Thursday, February 23, 2012

Chapman Lost Three Stars

Chapman Loses Three Stars

Chapman University has suffered three major losses in the past two months, two esteemed faculty members and a stellar student. Professors Richard Doetkott and Katherine Darmer were standouts at Chapman, a university which emphasizes teaching excellence. Both died unexpectedly, Dick from a heart attack and Katherine from a fall. Professor Doetkott, a youthful 75 year old, led a full life while Katherine was in her personal and professional prime at 47, leaving two young children behind. The third loss was Daniel Ottesen, a outstanding third year law student, who had yet to start his professional career.

Professor Richard Doetkott joined the Chapman Faculty in 1964. He’s one of the last to experience the transition of Chapman from a small college with 300 students, and in danger of missing a payroll, to the impressive university it has become today. Dick’s blood flowed Chapman red. He lived for the students, and was beloved by them in return. He camped out in front of Argyros Forum under a canopy at lunch in his unofficial, self-appointed status as the student’s faculty ombudsmen.

Dick was also a strong fighter for faculty self-governance. He chaired the Chapman Chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP).

I was appointed to a faculty committee several years ago to create Chapman’s faculty senate, since the university’s growing size made the existing corporate governance structure unmanageable. We went to the first committee meeting. Dick was sitting there, having already drafted the faculty senate structure and its bylaws. As I quickly learned, my colleagues expected no less from him. They had worked extensively with Dick over the years. The Faculty approved his plan.

One of the highest honors for Chapman faculty is to deliver the annual Aims of Education Speech to the parents of incoming freshmen at fall orientation. Professor Doetkott was so honored 12 years ago. His complete presentation was from memory without notes, cue cards, or a teleprompter. His field was Communications, and his
approach “Old School.”

“The Speech God” taught Communications Studies 101, his speech course teaching his approach to public speaking. The students loved it.

Professor Darmer was a premier law professor as a teacher and scholar. She was educated at Princeton and Columbia Law School. She came from an academic family. Her father is the Chair of the Philosophy Department at Baylor.

She was aggressive, but respectful in her views, as one might expect from a former federal prosecutor. There was nothing philosophical or jurisprudential in her approach.

Katherine co-founded the Orange County Equality Coalition, which advocated for gay rights and gay marriage. She vigorously opposed Professor John Yoo and Gitmo, and co-authored an amicus brief against California’s Proposition 8. Chapman’s

President, Jim Doti, normally does not get involved in public controversies, but he signed onto the brief. President Doti praised Professor Darmer as a "zealot advocate for equal rights for our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters."

Katherine had just witnessed one of the greatest legal victories of her career. The Ninth Circuit had affirmed the unconstitutionality of Prop 8, but she lost her battle, a carefully kept secret, against depression, one of the most insidious diseases of modern civilization.

Katherine and I agreed on some political issues and disagreed on others, but there was always mutual respect.

It’s not so easy to the praises of a bright light who had yet to gain professional recognition. Those who knew Daniel Ottesen recognized him as a rising star. Professors can spot students destined for great success in life.

Dan had already led a full life, as a Mormon missionary, surfer in Hawaii, Mexico, and San Diego, but especially as a benefactor. His promise was for the future. I do not like to make generalizations of people based on their religion. However, Dan epitomized the Mormon - hardworking, energetic, friendly, thoughtful of others, and always optimistic.

His death was totally inexplicable. He died of an anaphylactic reaction to prescription medication. His spirit lives on.

Richard, Katherine, and Dan were integral parts of Chapman University, the intangibles that propel an institution to greatness. They represented the past, present, and future of Chapman. Their spirit is now an eternal part of Chapman.

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