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For week ended February 06, 2000 Posted 24 Feb 2001
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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."


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