Prof passes after 45 years at UNI

JACOB MADDEN, News Editor | [email protected]

On Jan. 15, President Bill Ruud announced that associate professor James Robinson had died after teaching at UNI for 45 years. Robinson received his B.A. in religion and history from Wabash College and received his PhD. in Religious Studies from the University of Wisconsin.

Martha Reineke, professor of religion and colleague of Robinson, stressed Robinson’s dedication to the university.

“He embodied the philosophy of UNI of putting students first,” Reineke said. “That passion for teaching was inspiring for the rest of us.”

Andrew Heppeard, senior English and religion double major, had Robinson as an instructor in class and works in the Department of Philosophy and World Religions office.

“There were four religion core courses when I started [at UNI],” Heppeard said. “[Robinson] taught two of them: Hinduism and Buddhism; and Confucianism, Daoism and Zen.”

According to Heppeard, Robinson’s specialty was Eastern religions, especially Tibetan Buddhism. Robinson was also reportedly fluent or proficient in multiple languages. Heppeard said that this allowed him to “delve into texts in their purest form.”

In addition to his academic accomplishments, Robinson also impacted the students and faculty on campus.

“He organized stuff for campus and taught half the campus: faculty, staff and students,” Heppeard said.

Heppeard spoke about a particularly memorable moment in a class with Robinson shortly after a student suicide off-campus.

“We were having a political debate about bullying [before class], and he walked in and fostered the debate instead of starting class,” Heppeard said. “He really cared about the discourse and was impressed by us taking the initiative to start that conversation on our own.”

One of Robinson’s most notable achievements was being a part of bringing the Dalai Lama to UNI in 2010. Reineke reported that Robinson was the only religions professor with a specialty in Eastern religions. As a result, he was able to teach a seminar about Tibetan Buddhism and its customs so that people could maximize their experience.

Reineke noted that many people traveled hundreds of miles from across the Midwest to see the Dalai Lama speak.

According to Reineke, outside of classes on Eastern religions and Religions of the World, Robinson taught Meditation and Mystical Experience, which covered the different ways religions around the world connect to a spiritual force or place outside themselves.

Reineke went on to explain that Robinson’s most fascinating and popular class was Angels in Cross-Cultural Perspectives, which reportedly analyzed the various mediators or messengers between this world and the different spirit worlds of religions.

Reineke also oversaw a junior/senior seminar in the religions department, at the end of which each student wrote a paper about the approach to the study of religion they found most helpful.

According to Reineke “about 90 percent of students commented that Professor Robinson’s approach to studying religion was the most influential.”

After the students learned this, they reportedly created a ‘most valuable professor’ award which they presented to Robinson.

“The students really adored him,” Reineke said.

“He put a lot of amazing work into his life and education and did his best to share that with his students,” Heppeard said.