Dr. Phil bids bon voyage to U of L
By Glypie Grider
He’s a notorious prankster, brutally honest with his commentary and considered one of the best professors around.
And at the end of the semester, Dr. Phil Laemmle, a U of L political science professor known for delivering the “Biscuit Speech” at freshman orientation, will retire.
“I’m retiring before I become that guy – you know, that guy who didn’t know how to go out when he was on top,” Laemmle said. “I want to leave while my game is still okay.”
Laemmle came to U of L 34 years ago in 1972, and he will soon retire from the only academic job he has ever had. Former students will pay tribute with a roast and auction of Phil Laemmle’s Orderly Dispersal of Office Relics (Phil Laemmle’s O.D.O.R.) on May 19 in the Red Barn.
Laemmle’s cluttered office on the first floor of Ford Hall is a housekeeper’s worst nightmare. Nothing is in order, the phone, though constantly ringing, is lost in the deep paper mounds on his desk and the ground, though visible, is unpassable. Toys and blow-up dolls are falling off shelves, and “cleanliness” seems to be the furthest thing from mind.
But this is Laemmle’s home-away-from-home. He’s usually in the office at 9 a.m., staying until 5 p.m. every day. He has an open-door policy, welcoming interruptions from secretaries and students alike.
“If my door is closed, it’s because I’m not in there,” he said.
Laemmle’s wit is inescapable amidst the madness. The office is littered with political cartoons, protest signs, campaign stickers, buttons and posters spanning the last three decades. Every item has its own story (he claims he can remember most of them), and now, all the knickknacks must go.
Laemmle’s O.D.O.R. will be auctioned off with proceeds going to upgrade student facilities and resources in the political science department.
“Not one penny will go to the faculty,” Laemmle said. “Every penny must go to refurbishing Ford Hall-improving classrooms, getting new furniture for the students.”
And having the students in mind has always been Laemmle’s top priority.
“My job has always been to help students become better people,” he said.
Speaking his mind – all the time
Laemmle isn’t afraid to speak his mind, whether he’s addressing the President of the University or talking to a prospective student’s parents. He lives by the motto and signs his e-mail: “Remember, advice from Phil Laemmle is free and worth it.”
“The great thing about this university it that is very hard to punish people for what they say, and for me, that’s a great thing,” he said.
Laemmle uses his fair share of expletives and “vernacular” to drive home his points, and he realizes it does come off as offensive to some.
“But all someone ever needs to do is tell me, ‘That really pisses me off.’ I’ll always stop,” Laemmle said. “That’s part of the growth process, and that’s part of the real world. You have to tell people when things piss you off or they’ll just keep going.”
Alicia Paez, a graduating senior in the department of political science, fondly remembers the first day she met Laemmle: “He started making fun of me, and since then, the teasing has never stopped,” she said.
“I think the best thing about Dr. Laemmle is that out of everyone, he is one of the few people who is truthful with you no matter what – whether you piss him off and he tells you, or he does the ‘dismissive gesture,’ or you are really stressed out and he tells you to calm down,” Paez said.
“Laemmle will be remembered because he broke the teacher mold-he said what he thought – curses included – and was not afraid to befriend his students,” said junior Hannah Hodges, a political science and communication double major. “If there were more like him at this university, we would have students going to class more and maybe even sticking around until graduation.” This ability to use humor in his teaching style is something graduating senior Hope Colwell said made learning from Laemmle more enjoyable. “Students learn a lot more that way,” she said.
But Colwell, who has participated in Laemmle’s Frankfort internship for the last two semesters, said she has seen beyond Laemmle’s humor. “He is a wonderful teacher that educates his students on much more than just political science, but life in general.”
“I will miss his genuine concern for students as evidenced in all the opportunities that he brought to campus,” said sophomore political science major Matt Flairty.
Students, faculty and friends can share their thoughts about Dr. Phil online at http://www.roastphil.org, a web site created by one of his former students.
The Biscuit Speech and Graduation
Laemmle has been there to greet students when they first come into the university and to salute them as they leave it.
Since the 1970s, he has delivered an annual speech fondly referred to as the “Biscuit Speech” to incoming freshmen during their summer orientation. Using a tin of raw biscuit dough, he tells students that they can mold themselves into whatever they want. If they don’t take advantage of all that college has to offer, they’ll emerge as the same chunk of dough they were when they started.
Laemmle shares his own tale of how he flunked out of college. After being asked to leave the University of Texas, Laemmle joined the Army “to make myself a better person.” When he finished his military commitment, he returned to UT, graduated and then earned his doctorate in political science from Indiana University. He accepted a position on U of L’s College of Arts and Sciences faculty and has been here ever since.
His background is in methodology, and he has taught including introductory political science, technology and political film courses.
Though students may not take any of Laemmle’s courses during their tenure at U of L, they finish out their college career watching him serve as the “ritualist” at graduation commencement ceremonies, a role he has served since the 1980s. He salutes students and wishes them farewell as they depart the university.
Now, Laemmle’s own departure has come.
Laemmle probably won’t be a popular face once he officially retires.
“I’ve always thought that when you’re gone, you should be gone,” he explained.
He plans on spending more time with his wife. “If I spend half as much time with my wife as I’ve spent here at the university, she’ll be very happy,” he said.
Compiled in part from staff and university reports.