My History in Higher Education
Warning - This Could be Boring
I began my path to becoming a college professor in a rather roundabout way. Never once as a child did I imagine that I would not go to college when I got older. It was simply expected, and no thought to the contrary would ever arise in either me or my mother. It was always assumed that I would go into some form of science or engineering as I seemed to express the “knack” for such fields.
I did not know a lot about college growing up, just a few facts, such as my 4th grade teacher telling me that sometimes in college she had classes at 5:00 pm. I remember being appalled. That is after school hours—how unfair! Nevertheless, I knew I was going. The only question was where and exactly what to take.
In high school, I had one friend that went to La Tech in Ruston, Louisiana, and majored in mechanical engineering, while another went to Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana and majored in Electronic Engineering Technology, EET. I did not take the time to understand the difference between these two fields, but I knew that EET had less math involved, and was more of a hands-on experience, so EET won out. In 1968 I moved to Natchitoches and started college.
EET was very easy for me. My main higher level professor was a man that gave ridiculously hard tests. He will go down in history for the wildest tests known to man, or woman, but in those days EET was strictly a man’s study. I had a broad working knowledge of electronics before I went to college. After all, I had the knack, so I did not study much. I knew that the professor’s test questions were scattered on and off topic like small shot from a sawed off shotgun. All I had to do was to know electronics more broadly than my classmates, and I was home free.
I remember visiting my NSU friend at his dorm and running into one of my classmates, an ROTC officer-to-be that studied as diligently as he could. We had a big test coming up the next day, and he was buried in his book and notes. He looked at me and said, “Boucher, aren’t you going to be studying all night? I am!” I looked back and said, “No, Jim and I are going out on the town. I will do okay tomorrow on the test.” I remember how taken back he was at my confidence. He then went back to studying and Jim and I went out somewhere.
When the test was graded, I had a B and my ROTC friend had a C. I could have easily had an A, but in my undergrad years I was, well, lazy. I graduated from NSU and moved back to my home town to work for my cousin Jesse Boucher in the contracting business. I did not like contracting and in 1974, I went back to NSU just to take courses toward some different technical degree. I had no intention of going to graduate school, but the same earlier mentioned professor talked me into it as a side study, while I was getting my chosen course work completed.
I pursued both phases of my education at NSU, and graduated from a second time with a MS in the same field, EET. Moving to Houston I started an early computer-based business, Microtex, Inc. where I gained valuable knowledge into computers and microprocessors. In 1980, I moved back to Louisiana at my wife’s insistence and ran our family store while doing computer consulting, mainly in the Shreveport area.
One day, while sitting in my office in Springhill, I got a call from Larry Varnado, one of my old flying buddies from my college days. Larry taught aviation at NSU and worked for the same department that housed EET. Larry told me that NSU had just lost a professor in EET and the department head wanted to see if I would fill in for a year as an instructor. I agreed and moved to Natchitoches, but I insisted that my appointment was only for one semester and not a full year.
It turned out that I did not want to leave after that first semester and stayed on for the full year. That year turned into the start of the second year. After three semesters, I approached my department head and said, “If you will give me a raise and a tenure tract appointment as an assistant professor, I will stay.” That afternoon he had a contract in front of me to sign. I signed it and was an official assistant professor of EET.
After that semester a man named Robert Alost took over control of the university as its president. Dr. Alost was, in my opinion, one of the absolute worst people anyone could ever find to work under. His first act was to fire over 80 non-tenured people. After this explosive shock wave hit NSU, he realized that we were understaffed and had to hire new people to replace many of those he fired. In a large number of cases, the people he hired were not as good as those he carelessly dismissed. I was very happy to see eventually him go. Currently, NSU has an excellent President, Dr. Randy Webb.
