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Dr. Paul Beam (BA 1964)

     In the case of Dr. Paul Beam (BA 1964) the student did go on to become the teacher, and a well-loved and respected one at that. The KW native graduated from Kitchener-Waterloo Collegiate and Vocational School (KCI) just in time to enter the brand-new Dr. Paul BeamArts faculty and English department in 1960. Joining the University of Waterloo as an undergraduate was the first in a series of steps that would lead Dr. Beam full-circle, back to UW as an English professor. “The Arts Faculty opened in exactly the year I needed it, just as it would supply me a job and career at exactly that time in our national academic development that I needed an institution to pay me well for over thirty-five years to engage in work I have loved and found vastly fulfilling.” The growth of the English department at large was perhaps a little less smooth, and Dr. Beam remembers some of the ups, downs, celebrations, and growing pains.

     When Dr. Beam joined UW as an Arts student in September 1960, the faculty of Arts and the faculty of Science had a combined intake of sixty students. The campus had two buildings: a Physics building, and a Chemical Engineering Building. UW Arts offered courses in eight disciplines, one of them English. Professor W.K. Thomas taught an introductory English course for a class of about thirty students, one of whom was Dr. Beam. For Professor Beam, Dr. Thomas continued to be a favourite and an ongoing inspiration: “Professor Thomas...made language fly when he taught me how to analyze it in some of its most sophisticated forms – short passages, often poetry, but not always – text closely conceptualized and expressed. That remains my greatest satisfaction. Much of my best research never strayed far from that ability.”

     Only in second year did students select an Honours subject, and Dr. Beam recalls that English was a popular choice. The English department got the largest share of Arts students, and upper-year classes had a whopping 8-12 student each. By his fourth year, glimmers of growth and markers of identity were showing up around campus. The bookstore was expanding, the cafeteria food was better, and Dr. Beam and two other fourth-year students had their own office in the recently-completed Modern Languages building. A new Arts library was almost ready for students, and Dr. Beam traces the source of a popular library rumour to the first campus newspaper (The Coryphaeus) and one of Waterloo’s first English students, classmate George Welsh. “George started the rumour through ‘his’ newspaper – at an engineering school – that from an architect’s error, the library could not withstand the weight of the books now starting to fill it.” Fifty years later, students across faculties and departments continue to spread the rumour that Dana Porter Library is sinking, because designers failed to account for the weight of the books when drafting building plans.

     After completing an MA at McMaster University, while working on a PhD at the University of Toronto, Dr. Beam returned to the University of Waterloo to teach, beginning his career as a lecturer in 1968. That year, the department had about eight members. The number of instructors jumped to 12 the following year, and to 24 the year after, as students from the baby boom flocked to UW and all other Canadian campuses. Miscalculations in student enrollment resulted in over-hiring at universities across the province. Downsizing was the inevitable result, and over the next five or six years, junior faculty like Dr. Beam “hung at the edge of the cliff and fretted.” Professor Beam stayed with the English department through the uncertain times to witness a number of changes and over the years, including the evolution of English graduate studies. (An MA in literature was first introduced in 1967. Later, in 1987, an MA in Language and Professional Writing, now called Rhetoric and Communication Design, was introduced).  Other important milestones included the development of a Correspondence program (UW started offering English courses by correspondence in 1973), the start of co-op for English students (1976), and the inception of a “hard-fought” PhD program (1990). The success of the co-op program was marked by another milestone that Dr. Beam remembers well – the enrollment of the majority of Honours English students in co-op (over 75 per term) in the early 1980s.

     Of course, the road to growth was sometimes a bumpy one. The undergraduate Rhetoric and Professional Writing program (launched in 1986) remains highly successful to this day, and encourages students to study, analyze and produce various types of professional communication. While co-op continues to offer students in English ways to apply writing and critical thinking skills in professional contexts, Dr. Beam recalls that another UW project with similar goals was not so long-lived. UW’s Centre for Professional Writing (CPW) was opened in 1988. The Centre provided a number of services, including usability testing, conferences and training courses in professional writing, and technical writing and research. Successful in conferences, major partnerships and publications, the Center fell victim to recessionary pressures and closed in the early 1990s.

     Dr. Beam also remembers the struggle for women’s rights and equality in the earlier days of the department. Progress was slow and sometimes frustrating. Many women overcame negative parental attitudes towards higher education by taking correspondence courses. Dr. Beam remembers these determined women as some of his “best students.” Many of them managed to make it to campus for a term or two of study, find professional respect through co-op, and become English markers and tutors. Cuts in already low tutor pay and an attempt by the department to require a year of on-campus study for all Honours students threatened the efforts of some of these women to complete their studies. Dr. Beam recalls that it took years for the English department to set a formula, mandating a gradual transition to a 1:1 female-to-male faculty ratio over a ten-year period. Despite the roadblocks, Dr. Beam remembers the English department as being forward-thinking on feminist issues: “These were among the female issues fought in your sandbox, with English leading the way across the University in this matter.”

     Dr. Beam’s research interests showcase the breadth of English studies. His PhD focused on literature, specifically the writings of Rudyard Kipling. Dr. Beam benefitted from UW’s early accomplishments in computer technology, and his interests in online learning environments and computer-based instruction got support from many departments and colleagues. Much of Dr. Beam’s work has linked communication theory with technical topics, and the University of Waterloo offered him no shortage of valuable research contacts. Dr. Beam’s work also attracted the attention of major corporations and industry professionals. Over the years, Dr. Beam has done research for the federal and provincial governments and companies like IBM, HP and Bell Canada. He has worked and offered lectures on information system development, preparation of instructional materials, the philosophies behind learning, and the development of documentation applications for online services.

     Dr. Beam retired from the University of Waterloo in 2003. He currently lives on the Ottawa River, where he remembers his hometown and the University fondly: “As the chap on Saturday Night Live used to say about baseball, “Waterloo been bery, bery good to me!”