Photo of Bill Haskins

Dr. Bill Haskins

It was late summer in 2008 when Dr. Bill Haskins arrived in China. The heat and the palm trees reminded the McKendree University speech communication professor of Florida. And the 2008 Beijing Olympics - which held its closing ceremony on August 24 - was still fresh in everyone’s mind.

“The Olympic fever was still going on,” remembered Haskins, who spent his 2008-2009 sabbatical teaching at Shenzhen University, just outside Hong Kong. “It was an exciting time to be there. My communications background really helped because 99 percent of what I did was to communicate.

“Teachers are revered in China,” he continued. “I’d walk into the classrooms and students would stand up and bow. Seriously, we were treated like rock stars.”

Once, after an evening on campus, a Chinese student insisted on walking Haskins home. It didn’t matter that the student didn’t have the professor for a class. Nor did it matter that the professor lived several blocks from the school.

“He said it was his duty to make sure I got home safely,” Haskins said. “People have a strong sense of honor in China.”

Haskins found ways to impress and delight his Chinese students.

“The year I went to China was the year the Boston Celtics won the NBA Finals. The Chinese are huge fans of basketball. So I brought a picture of the Celtics head coach into class.”

The faded snapshot was of a young Glenn “Doc” Rivers back in his student days at Marquette University. Haskins, at that time on the faculty at Marquette, taught Rivers when he was just starting out as a player.

“My Chinese students loved that picture,” Haskins said. “After that, I was known as the professor who taught the NBA champions’ head coach. I could do no wrong.”

Not only that, he was extremely entertaining. “I tell them in class, I’m going to have fun. And if I’m having fun, I’m assuming you’re having fun.”

After 27 years teaching at McKendree, the popular professor will retire in May 2012. His major research interests have included freedom of speech, argumentative communication versus verbal aggression, and intercultural communication. His research paper on “Cross-Cultural Analysis Conflict Styles and Strategies Involving United States and Chinese University Students” was published in the International Journal of Diversity, Organizations, Communities and Nations.

“I was used to big schools - all Division I - before I came to McKendree,” said Haskins, whose career as an instructor totals 43 years. “Then I came here and I’ve never left. I’ve seen a lot of changes. At one point, I was the associate dean and then I was asked to be vice president for academic affairs, dean of McKendree College. It was really a cool experience. All of it. I’ve gotten to meet a lot of people I never would have met.”

In retirement, Haskins plans to take his wife, Linda, two adult children and beloved granddaughters to Disney World. Then, who knows?

“In China, they were fascinated by my age. I was 60 at the time. My hope is that my health will hang in there. I like to play tennis, to travel. I exercise a lot.

“I’m not ruling out teaching after my retirement,” he added. “I’ve actually been invited back to China. I had such a good time while I was there. A great time. So you never know.”