ROE R. Cross Distinguished Professor
William R. Elkins
1979 - William R. Elkins
Dr. William Elkins was a professor at Emporia State University (Kansas State Teachers College at the time) during the sixties and seventies. It was a time of great drama and protest as the nation was divided on issues such as Civil Rights, the Vietnam War, and the counter-culture movement, among others.
Hit songs of these decades included Fortunate Son by Creedence Clearwater Revival, Give Peace a Chance by John Lennon, Handsome Johnny by Richie Havens, Bring ‘Em Home by Pete Seeger, and Masters of War by Bob Dylan.
Hastily written lyrics by P.F. Sloan were put to music by Barry McGuire in 1965:
You’re old enough to kill but not for votin’
You don’t believe in war, but what’s that gun you’re totin’
And even the Jordan river has bodies floatin’
But you tell me over and over and over again my friend
Ah, you don’t believe we’re on the eve of destruction
And Crosby Stills Nash & Young in 1970 put into words their feelings about war and the shooting of four Kent State University students in lyrics that start out with:
Find the cost of freedom
Buried in the ground
Mother Earth will swallow you
Lay your body down
Young people especially rallied to these musical cries and Emporia State faculty were involved in the protests one way or another.
Elkins was in the forefront, trying to help students through these times. He also stood up for his beliefs. A petition in favor of the Equal Rights published on a full page in the Emporia Gazette of February 11, 1977, for example, was signed by Elkins.
The stated goal of the amendment was:
“Section 1. Equalty of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article. 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification. The goal of the equal rights amendment is equality under the law. It deals only with government action. Social customs and private behavior are not under its jurisdiction. The ERA would protect the freedom to choose according to individual wishes and desires.”
These are the times Elkins — the school’s first Roe R. Cross Distinguished Professor award winner — lived and taught in. And he was an ideal person to help steer the students and campus community through the turbulent times.
Elkins went on to teach at Emporia State until 1989 and he built a widespread reputation as an expert in American literature, the English novel, composition, and linguistics. He wrote extensively about William Allen White, the Pulitzer Prize winning publisher and writer at the Emporia Gazette, and Edgar Allan Poe, American poet, editor, and literary critic.
He wrote a book in 1974 called A New English Primer: An Introduction to Linguistic Concepts and Systems that was published by St. Martin’s Press and Macmillan Press in the United States, Canada, and England.
“Mr. Elkins, who teaches linguistics at [Emporia State], said the book grew out of classroom use,” noted a story in the Emporia Gazette of April 24, 1974. “He has developed the book over the past two years. His earlier classes used the drafts.”
The primary use of the text was for college level prospective teachers of modern grammar and linguistics courses. Elkins said the main difference between his book and other textbooks about the same topic is that it introduces only the most important concepts, leaving to the student, or the instructor, the decision to pursue any or all further.
“It relates these concepts to both structural and generative-transformational grammatics, providing a background that should help students to adapt to the variations in terminology and method that they will encounter in their later reading,” added Elkins.
Elkins also authored, Literary Reflections, first published in 1967, and reprinted at least four times.
In 1975, Elkins was named the Xi Phi Outstanding Professor. He was listed in Contemporary Authors, Dictionary of International Biography, and Who's Who in the Midwest. Elkins also was a member of the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society. As a founder of the Emporia State Faculty Senate, Elkins served as a senator for many terms. He also twice edited The Best of Emporia State, an anthology of the year's best undergraduate papers.
Elkins' reputation as a demanding, but fair, professor led his students to return time and again to his classes. In the end, most agree they learned more from him than they thought possible.
Summing up his philosophy of teaching, Elkins said, "The ultimate goal for any teacher is to have his or her students realize and fulfill their potential for learning. The subject matter, though important, is merely a means to that end."
Elkins retired in 1989 as professor emeritus.