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The Many Metamorphoses of Robert Dupree
May 12, 2023
The UD stalwart is finishing a 57-year career of not standing still.

It was the eve of finals week and students were unusually rowdy. As Robert Dupree, BA ’62, Ph.D., made his way to his chair, students went on about their conversations, almost as if they hadn’t noticed him. Here, Dupree took a moment to gaze around at each student. The class went on to review the influence of Ovid in Western literature. As class came to an end, the professor made his farewells.

“I look forward to reading your papers,” he said. “I hope to learn from them.” Students gave a lively ovation and said their goodbyes.

Dupree has been an English professor at the University of Dallas for nearly 60 years. During this time, he has undergone constant transformation in true Ovidian style, flying easily between disciplines, gathering skills and languages and establishing an esteemed reputation among students and colleagues for his invaluable contributions to the university and the academic world.

Dupree’s professional career began at the University of Dallas just two years after it was established in 1956. He attended UD on a full scholarship, based on academic merit, from Lancaster High School. Within his first semester, Dupree was quickly recognized as a promising scholar for exceeding the expectations of undergraduate standards and succeeding in advanced courses in French and philosophy. 

One professor in particular, the late Louise Cowan, Ph.D., was especially drawn to the young scholar and was convinced he belonged as an instructor at UD. Dupree never wanted to be a teacher, though, much less an English professor. In fact, his original plan was to study physics. But after taking a course under the brilliant Cowan, he was enraptured. Cowan’s passion for literature spurred Dupree to change majors and eventually pursue a doctoral degree. Aside from literature, Dupree also took an interest in French and philosophy — so much so that he could have graduated with a triple major. Instead, he was satisfied with a double major in English and French literature. 

“Two was enough,” Dupree smiles. “Another major did not matter — I took the classes I wanted to take.” 

Dupree graduated as class valedictorian in the spring of 1962. Afterward, he received the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship, a prestigious award that gives the recipient a full scholarship to the graduate school of his choosing. The programs he applied to were mainly in the Ivy League. In the end, every school accepted him, but Dupree chose Yale. Before arriving at Yale, however, Dupree studied abroad in France at the University of Caen Normandy. After a year of studying French, eating baguettes and wearing berets, Dupree returned to America to begin his doctoral studies in the fall of 1963. As fast as he was recognized at UD, it was not long before his Yale professors started eyeballing him as well. One particularly eager professor urged him to begin his dissertation before the end of his first semester. But even though Yale adopted him quickly, it wasn’t UD. He belonged in Texas. Before he had even graduated from Yale, Dupree was teaching at UD. The courses he taught, Menippean Satire and Survey of British Literature, have since become favorites among students. He taught these courses while simultaneously finishing his dissertation in the spring of 1966.

After graduating from Yale that fall, Dupree returned as a full-time faculty member to the University of Dallas, where he has spent decades teaching approximately 30 different courses and 6,000 students, including those from his time in France, Rome, Singapore and Liechtenstein. Some of his courses have covered music history, French, drama and English literature, including one of his last courses on Ovid and the influence of “Metamorphoses.” In a way, Dupree has enjoyed transformations of his own, becoming a jack-of-all-trades professor of manifold skills. One of Dupree’s former students, a current master’s student named Gema Guevara, called him “a true renaissance man.” Attempting to interpret Dupree’s metamorphoses from an Ovidian perspective, Guevara settled on an image of flight.

“Dr. Dupree would likely be a nightingale because it sings so beautifully and flies on the wings of poesy, to quote Keats,” Guevara said.

She’s right. Dupree’s constant search for knowledge can be compared to a bird’s airy ascendance, soaring beyond view, leaving superficial scholarship with the earthbound trees and rocks. Although it’s taken him time, he has persisted in an attitude of constant learning.

“You see, one of the reasons I stayed here was that I had the opportunity to teach almost anything that interested me: the art and architecture of Rome, because we needed a course like that there; I put that one together and it’s still being taught — in fact, I had some far more distinguished successors, as it turned out, a very well-known architect; I’ve taught music history courses because ever since I was in my teens, I’ve been interested in music history and playing music; … and literary criticism and theory, and drama, and history of the theater,” Dupree recalled.

“Whatever they need, I’m willing to take on because it interests me and I consider myself as much a student as I am a professor.”

This has surely been the case in his Ovid course this year. At the beginning of the semester, class would begin with a briefing of the assigned readings and then would convert into an open discussion for questions students brought forward. Yet as the semester unfolded, the briefings metamorphosed into lectures. Many preferred it this way because Dupree’s “briefings” are thoroughly illuminating. Dupree naturally answers questions in his lectures, a sign of a good professor presenting the material in such a way that questions are welcome but clarification is not required.

This is the legacy Dupree will be leaving UD: a professor with the heart of a student. We’re lucky for the course he took with Cowan — without her influence, where would he be? (Perhaps France? He seems to like it there.) It’s professors like her that Dr. Dupree has taken after, inspiring young scholars to follow their passion, in the spirit of UD’s motto, toward the pursuit of wisdom, virtue and truth. As fellow student Peter Tardiff recognizes, it’s hard to see him go, and it will be even harder to find another professor to fill his shoes.

“UD will be losing something that it will never get back,” Tardiff said.

Indeed, the university will not be the same with Dupree in retirement. What will he do in his time off, you may ask? For now, he plans to study Chinese literature; he’s excited to brush up on his Mandarin.

Dupree has been one of the best professors to grace the hills of UD. Speaking on behalf of all his students, it was a privilege to be in his class. We pray in thanksgiving for Dupree’s life and for his many contributions to the University of Dallas, without which the university would not be what it is today, a place where professors are scholars and students.

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