William Keylor, a longtime Boston University professor of international relations and history, will be officially retiring from the university on June 30 after having taught for 46 years.
Keylor, 73, was first hired at BU in 1972 to teach history. In the years since, he has written books on history and international relations, served as chairman for the history department for four terms and was the recipient of three major awards for excellence in teaching: the Metcalf Award, the United Methodist Church Scholar/Teacher of the Year Award and the Gitner Family Award for Innovation in Teaching with Technology.
Born in 1944 in Sacramento, California, Keylor was the first member of his extended family to attend college. He said it was while attaining his undergraduate degree at Stanford University that he fell in love with the subject of history.
Benjamin Welton, a third-year doctoral student studying history, worked as one of Keylor’s graduate teaching assistants last semester, which was Keylor’s last as a professor. Welton said he worked closely with Keylor and enjoyed talking to him about his lectures after class.
“Professor Keylor is incredibly intelligent and is very learned when it comes to the history of the modern world,” Welton said. “For me, as both a teacher and student, his lectures were so enjoyable because of deep insights he provided.”
Keylor said his decision to retire was a difficult one to make, but that there were many components that ultimately made up his mind.
“I always check the student evaluations to see ‘Am I doing OK? Am I getting over the hill? Am I dead wood?’” Keylor said. “But they’ve been very positive, so it wasn’t because I felt I couldn’t do it anymore.”
Instead, he said there were three main factors that led him to make his decision: He wanted to open his position to new people who face difficulty finding a job in teaching, he wanted to focus his efforts on a new book he is working on and he wanted to spend time with his wife, to whom he said he has been happily married for almost 50 years.
Dean of the Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies Adil Najam said Keylor’s legacy will live on within Pardee after his retirement.
“His imprint on Boston University and particularly the Pardee School is huge,” Najam said. “It’s not just that he has impacted what the school has become — he in many ways defined what it has become.”
Najam, who said he was hired as a young professor while Keylor was already a senior professor, praised Keylor for his teaching and the skills he introduced to the classroom.
“There are many good teachers, and he is certainly a very, very good teacher,” Najam said. “He has this amazing and unique ability to link our understanding of what is happening in the world today with the context of what has happened in the past.”
Yoni Tobin, a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences, was one of Keylor’s students during his last semester teaching. Tobin said he first met Keylor during a get-together for students interested in international relations.
During the get-together, Tobin mentioned to Keylor that he sat near the back of the lecture hall and was surprised when Keylor wanted to make sure the students in the back could hear him well.
“Here was this prestigious professor, an extremely notable guy who was quite accomplished and who really didn’t have to take an interest in whether a handful of kids in the back could hear him, trying to make sure that every student got something out of the class,” Tobin said. “[That] is very indicative of what Keylor is all about.”
CAS sophomore William Simpson was also one of Keylor’s students. Simpson said he enjoyed Keylor’s lectures and was glad he was able to take his class before the professor retired.
“I found professor Keylor not only wanted his students to learn the material, but he also seemed invested in making sure the class was enjoyable,” Simpson said. “He definitely wasn’t a conventional, strict lecturer.”
Keylor said he hopes his legacy will live on through the thousands of students he has taught and through the books he has written about history and international relations.
“I have been active as a scholar,” Keylor said, “and I hope that my contributions to scholarship, particularly my two general books, will continue to be read by people and will help them to understand better this crazy world that we live in.”