I stayed out of education for a short time, from the spring of 1986 to the fall of 1987. My consulting was not doing well at the time, and I actually missed teaching. I called Louisiana State University in Shreveport, LSUS, and asked to speak to the Computer Science chairman. I asked Dr. Al McKinney if he had any openings teaching computer science, as I realized that LSUS had no engineering or technology programs. McKinney gave me a job teaching a low level CS class and made me a lab manager. The pay was terrible, but it got me into the door.
McKinney introduced me to Rex Matlock, the chairman of the Physics Department. Matlock had George Bonner, one of his professors, teaching electronics in his Department. Bonner did not want to teach the labs as much as the lecture, so that is where I came into the picture. I started teaching the labs. Pretty soon Bonner retired, and I took over fully teaching both lecture and labs.
After a year or so, the then Dean, Lyle Cook, told Matlock that he had to advertise for the position that Bonner vacated. Matlock told Cook that he wanted me to fill the slot, and Cook finally relented with the provision that I would work toward my doctorate. There were no doctorates in EET, so I had to choose another field. I called La Tech and the department head told me that they would not accept me into a graduate program because I did not have an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering.
I bided my time for a couple of years and called Tech once again. By this time I was getting pressure placed on me to get into a program. But, this second time I called Tech, I talked to a new department head, Dr. Louis Rohmer. Rohmer told me to come over and talk to him. I did, and he said that he would place me in the MS program in electrical engineering, but if I could not handle the course work, there had to be no hard feelings. I jumped at the chance, enrolled, and started taking graduate electrical engineering courses.
In 1995 I received my second MS degree, this one in electrical engineering. In 1999, I received my Doctor of Engineering degree with a specialty in electronic engineering. Overall my electrical engineering GPA was just slightly less than 3.9 receiving two B grades in my electrical engineering courses both graduate and some undergraduate. In some of these courses I received the highest class grade point average. I make this point to show how wrong it was for Tech’s first EE department head to have restricted me from the program, and how one’s misconceptions often lead to stereotyping that is not applicable. Once I had my doctorate, I was quickly promoted at LSUS to associate professor and finally to full professor.
So what is it like being a college professor? Well, I very much enjoy it. Although the pay is far better in industry, we do have a lot of latitude in several areas. Since we do not have a formal 9 to 5 job, we can arrange our hours to give us a considerable amount of flexible time. We also get a lot of vacation time. To me the work is far from difficult, and it is rewarding the great majority of the time. Lecturing to me is the easiest work I could possibly do. To me is much like placing a needle on a record and listening to what comes out of the phonograph (I am dating myself here).
I love to see our Applied Physics students come into my classes knowing nothing about electronics and leave with an ability that can place them in a technical occupation. Seeing them gain skills is very rewarding. Having my own laboratory with a full range of equipment is also a major plus to me as a professor. I can pick and choose which projects I desire to work with, and I have full use our facilities to create virtually anything I can imagine. I can satisfy most of my creative urges working on LSUS-based projects.
I enjoy working with my colleagues that are highly educated, most of which have doctorates in their field. There is a huge advantage to having very intelligent coworkers. I am sure that every vocation has its good sides along with the bad, and being a professor is no exception. I am a conservative politically, and although there are many conservatives on our faculty, there are many extreme liberals. My largest question to ponder while working here is simple; how can so many highly educated people who hold advanced degrees look at what’s happening to our nation and endorse the current government’s actions with such great acceptance even euphoria? How can intelligent people take the stances I see so often in higher education? Many of these people are my friends, for which in general, I have a great deal of respect.
I have come to the conclusion that logic and intelligence usually don’t in any way effect one’s world view. Actually, I believe it’s the other way around. A person’s world view dictates their logic, and this concept permeates the ranks of both the highly intelligent, as well as those with lesser abilities. I accept the fact that many professors are far left, as well as the fact that nobody with any level of genuine logic or reason will be able to change that fact.
At least, I have really never violated my base principle; I work in an occupation that is rewarding for me, and one I genuinely enjoy. That should be “Rule One” with anyone. Life is too short to be unhappy at work. After all, we do spend most of our waking moments on our jobs.