Remembering a professor whose passion was infectious

Exactly 10 years ago, I started my doctoral degree at Penn State. Having left journalism, I was unsure of how I would fit in and exactly what I would learn as an older learner and returning student.

One of my first doctoral classes was Ron Bettig's course on political economy. Within the first hour of Bettig's introductory lecture, I felt my world transforming. His eyes danced with excitement as he connected the dots of media ownership with his fingers in the air, emphatically demonstrating how corporations had undermined the notion of democratic media.

Within the first two classes, our entire class was hooked. Some of us didn't agree entirely with Bettig's position, but they were captivated by his lecturing style and passion for teaching. He also encouraged free and open dialogue among his students, watching intently as some debated key topics. Simply put, Ron Bettig was a populist, and his ability to connect with his students without using abstract terminology or tangential philosophical explanations endeared him to his students. Of course, Bettig's rebelliousness also made him a cult hero.

Bettig was one of the professors who had a tremendous influence over my academic development. He challenged my preconceived notions about the world, and both he and his late wife Jeanne Hall, an inspirational professor in her own right, gave my girlfriend (now wife) and me support and counsel during my first year as a graduate student. He seemed to relish helping former journalists "unlearn" what they knew. Many of his students went on to become academic stars in their own right.

I lost touch with Bettig after I got my Ph.D in 2009, but through mutual friends, I was up to speed on his life. Much of what Bettig taught me helped shape my approaches to my post-academic career as a civil rights advocate.

Like any person, Bettig had his flaws, but no one doubted his passion for teaching and love for his students. He was the sort of person who could challenge your preconceptions without getting in your face, but he could still get extremely animated over a single issue.

When I got the call last week notifying me that Bettig had been murdered, it felt like an anvil drop. Those of us who knew Ron are devastated by his loss and indebted to his guidance. Penn State lost a true teacher, someone whose passion for his craft inspired many.

We'll miss you, Ron.