Bill Brower to retire after 34 years at JSC

Mesa Aupperlee

Bill Brower

Associate Professor of Behavioral Sciences Dr. Bill Brower, the college’s resident anthropologist, is retiring in May after 34 years of teaching at JSC.

“Bill is an extraordinary teacher and stellar human being,” said Susan Green, Professor of Behavioral Sciences. “ He is the kindest and gentlest of men; his quiet wisdom will be missed greatly.”

Brower majored in psychology, art and religion as an undergraduate, and then went on to get an M.S. in film. He was attracted to anthropology’s interdisciplinary nature and received his Ph.D. in cultural anthropology from the University of Colorado. Before coming to JSC, Brower was a field research anthropologist studying in Alaska, the former Soviet Union, locally in Vermont and wherever he might be.

He specializes in Shamanism, visual anthropology, and universal aspects of healing and illness experiences. His research covers a wide variety of topics, ranging from immersing himself in other cultures, such as living with the Eskimos of northern Alaska, to research on lower back pain, to photographing holiday yard decorations.

While some may just see decorations, Brower is interested in the cultural background and how northern Euro-Asian shamanism has been absorbed by modern America; how we decorate our homes and ourselves tells us a lot about our roots and where we came from.

Robert Warren, former professor of sociology and at one time assistant academic dean at JSC, worked for many years with Brower and noted the college will be losing a very special person. “Bill has always been a calm, centered and focused colleague throughout his time at Johnson, the proverbial calm in the middle of the storm,” said Warren. “He was for me a great support, trusted colleague and a man of great integrity.”

Warren said he has long been amazed by Brower’s remarkable tolerance for extreme cold weather. “Those who know Bill know that he did his PhD fieldwork in northern Alaska, Barrow to be exact, where he learned to love the cold so much that he is the only person I know who considers a heater to be optional equipment in a vehicle,” he said. “Some of us would come to work on the coldest days of winter, complaining about the cold, shivering and just plain miserable, and there would be Bill standing outside of McClelland Hall with a smile on his face, waiting until the last minute before heading to his office, not having turned on the heater in his car as he drove the 15 or so miles to the college.”

As a medical and psychological anthropologist, Brower is involved with long-term studies of conflicting cultures of illness and wellness among patients and care providers. Also, he is creating a universal, holistic and integrative model of cross cultural health that can be applied to all societies and medical conditions. Brower incorporates photography into his work studying people, analyzing visual aspects of societies, and studying the globalization of visual culture.

“I try to emphasize that we are consciously aware of only a fraction of all that we do, and though mysterious, human behavior is understandable,” said Brower on his teaching. “Teaching has become a large part of what I do. In my spare moments, I’m always thinking about it, always trying to figure out a way to better communicate a concept or a better way to respond to student questions and comments. It’s something I can’t put down. I feel I’m always trying to do it better. You know, the quest for being the best you can be — and you may never reach it — but it’s in the quest that it manifests itself.”

For Brower, the focus has always been on communication, whether it’s with different cultures or with his students. “What I think I’ll miss most about not teaching is the experience of connecting with a group of people and having that mutual recognition that something positive has really happened in our communication,” he said. “It’s not just me teaching them but the interactive quality I’ll miss. When the teaching goes well, the learning goes well and both sides can teach.”

His love of teaching aside, Brower noted there are some aspects of it he won’t miss “On a simple level I won’t miss grading papers,” he said. “Also the routine of it. I don’t necessarily like to be constrained with things in time. The freedom of time use is something I think I’ll look forward to.”

Professor of Behavioral Sciences David Fink will be losing both a cherished colleague and steady presence within his department when Brower retires in May. “One of my favorite memories about Bill is years ago I was writing a song ‘Cycle of the Moon’,” said Fink. “I needed information on cultural traditions about naming the moons. I asked Bill, who provides me with numerous resources in native cultures. It was the sort of thing that was so typical of Bill, the delight he received in answering a question that stirred his interest. Bill is one of the dearest and most wonderful people I’ve ever been privileged to work with as a colleague. He’s always thoughtful, cordial, reflective and perceptive. He has been a central and steady presence in the Behavioral Sciences department.

He is held in the highest esteem as a friend, colleague and professional.”

Those qualities of depth and decency noted by his teaching colleagues were echoed by JSC President Barbara Murphy: “Bill is an incredibly decent and kind guy. He’s a person who presents himself in a very quiet and unassuming way and is also someone with a lot of depth to his interests. It seems that students who have had a chance to have some of the higher level courses with him have been particularly impressed with his far reaching knowledge.”

After giving himself some time off, Brower said he plans to return to his photographic interests and to travel more. Also, with advice from his wife, he’s thinking of writing a book about the counter culture of the 1960s from an anthropological point of view.

“There is a lot going on in the world that we would like to change but we need to have the wisdom to know when we can and when we can’t or when we should or when we shouldn’t and then the question is: Who’s to say?” said Brower. “It’s an eternal question. People should feed their heads and follow their passions. Never stop trying to learn. There is never enough learning. I’d hope I could urge people to be open to that and develop a lifelong habit of being open and receptive to new ideas, behaviors and new ways of living.”

While Brower may be looking forward to new adventures, many students will regret his depatture. “I had the pleasure and honor of taking every single course that Professor Brower has taught at JSC,” said Sarah Willis. “I took so many of his courses I was able to minor in Anthropology. He is approachable and easy to work with … I cannot say enough great things about him.”

Nor could Adam Baker.“He’s the best teacher I ever had,” he said. “A great guy.”