Campus honors historian

Dr. Keith Bates, associate professor of history, works with Mary Alisa Techentin, senior history major, to restore the Neil House at Casey Jones Village with the History Department during Campus and Community Day last fall. | Photo by Kristi McMurry

By Rachel Golias

“How can you not want to meet Babe Ruth?”
Dr. Keith Bates, associate professor of history, has a long list of “dead people” he would like to meet — from presidents to fundamentalists to sports players — but Union University students would be the first to say he is not always looking to the past.

Students and faculty nominated Bates to receive the “Faculty of the Year” award, which was presented at Awards Day chapel. The historian and famed storyteller, who has taught at Union for seven years, is a student favorite and can often be seen mingling in Brewer Dining Hall or Barefoots Joe.

After graduating from Union with a B.A. in history and religion, Bates went on to receive his M.A. from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Ph.D. from Kansas State University. Through his career, Bates has focused his research on Christian fundamentalism and evangelical history.

Question: What historical figure would you most like to meet?

Answer: There are a number of them. I am fascinated with Martin Luther in many ways, and as an American, I would love to have lunch with Abraham Lincoln.

There are others, such as the fundamentalists I study, whom I would not necessarily want to hang out with but I would like to meet. There is a pastor named J. Frank Norris called the “Texas Tornado.” He was the fundamentalist leader of the South … (and) one quick meet would be nice. When I wrote my dissertation, I focused on a man named John R. Rice, a major fundamentalist leader in the 20th century. You spend that much time looking at someone’s life and getting to know his family, you want to meet him.

There are also plenty of sports figures I would like to meet. I am a University of Alabama Crimson Tide fan so (Paul) “Bear” Bryant is definitely in there, but how can you not want to meet Babe Ruth?

Q: What do you like to do with your family?

A: My wife Lisa and I were high school sweethearts. We will be married for 16 years this summer. We garden together — well she gardens while I dig and water. This weekend we put in all of our flowers for the summer, and my daughter Rachel, who will be three this summer, got into the dirt and water. Rachel also loves music. I do not dance … but when Rachel says ‘Daddy let’s dance,’ we dance.

Q: What are some of your favorite hobbies?

A: I enjoy all sports. I’ve recently taken up road-cycling in the last six months. In an academic sense, I read when I can, although like you guys, there is not much of a chance to read during the semester. I mostly watch sports, but I like comedies such as “The Office.”

Q: Where would you like to travel if you go anywhere?

A: I spent two weeks in Australia about 10 years ago, and would love to go back and take my wife. I’ve never been to Europe but would like to spend some time there too.

Q: If you could have a super power, what would it be?

A: How about to turn-back time so I could change some things or meet some of those dead people.

Q: What is your favorite aspect of teaching?

A: I enjoy interacting with, challenging and getting feedback from my students. I want to see my students grow in a holistic manner as people and thinkers. The best and worst part of the job is seeing students graduate that you have gotten to know. It is great because you want them to move on with their lives and do things, but there is a number with whom you grow close.

I also enjoy my colleagues. There are five of us full-time in the History Department and one adjunct. As colleagues, we are friends, we challenge each other and we have different personalities. These individuals add to my life and Lisa’s life. Summers off are not bad either.

Q: What does it mean to be named Faculty of the Year?

A: I am honored by the fact  my students and colleagues saw fit to name me (Faculty of the Year). To me it is an honor to have people you respect show respect for the work you have done. If you do something you love and care about, you do not expect rewards but it means a lot when someone recognizes the work you do.

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The Cardinal & Cream is a student publication of Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. Our staff ranges from freshmen to seniors and includes a variety of majors — including journalism, public relations, advertising, marketing, digital media studies, graphic design and art majors.