Laurence A. Becker - Master's: English, 1966

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Laurence Becker

I received my BA from The University of Texas in 1958 in Plan II (with an emphasis in Philosophy). While an undergraduate I was Captain of the varsity tennis team and received the Ex-Students award for the highest academic average of any (all sports) graduating senior.

I returned to UT Graduate School in 1962 after having taught for four years at Schreiner Institute, a Presbyterian boys' military high school and junior college in Kerrville, TX. I had been introduced to Dr. David J. DeLaura, Victorian scholar and Head of Freshman English. He encouraged me to apply as a TA because of my teaching experience and my academic record. One of the first classes I took was “Criticism of the Novel” taught by Professor David Hayman. The first day he announced, “Since you are all working on a Ph.D., I assume you are fluent in French and German. What other languages do you know?” Also, “We will read a novel and a critical work each week.” Welcome to Graduate School!

Another professor was T. P .Harrison, a Milton scholar and a true Southern gentleman in every way except that he went out of his way to embarrass women students. Few survived his classes. His questioning was often ruthless. I had many fine professors in the English Department including Joe Slate and Max Westbrook, but certainly Dr. DeLaura stood out as the first professor I had ever had who combined literature, culture, theology and philosophy as we made our way across the Victorian landscape. I was fascinated by his approach. I asked him to direct my thesis on “Continuity within Change: A Study of Matthew Arnold’s Thought in His Poetry and Selected Literary Criticism.” According to Dr. DeLaura it was the first study to show that the seeds of positive thought found in Arnold’s later prose were actually present in the early dark and negative poetry.

One of my most significant challenges as a graduate student and as a TA was to take over an advanced Freshman English class at mid-term when the former teacher dropped dead upon handing in his completed dissertation. I found out that he had not graded a single paper during the first half of the semester as he was completing his own Ph.D. work, so I taught an entire semester in half the time.

The conclusion to my graduate work at UT took place in the summer of 1966 when I was in the English building to have my MA thesis approved. Suddenly the campus was ablaze with gunfire as Charles Whitman ascended the tower and began to pick off total strangers throughout the UT campus with high powered rifles. Members of the NRA were actually called to the third floor of the English building to fire at him because the Austin police department had no weapons powerful enough to reach him. Thus my graduate experience is framed as it were by the sudden introduction to the rigors and expectations of critical analysis and the action of a deranged former student who changed forever for many of us the tower at the center of the UT campus.

I went on to serve for ten years as Chairman of the English Department at St. Stephen’s Episcopal School in Austin, where I founded and directed for 6 years the Texas Student Film Festival, one of the largest and best student film festivals in the US. I then directed and produced the international, award-winning documentary film WITH EYES WIDE OPEN about autistic savant artist Richard Wawro. For the past thirty-five years I have worked with and written about some of the world’s most prolific autistic savant artists. I continue to enjoy returning each spring to attend the Plan II Perspectives class. I also continue to play and coach tennis.

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