Summarized by Kent Larsen
This professor's a poet and a hiker
Ogden UT Standard Examiner 4Feb00 P2
By Leo Tyson Dirr: Standard-Examiner staff
OGDEN, UTAH -- Weber State University professor Mikel Vause, mountaineer
and environmentalist, has built a strong reputation for himself and for
the University in his tenure there. Vause, 47, is an English professor
and the Director of the Honors Program at Weber. He is also a returned
missionary and has served in three bishoprics.
Much of the praise for Vause has come from the National Undergraduate
Literature Conference he co-directs with professor Carl Porter. The
conference, started 15 years ago was called "a crown jewel of the
university" by a Weber State spokesman. The program brings 130 to 160
undergraduates to Weber each Spring semester to read papers. It also
attracts international literary figures like Carlos Fuentes, Peter
Matthiessen, and Ray Bradbury.
This year's conference, in April, will feature writers Kurt Vonnegut and
Chitra Divakaruni. Vause started the conference 15 years ago with a
colleague as simply a way to have a small literary conference at Weber.
But the conference took off, "We weren't thinking on grandiose scales,"
Vause says. "We were just trying to do something in the state of Utah."
Soon professors from all over the nation were expressing interest, and
Vause gained a reputation, along with Weber, "You find something like
this at elite Ivy League schools but rarely at a state university," says
Alan Cheuse, novelist and book commentator for National Public Radio's
"All Things Considered."
Vause is an Ogden native who left home at age 13 in a dispute with his
parents over a tattoo he got at the circus. But in spite of that and
trouble in school, a 6-foot-4, 230 pound English teacher piqued his
interest in literature. After a mission taught him to study and "that I
was smarter than what I thought I was and what others had led me to
believe," he returned to Weber as an undergraduate at age 27. He went on
to earn a doctorate from Bowling Green University before returning to
teach at Weber State.
"(Vause) is one of the great stars of the university," says English
department chairman Candadai Seshachari. "He brings prominence and
contributes in many positive ways. ... But he's worked at being what he
is." And that is more than simply an English teacher.
Vause climbs mountains and is a committed environmentalist. He is always
coming up with 'crackpot' ideas, many of which pan out, including a
class called "A Field Study in American Wilderness Literature and
Philosophy," which he started with now-retired philosophy professor Jock
Glidden. "Mike's always coming up with all types of ideas," Glidden
says. "Some are crackpot and I don't listen to. But that one seemed
good." As part of the class, the two professors would take students into
the mountains and leave them alone overnight to reflect on an essay
written by an American Indian.
But Vause hasn't left his religion behind. While he has served in three
bishoprics, he has also written a chapter that reconciles Mormon
theology with Darwin's Theory of Evolution for a book written by
friends. "I'm fiercely defensive of the Mormon Church," he says.
"Though he is a Mormon, he doesn't see himself as primarily that," says
Jock Glidden, the retired philosophy professor. "He includes Mormons and
gentiles in his universe without distinction."