Dr. Ron Howard has a passion for learning. It was cultivated in his childhood growing up on a small family farm in East Tennessee. His parents did not have much education, but they instilled in young Howard a desire to achieve in ways they weren’t able to.
Looking back, Howard mused, “I’ve always thought there is something divine about the learning process.”
Howard has served Mississippi College since 1977 in a variety of ways. He began as a professor in the department of history and political science, teaching survey courses in American history before forging an academic legacy in his signature class – Constitutional Development, better known as “Con-D.” His passion quickly carried him up the ranks, rising to department chair before serving as Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences in 1995. He was still teaching “Con-D” when he became the Vice President for Academic Affairs in 2003.
Fifteen years later, Howard made university history as MC’s first provost; and now he’s making history again as this year’s recipient of the Mississippi College Award of Excellence.
Focusing Howard’s passion for learning is his love of studying history. “Studying history allows one to live vicariously in another time and another place one can’t live in otherwise,” he said. According to him, history is full of patterns that offer a glimpse into the larger human experience. While historians interpret the past differently, causing many to doubt the study’s ability to discern the truth, Howard said, “the truth is found in the whole and complexity of it all.”
Howard’s interest in history was cultivated by his elementary school principal Robert Couch, “one of the best teachers I’ve had in any school.” Couch thought it important his students learn about the past, and the many different people and cultures that inhabit it. The fire kindled by Couch would fuel Howard all the way to Carson Newman University, to the mentorship of Dr. Milton Klein. Klein was Howard’s major professor and thesis director who was “an exciting teacher with a real passion for students” that challenged him to look at subjects beyond the surface level. By the guidance of these two great mentors, Howard graduated magna cum laude with a degree in political science and history, and through his master’s and doctoral programs at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
Howard knows the power of a good mentor, that’s why he was able to be one to so many students.
Dr. Steven Patterson, a professor in the history department, remembers, “He was always really compelling in the classroom, and he was the first professor at MC who really took an interest in me.” Patterson was undecided until his sophomore year, and Howard’s mentorship led him to pursue a degree in history. “He is the reason I am a history teacher,” said Patterson, “and I’m really thankful for him.”
David Parker teaches classes at Mississippi College School of Law and “Con-D” here. Also a former student, Parker recalled, “Taking Constitutional Development from him as an undergrad helped me realize that I found the law interesting enough to become an attorney. Even more importantly, he offered me the chance to teach ‘Con-D’ after him, an incredible class he built over many years. I’m still thankful. For me, it’s the gift that really changed everything. He’s one of the ‘greats’ because he’s spent a lifetime fostering not just a love of learning in his students but developing their gifts and goals and dreams so that they can live with purpose and passion. I hope I can learn to do those things even just half as well as he has.”
Howard is humbled and grateful for his award. “This university, its students, faculty and staff, that means the world to me,” Howard said. “I really feel so blessed to have made my career at MC because it has allowed me to dedicate myself to something larger, rather than my petty self-interest.” He is proud to have been a member of this university’s mission to cultivate “faith for living and learning for life.”
When not helping make MC the quality institution it is, Howard enjoys spending time with his family and grandson. He has authored several books and innumerable articles, and is currently researching a book on contemporary Chinese history.