Off The Press
July 2, 2013
By Peter Clark
How I remember Doc
When I decided to re-enter college after a three-year hiatus, one of my first political science classes at Indiana University Southeast was taught by Dr. Tom Kotulak. He would go on to define my educational experience, my personal drive toward accomplishment and set a standard of knowledgeable debate that I strive to realize on a daily basis.
He died June 11 from complications of pneumonia and it hit me harder than I expected.
I agree that the idea of a professor turned mentor is a romanticized idea that generally makes for better hyperbole than truth, but it is no exaggeration to say that I would not be where I am in life without that man. And I really like where I am in life.
Doc, as he was called, taught primarily political philosophy and classes on constitutional law. He used very large words, knew the Latin/Greek root of them and greatly encouraged students to raise their hands to learn the meanings. He was exceptionally gifted in engaging everyone in a class and made sure all had a chance to share opinions. And talk about patient. His ability to answer questions of those who were angry, frustrated or smarmy was gentle and guiding in a manner perfectly befitting a teacher.
Sure, everyone had good teachers that helped better their lives. The way I count Doc as different was the way he encouraged outside application and study of in-class instruction. Specifically, he cultivated individuals who took a deeper interest in political science. He always had a group around him. He was one of those teachers.
Rather than bask in that glorification, Doc pushed people, myself included, to do more. With his support, he got me a job as a tutor at the university. Through his generosity, he hired me on as his supplemental instructor. With his guidance, I was awarded a fellowship to study constitutional law. And I’m sure from his nomination, I was named the political science student of the year in 2009.
Doc served as the teacher adviser for my campus’ civil liberties union group as he was on the board for the ACLU of Indiana. In that capacity, he took trips with students to Indianapolis and helped us lead quaint, weakly attended panel discussions in the state organization’s yearly conference.
These rose-colored descriptions only tell part of the story. He was a heavy smoker, which only encouraged us cynical 20-somethings. He was very rarely seen without a ball cap even when dressed up, which for him always meant the same red sweater vest. And he never finished a night without a Miller Lite or six, which he ethically refused to let us purchase for him.
After learning of his death, I thought about the impact he had on my life. I met Doc at an extremely pivotal time in my life, and many challenges arose during my time in college. Years later, had I never heard of his death, I would still credit him with shaping the future that I have wrought.
He taught me more than philosophy and political science. He taught me about accomplishment and potential. He taught me about possibilities and hard work. He was an exceptionally difficult teacher with an expectation for performance. He set an example.
I will not forget him or the lessons I learned. I recognize how lucky I am to have had such an inspirational presence, and I am glad to have the opportunity to share it here.