Long-time journalism professor to retire
By Sarah DeClerk, contributing writer
Bruce Plopper, a 66-year old bearded man with a graying, balding crown, laces his fingers together and considers his small, six-student feature writing class. “I knew ever since I was 13 that I wanted to be a teacher,” he tells them. “I just didn’t know what I wanted to teach.”
How did Plopper, who began college in electrical engineering and found himself with a master’s degree in psychology, discover journalism? The answer is a matter of humor.
Plopper’s first foray into journalism was a satirical newsletter about his employer at the time, Home Savings and Loan in California. The personnel director stopped the joke, but later asked Plopper to edit the company’s legitimate employee magazine. With three days’ training, no journalism experience and “good help,” as he put it, Plopper joined the journalism field. He later returned to college to earn his Ph.D. in the subject.
That episode set the stage for the journalism portion of Plopper’s teaching career – a career that has spanned 45 years and is about to end. After spending more than half of those years at UALR and teaching thousands of students, Plopper plans to retire in December, following a reception that the School of Mass Communication has planned for him from noon to 2 p.m. Dec. 11, in the Bailey Alumni Center.
Through his students, Plopper’s influence will continue after his retirement. Amy Barnes, who studied under Plopper as a graduate student and now works with him in the School of Mass Communication, noted his influence on the students Plopper has taught. “They are better when they leave his class than when they come in,” she said. “Their brains are sharper, their knowledge base is larger and they will contribute more to society.”
Anne Conaway also studied under Plopper as a graduate student, before researching and writing with him. “Even when he was not my teacher,” she said, “Bruce has had more influence that any other on me both as a student and a human being who aspires to be a better person.”
Professor Jeanne Rollberg, Plopper’s colleague since 1990, noted his dependability. “If all of us did our jobs as well as he does his, the world would be a better, and more efficiently run, place,” she said. “You never have to wait for him to get his committee work done so that you can do yours.”
Besides teaching, Plopper has been a prolific researcher, contributing over 70 publications and presentations. Plopper’s research “set the bar high for all of us” and “adds prestige to the entire school,” said Barnes. “I’ve always thought of teaching and research as a lifestyle rather than a job,” said Plopper.
“His research has the added advantage of being not only high quality, but pertinent,” said Jamie Byrne, dean of the College of Professional Studies. “What he tends to research are factors that will make students more successful.”
One of Plopper’s major contributions to scholarship is Mass Communication Law in Arkansas, a book he wrote so his students would not have to rely on lecture notes, he said. The book filled a scholarly gap in media law specific to Arkansas.
Though he has earned numerous awards for teaching and research, Rollberg noted that Plopper is equally enthusiastic about public service. For instance, Plopper is an avid supporter of student expression. In 2002, Plopper was awarded the Champion of Liberty Award from the Arkansas American Civil Liberties Union, for protecting students’ rights.
“I think the First Amendment covers minors as much as adults,” he said, “but many adults don’t think that and they have the power.”
Plopper was instrumental in passing the Arkansas Student Publications Act, which took effect in 1996. He initiated the act to protect students from administrative censorship, after a 1994 incident at Central High School.
“High schools in the area have certainly looked to him as a content expert several times,” Byrne said.
Plopper also encourages students to “fight for their rights in other arenas, such as bodily intrusion in terms of drug testing,” said Conaway. From 2002-2004 Plopper and his daughter battled with the Conway School District’s random drug testing policy. Their persistent efforts in and out of the courtroom eventually encouraged the district to rescind its policy.
Although Plopper is ending his career, his legacy continues in his students, colleagues, public service and extensive contributions to journalistic scholarship. Plopper, however, remains humble. “One never really knows until 10 or 15 years down the line whether one did any good or not,” he said modestly.
After his retirement, Plopper may continue to research and write to a lesser extent, and may move to California to assist family.
Plopper’s parting advice to upcoming journalists? Have fun.