Mount St. Joseph University

Versatile Professor to Retire After 33 Years

Dateline: student newspaper

By: Josh Zeller

Since he was hired in 1983, Dr. Michael Klabunde, who plans on retiring after next semester, has seen the many changes that Mount St. Joseph University has gone through over time. He has seen it grow in so many different ways: technologically, from one computer in the entire facility to a computer in every room; in numbers, as the Mount officially opened its doors to men in 1986; physically, to include the Harrington Center, a parking garage, and a football stadium; programmatically, from two graduate offerings (in religious studies and education) to ten. But most importantly, the Mount has been a source of great professional growth for him over the years, he says.

His history with that institution began with the classifieds. “I had just come back to Cincinnati after spending some time with grandma, who was dying at the time, and I didn’t have a job,” says Klabunde. “I was sitting having lunch with a friend, and in the newspaper there was an ad.”

The ad listed an opening at Mount St. Joseph University for an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher. Dr. Klabunde had explored his interest in languages through the Bachelor’s degrees he received in Classics and Hebrew at The Ohio State University, and had gone on to the graduate Ancient History Program at University of Cincinnati where he was immersed in Greek, Latin, German, and French. He had also spent years living in Greece, where he had taught English to the internationals there, and Greek to expatriates. These were the impressive qualifications that got him the job, and after only two years he took over the ESL program. Under his direction, the program  began to change, connecting a small, liberal arts college to the world through the rise of the International Student Program. 

This program was still connected to ESL, but in addition to being taught English, the students earned a degree at the same time. “I got out into the world a lot because I did all of that recruiting for the Mount,” recalls Klabunde of his contributions to the program’s expansion. “For 20 years I was going to East Asia, to the Middle East, to Latin America.”

The faculty loved the program for the unique cultural perspectives that its participants brought to class discussion; the art program in particular was filled with international students. But the growth came to a halt after the events of Sept. 11, 2001, which forever altered the United States’ relationship with those outside its borders. Though numbers of international students soared, numbers for the ESL program went way down. As a result, the Mount  hosts only a few foreign students today, most of whom have already been living in the United States when they come here.

“I really miss [the program],” Klabunde says, “I think the Mount is poorer for not having the amount of international students.”

One thing that has always stayed consistent at the Mount, though, is the rich diversity of the faculty’s expertise. Starting with Barbara Mallet—his boss and mentor when he first started—he has constantly been impressed by his colleagues.

“The Mount, in my view, has this absolutely unerring ability to hire cool people,” he says. “I go down the hall if I have a question about philosophy, or I go up the hall, and I ask questions about science, or I go down the other hall and talk about music. This is like a smorgasbord, you know?”

Concerning his own role as a professor, Klabunde is grateful for the attitude among humanities faculty at the Mount, which has followed the mantra of former longtime department chair Bill Schutzius: “We are all generalists.” As a result, he has gotten to teach literature, history, and linguistics; at a larger university he would have been forced to specialize. The Mount’s liberal attitude has led a wide part of the student body to have experienced his teaching, as he has come across history majors, English majors, and non-majors taking their history and English credits.

After his last semester, Dr. Klabunde plans on having some well-deserved time to himself, in order to explore further his many intellectual passions: “I don’t intend to be a vegetable. I want to read, I want to travel, I want to play with languages. I’m not planning on writing the definitive magnum opus, not in particular, but on the other hand, I’m not just going to fade into the sunset. I’m going to do what I want to do. And that’s mainly, read.”