‘His real legacy is his kindness’: English professor retires after more than 50 years of teaching

Dr. Mangum, an English professor at VCU, has recently retired after nearly 50 years of working in education. Photo by Alessandro Latour

Diana Ho, Contributing Writer

Bryant Mangum is a tenured professor in the Department of English, after joining in 1971, who has taught courses on U.S. literature — he will be retiring from VCU after more than 50 years of teaching. 

“It’s difficult to imagine VCU without Bryant Mangum,” said Catherine Ingrassia, interim dean of the College of Humanities and Sciences. “As the hundreds of students fortunate enough to have him as a professor throughout his many years attest, he left an indelible mark on their path of learning and on the university as a whole.” 

Mangum said he studied at a traditional graduate school, the University of South Carolina. When he came to VCU to teach, he was drawn to the university environment.

“It was a real change for me, but I loved it,” Mangum said. “I just came to love the diversity of the student population, and particularly the different points of view that came from having the diversity.” 

Connecting with students has been a habit since the start of his teaching career, Mangum said.

“What I typically do, at the beginning of a class, I say, ‘Okay if we could sit individually, and have coffee for fifteen minutes, tell me some story about yourself, that is personal, that I can connect and get to know you a little bit as a person.’”

Fascinated by the uniqueness of every individual, Mangum said he likes to know every student’s name and major, sometimes even learning the names of his students’ pets.

“I like to reassure myself that if I’m teaching 40 students, I know those are 40 unique people … with 40 distinctly different personalities and reactions to the works,” Mangum said. “That means a lot to me.”

Mangum’s former student Joel Kabot said Mangum takes a genuine interest in his students. 

During graduate school, Kabot studied under Mangum to complete a book called “F. Scott Fitzgerald in Context” as part of his independent study.

One chapter in “F. Scott Fitzgerald in Context” describes Fitzgerald’s life in upstate New York, which is not known by many people, Kabot said. Kabot is from Syracuse, one of the places Fitzgerald lived as a child. Knowing this, professor Mangum asked Kabot to write the chapter about Fitzgerald’s life in upstate New York.

“I was honored. Producing it is still my greatest professional accomplishment. I poured my soul into that, and I wanted to make professor Mangum proud,” Kabot said.

Working with Mangum was an experience that was “supportive” and “encouraging,” according to Kabot.

“I didn’t think I could write something academic like that. He saw that in me that I didn’t even see. Because of him, I’m a more confident person,” Kabot said.

Mangum received awards such as the VCU University’s Distinguished Teaching Award, VCU Board of Visitors Teaching Fellow, the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia’s Outstanding Faculty Award and others, according to the College of Humanities and Sciences website.

Headlines regarding professor Mangum are not only about his accomplishments and tenure, said his former student, Aíne Norris. 

“What a legacy that people aren’t even focusing on the fact that you were tenured and won all these awards,” Norris said. “They’re talking about your kindness. I think that is him — that’s him in a nutshell.”

Norris took Mangum’s class on “All the King’s Men” as a senior in undergraduate school in 2007. 

Though the class was small, the course gave Norris the tools she still uses to teach in class, according to Norris. Instead of being influenced by pre-existing knowledge of the author or novel, she learned to look at it holistically and read analytically, said Norris.

“I mean, we could write for days on how smart he [Mangum] is, and his books and his contributions to modernism, Fitzgerald and Alice Adams. He’s known for all those things, but his real legacy is his kindness,” Norris said.

1 Comment

  1. Another amazing read! I do not personally know Dr. Mangum but from the words of his former students, I can see just how much of an inspiration he is to his students and colleagues alike, in both his teaching and his kindness.

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