English professor and former Howard College of Arts and Sciences dean David Chapman arrived at Samford in 1990, as culture wars raged elsewhere in higher education and the university launched its ambitious core curriculum program. Samford had committed to a foundational educational experience that was interdisciplinary, interactive, international and for all students. “Many people insisted that average students could not handle a rigorous core curriculum, but for over two decades Samford’s core curriculum has succeeded in providing a unique foundation for the Samford learning experience,” Chapman recalled on the eve of his retirement. “Such a curriculum insists that the problems of the present can only be fully addressed by understanding the wisdom of the past.”
“At the same time we were pioneering an ambitious core curriculum that introduced students to writers and thinkers such as Sophocles, Plato, Dante, Shakespeare, and Austen, we were also moving forward in innovative approaches to teaching,” Chapman said. When he became dean in 2001, he helped promote and lead those innovations, building from Samford’s receipt of one of the Pew Foundation’s largest-ever single-university grants to develop Problem Based Learning in the undergraduate curriculum. Other “powerful pedagogies” followed, emphasizing the service learning, collaborative learning and undergraduate research that are essential components of the modern Samford experience.
Deans are expected to lead such changes, but one of Chapman’s most rewarding experiences–reviving the Samford community’s memory of John Howard–was not in his professional brief. Although Samford took its original name from Howard, Chapman found that the influential 18th-century humanitarian was largely forgotten.
“I believe Howard’s work in prison reform is an ideal reflection of what we hope will be the outcome of a Christian education for all our students—the use of our talents and skills to further the work of God “on earth as it is in heaven,” Chapman said. As dean until 2016, and then as professor of English, he led a concerted effort to link man and mission, founding the John Howard Scholars program, commissioning a reproduction of the famous Howard statue in St. Paul’s Cathedral and writing and producing a play about Howard’s final years.
During commencement week, Chapman was packing for a commencement of his own. He will move to a new home on a lake in Charlotte, North Carolina, to be near grandchildren and enjoy kayaking and canoeing with family.