I share the Dr. John Kuhlman experience with Senator Kaine. I remember being warned away from his antitrust course at the University of Missouri. It seems that Dr. Kuhlman expected class attendance and demanded engagement. You did both because you wanted him to validate your grasp of economics; he inspired.
This past August, Senator Kaine took the opportunity to recognize one of the finest men I’ve ever had the pleasure to have known. And I know I speak for the multitude of us, some 40,000 who were his students, when I belatedly thank the Senator for expressing our collective appreciation. John Kuhlman’s tutelage was Socratic and a treasure that those who never met him know from their own best mentors. This says a lot about both of these men.
It is the essence of the Kuhlman experience that I share with our Senator. While Senator Kaine was completing his BA in three years and enjoyed a freshman honors course with the man, I was in one of his courses maybe a year earlier during one of my six long sophomore semesters. It was as Kaine noted in one of many letters to Dr. Kuhlman after departing Columbia, the moral dimension of his character that left the deepest impression.
I recall many Kuhlmanisms. He always sounded gruff. He told my class that he did not allow his children to watch television except maybe the news. Similar to the account of the Senator’s regarding class attendance, he told us it was illogical to skip class because we were paying for it. “Why would you not take advantage of something you paid for?”
One of the recurring assignments was an essay titled “Gee Whiz, Look What I Found Out.” We were tasked to research corporate relationships that were anti-competitive and collusive. Turned out these were easy to find with only a bit of imagination. We then were required to meet him at his office and present and defend our conclusions. Students lined up apprehensively. He was hard of hearing even then and sometimes turned off his hearing aid because of noise from the lights in the office. The result was that he spoke loud enough for everyone in line outside his door to hear and that was a motivator to have your act together.
The centerpiece of my course was a massive piece of legislation proposed by Senator Phil Hart (D-MI) that would set up an anti-trust prosecution and court system. Dr. Kuhlman was a proponent. At the end of the semester we were to have two teams of three debate the merits of the legislation. The class would determine the winner. I ended up the lead of the pro-antitrust side. The day came and we debated the merits. It was lively and when it came time for the final rebuttal, I knew it had been a near draw so in mine I made an appeal to emotion. The big three automakers had just announced layoffs over the Christmas Holidays. Some in the class were moved to tears. My team was voted the winner.
I was relieved. However, Dr. Kuhlman pulled me aside after class. He did not cotton to my final appeal and explained quite clearly that while we had done very well presenting our case, we would never know if we had really prevailed. Winning, after all, isn’t everything.
The next semester I went by his office to tell him I had decided to transfer to the University of Richmond. He looked at me and grinned. Turned out he, like Senator Kaine later, had taught at UR. He’d been there in the early ‘50s in the days of publish or perish; as much for the additional income as for tenure. “Transfer,” he raised his voice, “you’d do well to transfer. These Chicago School guys here don’t think much of you!” I bade farewell and was amused by the looks on the faces of those in line waiting the defense of their discoveries and who had heard only the one side of the conversation.
Unlike Senator Kaine, I never wrote Dr. Kuhlman after I departed Columbia. But his influence along with that of a history professor at Mizzou, Dr. David Thelen, whose brother, oddly enough, taught at Virginia Commonwealth University, led me to work on the Presidential campaign of Senator Fred Harris (D-OK).
Years later, Kuhlman was one of the first searches I did using a search engine. There he was, mentioned in praise early on. I wondered what had come of him.
Then in 2008 I came across an article in the New York Times: Nearly Deaf Professor Teaches English Literacy, One Student at a Time. This is the kind of man John Kuhlman is. This is his essence and why he is so loved by so many students.
And I did take the time to write the author of the piece, Samuel Freedman, to thank him for honoring this man. Consistent with that, I am thanking the next Vice-President for all who studied under the man. Freedman responded but I’ll understand if the Senator is busy.