Oak Park, Smith drives 100 miles round-trip to come to MCCC. She says this is entirely because of her respect and admiration for Hedeen.
“I think many of us see Dr. Hedeen as a mentor. He is steadfast and supportive in that role,” Michele Toll, professor of English, writes in an e-mail.
Hedeen will, in turn, miss his colleagues.
“We have a lot of good people in this division who work very hard,” he says.
But he singles out Administrative Assistant Rachel Eagle especially.
“Oh, in particular, I’m going to miss Rachel a lot,” he says. “She’s just wonderful, professional.”
Eagle herself is scarcely able to believe Hedeen is leaving.
“When he told me he was going to retire… he’s kind of alluded he was going to for some time now.
“But it was always ‘someday, when I retire,’ and so, when it became official, I wasn’t quite prepared for it. Losing that colleague, mentor… friend,” Eagle said.
Eagle goes on to speak about their work relationship.
“I value him as a colleague because he puts so much value in others, and I think that’s the key to a great boss,” she says. “He values everyone, and it shows – people will mimic that.”
Additionally, at MCCC’s Honors Night on April 17, Hedeen won the Outstanding Diversity Program of the Year Award for his privilege walk exercise.
As for his successor, all Hedeen has to say is simple.
“Get to know your colleagues, form good relationships with them; everything follows from there,” he says. “A good college is just about getting good people and all pulling together.”
Smith may have phrased his departure from the college best.
“It’s a hell of a loss!”