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University of Dayton Magazine
Dr. Gerald Kerns

Teacher par excellence

3:36 PM  Apr 8th, 2014
by Shannon Shelton Miller

Natalie Hudson remembers when, as a UD undergraduate, it was her time to enroll in the “dreaded class” all political science majors at UD had to take — Gerald Kerns’ political theory course.

“It was extremely difficult, but it was the class where we learned the most,” said Hudson, now a professor of political science at UD. “That was his mantra, he wanted to push his students to learn.”

For 41 years, thousands of learners became better writers, critical thinkers and scholars after taking Kerns’ courses. When he died March 19, 2014, at 80, he left a legacy of accomplishments in the political science department including being the a driving force behind the development of the University’s international studies major in 1981. A master’s program in international studies was later added.

“He was legendary for his courses in political theory, constitutional law and civil liberties,” said longtime friend and colleague Margaret Karns, professor emerita of political science. “Jerry was demanding but also known for the high quality of the recommendations he’d write for many of the top students who went on to law and graduate schools.

“He was a teacher par excellence.”

Under Kerns’ leadership, which included more than a decade of service as department chair, the political science department also added positions in Soviet/Russian politics and Latin American politics, which brought current professor Jaro Bilocerkowyz and current human rights studies director Mark Ensalaco to UD.

Kerns was also active with UD’s pre-law program, helping many students continue their studies at law programs across the country.

Memorial donations can be made to a scholarship in Kerns’ name at UD.

12 Responses to Teacher par excellence

  1. Greg Cook says:

    Rest in peace Professor Kearns. The most challenging courses at UD were his Political Science classes. I chose to have a minor in PS because of him. He made me a better student for which I am grateful. Big loss for UD. Greg Cook. Class of 94.

  2. Jim Meaney says:

    Dr. Kerns was the best professor I ever had – bar none. He was also the driving force behind this then-psych-major’s decision to attend the UD Law School on opening day in 1974. Dr. Kerns literally insisted that I go to law school. Some 35 years later (as a successful attorney) I am grateful for his mentor-ship, friendship and encouragement. We had the opportunity to speak on the phone about a year ago and he was still active, teaching current political science in adult communities in the Cincy area – the sign of a dedicated and committed teacher. He no doubt is holding a seminar somewhere in the heavens today (I hope it is the Founding Fathers or the History of Political Theory). You will be missed but never forgotten.
    Jim Meaney UD Class of 74, UDSL Class of 77

  3. Amy Conaway Schaefer says:

    Dr. Kerns will be missed.
    I took every class he offered and even summer courses in Italy. He was the driving force in my volunteer work with the university. He suggested I volunteer for the Dayton Peace Accords and Beyond as well as for the student disciplinary committee.
    Dr. Kerns taught more than political science. He taught his students how to be better citizens of the world.
    Amy Conaway, UD Class of 2001 – POL SCI

  4. Richard Germano says:

    I loved his demeanor and I learned the most from Dr Kerns in many respects with his sincere encouragement and clear way of explaining material of any professor I’ve had, even throughout law school.
    A privilege in my life to have known him.
    -Richard Germano UD Class 74

  5. Therese Verhoff Squeri says:

    Dr. Kerns was a wonderful teacher and mentor. He encouraged me to apply to law school and insisted that, not only could I get into law school, but that I would have a choice of quality schools. He was right and I graduated from OSU College of Law in 1982. But for Dr. Kerns’ encouragement, my life was set in a trajectory that I otherwise would not have had.
    Therese Squeri
    UD Class of 1979 – POL SCI

  6. MIchael Welsh says:

    I had not known that political science could engage the “world of ideas” until I took Dr. Kerns’ political theory. To this day, after teaching in college myself for over 35 years, I still talk about politics as driven not only by data and arguments, but by “big ideas” that sometimes make a difference in people’s lives. Professor Ed King in History at UD had a similar impact on my understanding, and my students comment about how much they enjoy “big history” as a result. Good to see so many of Dr. Kerns’ students had the same experience.

  7. Richard Germano says:

    Recommended reading by Dr. Kerns:
    How To Read A Book, by Mortimer Adler.
    One of the most influential books I’ve ever read.

  8. Dick Moran says:

    It is with sadness that I learned of Dr. Kerns passing. I first had a class with Dr. Kerns in the sixties and then again when I returned from the army in ’70. He always made us think and expected a maximum effort. His quiet but intense style of teaching reached all of us in his classes and helped us prepare for the struggles after graduation.

    A fond farewell to a great teacher and person.

  9. Owen A Clarke says:

    He was one of the best! I distinctly remember him from grad school classes in 1992. Huge loss for UD.

  10. Paul Martino says:

    Dr. Kerns was simply a great teacher and person. He taught us how to “think critically.” His classes on Political Theory, Civil Liberties, and Constitutional Law were legendary, rigorous and challenging. All grades were earned. He was a great asset to the University of Dayton, and an inspirational gift to all his students over the decades.
    Paul Martino UD Class of 1974

  11. Jerry Hopfengardner says:

    Upon joining UD’s School of Education as an administrator and professor, Jerry was one of the first members of the UD community to welcome – and invite me to meet over morning coffee in KU. He was a fine educator and member of the UD community.
    – Jerry Hopfengardner ’59 & Prof Emeritus

  12. Christine Scholl says:

    Just read about Dr. Kerns passing in UD News.
    His classes in Constitutional Law and Civil Liberties were great. He had a very calm demeanor, but obviously cared greatly about the constitution and rule of law. I will not forget his reaction when following progress of supreme court nominees in spring of 1970. I briefly wanted to be a constitutional lawyer due to his classes, but the critical thinking honed in his classroom still helped in my choice to become an architect.
    Christine Scholl, Political Science, 1972

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