The Glamour of Grammar
Published: January 11, 2007 | 5289th good news item since 2003
At 7 a.m. one morning toward the end of fall term, Duncan McDonald sits in his office with pictures of family and friends, a pile of newspapers, class assignments and copies of his books.
Now in 2007 the creator of the infamous “Info Hell” course will be transitioning from full-time to part-time teaching, gracefully retiring from the University.
With good posture, professional attire and a neat, white mustache, McDonald glances through The Register-Guard, The New York Times and the Oregon Daily Emerald before getting a start on two hours of class preparation, office hours and editing his seventh edition of “When Words Collide: A Media Writer’s Guide to Grammar and Style” before doing a seminar in teaching and educating 240 students in his favorite subject: grammar.
Even though he is busy in the morning, a student calls and he gladly picks up, “This is Duncan.”
Since 1976, McDonald has worked in the University’s School of Journalism and Communication. The award-winning professor was dean of the School of Journalism and Communication from 1994-97, served as the University’s Vice President for Public Affairs and Development, published a handful of books, raised a family and has enlightened – as well as terrified – generations of students.
McDonald realized it was about that time to retire into a part-time position. He believes moving into part-time is a slow transition out of the University, instead of an abrupt leave.
Still, McDonald said he has a lot of important work to do and wants to be able to do even more tomorrow, even though that does not involve as much teaching.
“Life is not that linear; I prefer to think more dimensionally,” McDonald said. “I started as a teacher, and I am going to finish as a teacher.”
A Teacher’s Life
The Cleveland native grew up with one brother, two sisters and a mother who made sure he regularly went to the library.
“My mom was a wonderful motivator for me,” McDonald said.
In college, McDonald described himself as hard-working, on a scholarship and always working two jobs.
McDonald was the first in his family to graduate from college, earning a bachelor of science in journalism from Ohio University while working as a reporter for the Athens Messenger and The Plain Dealer.
After college, McDonald enlisted in the U.S. Navy. As a communications officer, he held the rank of lieutenant junior grade and served as bridge officer on the USS Intrepid, the historic 900-foot aircraft carrier that has been docked in the Hudson River for the past 24 years as home to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. McDonald said the experience gave him a strong sense of responsibility and protocol.
After his discharge, he got back into journalism. While working as a reporter and a features editor for the Register-Mail in Galesburg, Ill., he married Jane Cathryne Eyre. They’re still in love 38 years later.
McDonald’s focus in life changed in 1972, when his daughter Vanessa was born.
“Becoming a parent is daunting,” he said. “But it is also a thrill.”
Being a new father, McDonald also managed to receive his Master of Science in Industrial Relations and Labor Economics from the University.
McDonald worked as owner and publisher of the West Lane News and Tri-County News in Veneta and Junction City for the following four years. He also served as an assistant professor at the University.
During this time, working until 3 a.m. became a regular day. Putting in countless hours developing the photojournalism program, McDonald started to feel at home with the faculty.
“We’re like any family,” McDonald said.
McDonald teaches a variety of classes, including: Reporting, Writing for the Media, Grammar for Journalists, Public Relations Writing, Photojournalism and Teaching and the Professional Life.
He created the infamous Information Gathering class, also known as “Info Hell”, in which students write a 100-page research project.
The course is “amazing,” he said.
To some students, McDonald’s teaching methods are intimidating. He said that the University is a professional school, and that students should act professionally.
In his classroom McDonald may seem tough, but a student sitting in his office would be welcomed with a warm smile.
McDonald said that his class setting is different than his one-on-one time with students. He said he treats students visiting office hours as the most important people.
“I don’t care what grade they get, I care if they are interested,” McDonald said. “If you show up, I’ll do anything you want to help you.”
Through teaching, McDonald has emphasized the importance of honesty. He said “always tell students the truth” because that is how they learn.
“It has been a privilege to be asked to appear in front of these students,” he said of teaching. “It’s not a job. It is a relationship.”
From his first teaching days, McDonald’s career and family have continued to flourish.
Now having two new grandchildren, McDonald said, “Becoming a grandparent is, quite simply, a hoot.”
Although he enjoys the three-mile distance from his daughter and grandchildren, he said he is constantly restocking the fridge. When he’s not grocery shopping, he enjoys sailing, cooking and playing what he calls the “old man sport” of squash.
McDonald has come a long way, accomplished multiple things, and from those experiences, he has evolved into the husband, father, grandfather, teacher and friend that he is today.
“I can’t imagine that anyone’s life is defined by just one event,” he said. “Our lives are layered – sometimes richly, sometimes poorly, but we are a laminate of those experiences.”