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Maurice Tugwell: living the teaching life

March 29, 2019

Maurice Tugwell estimates that he taught Economics to about 13,000 students during his 35-year career at Acadia. Even more impressive is that within three weeks of classes starting, he knew every one of them by name. It’s no wonder that when former students mention him, the word “inspiring” often arises.

“My birthday is near the end of September, and I pledged with myself that I would know every one of my students’ names by the time my birthday came around, so I could say hello to them by name,” Tugwell says.

Along the way, he was awarded the Acadia Alumni Association Excellence in Teaching Award, the Acadia Students’ Union “Most Wanted” Teacher Recognition Award, and the Atlantic Universities’ Distinguished Teacher Award.

Tugwell arrived at Acadia in 1972 as a fresh-faced 25-year-old. Between then and his retirement in 2007, Acadia was his life. In February 2010, he was teaching with Class Afloat on the tall ship Concordia when it sank 500 kilometres off the coast of Brazil. After spending nearly two days in lifeboats, all 64 people on board were rescued. Today, he continues to serve his community, including as a director on the Alumni Board of Mount Allison University. 

Beyond the classroom

In teaching, the side conversations can be as important as classroom work, he says. “All those little conversations in the hallway. The opportunity to be observant and notice an individual who is going to make a difference if you give them a chance. Others who don’t know exactly what they are to be doing – have a little chat on the side for that.”

The impact of technology on teaching continues to evolve, but it’s no substitute for human interaction, he believes. “Small communities of learning will be enhanced with technological developments, but you cannot replace face-to-face, one-on-one, small-group opportunities to engage in ideas,” he says. “And that’s what a place like Acadia does really well.”

Tugwell especially values the years he was a faculty rep on Acadia’s Students’ Representative Council. “That gave me a wonderful experience working closely with enthusiastic young people making a difference while dealing with some challenging situations,” he says. The experience made him think about students who sacrifice high marks for the opportunity to become leaders, commit themselves to valuable causes, and make a difference. “They could get A’s if that’s all they did,” he says. “I’d much prefer to find students tumbling out of Convocation Hall with a well-rounded exposure. It’ll make them better people and they’ll have richer careers as a consequence.”

During his time at Acadia, he and his family always lived close to campus. “I can’t separate Acadia from my family,” he says. “Sure, the professors, but the people in the food services and the custodians and the secretaries and all the people that make this come together – they were my extended family, no question. We lived on the west side of campus, so my children had to walk through campus to get to the Wolfville School. And I would walk through with them on the way home sometimes. It was my life.”

Small communities of learning will be enhanced with technological developments, but you cannot replace face-to-face, one-on-one, small-group opportunities to engage in ideas, and that's what a place like Acadia does really well.”

Targeting donations

Tugwell sees particular value in three kinds of donations to Acadia. First, an endowment that would enable professors to keep a few students working on projects over the summer. Second, an endowed chair in a department of the donor’s choice that would pay a professor’s salary, especially today when so many talented academics must move from one temporary position to another. Third – the kind of donation he himself has made – a contingency fund to help students in times of need. He’s thinking of those students who are engaged in what he calls “Acadia the good” – Students’ Representative Council, individuals who are staying over into the spring and not starting their summer job yet because they’re preparing for student leadership roles in the fall.

Although he served in administrative roles – Economics Department Head, Assistant Dean of Arts, Acting Dean of Arts, Acting Vice-President (Academic), and University Marshall – they’re not where his heart lies. “It’s the classroom – meaning the broad sense of education – that I embrace in recollection,” he says.