May 2, 2008

Retiring Prof. Brian Earle ’67 Leaves Mark on Cornell Univ.

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A few years ago, Prof. Brian Earle ’67, communication, awoke to a phone call in the middle of the night from a student. It was Senior Week and the young man, along with his fraternity brothers, had decided that they would visit every bar in Tompkins County. At a stop along their journey, one of the brothers remarked aloud that they had arrived at a true “redneck bar.” At once, the young men were escorted out of the bar and into the parking lot, where one of the bar’s patrons poured beer in the students’ gas tank.
The student called Earle, a senior lecturer, advisor and self-professed car connoisseur, to inquire if it would be safe to drive home on a tank full of beer. Such relationships with students, he said, have been the highlight of his almost forty year tenure at Cornell, which will end with his retirement at the end of the semester.
But when the last of Earle’s toy cars, Boston Red Sox paraphernalia, family pictures and books are taken off his shelves, one can be certain the legacy of one of Cornell’s most noteworthy professors will surely not be packed away with his memorabilia. And it can be assumed that Earle will be remembered as more than just the man with over 600 ties.
Earle is a born and bred Cornellian, hailing from a family that currently holds 17 degrees from the University. He grew up in Ithaca and attended Ithaca High School, where he met his wife whom he married in his junior year.
[img_assist|nid=30419|title=College ties|desc=Prof. Brian Earle, communication, speaks to colleagues at a celebration of his retirement in Mann Library yesterday.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]He began his freshman year in 1963 as an engineering major. “After three semesters I realized that was a bad idea,” Earle said of his educational prospects. After a tough first year, Earle was forced to end his brief stint with the Big Red Band, where he played the tuba. In 1963 he played on the sidelines of the football team’s last Thanksgiving Day football game against the University of Pennsylvania, a tradition, he said, he “was sad to see disappear.”
As an undergraduate, Earle was a “leader of sorts” of the interfaith community group, Cornell United Religious Work. He also served as president of the New York State Methodist Movement at a time, he said, when student movements were effective and “when there was a lot of heart felt efforts to make change.”
Earle declared a major in business management. After winning the Eastman Rice Speaking Contest, however, he was asked to be a teaching assistant for COMM 201: Oral Communication, and was introduced to the department of communication.
Earle graduated from Cornell in 1968 and spent the next two years working on an Indian Reservation in Winterhaven, CA. He returned to his alma mater in 1970 as a T.A. and has since taught and advised an estimated 9,000 students, including both of his sons who have since graduated from the University.
“It’s difficult to measure the impact that he’s had on thousands of students over the years,” said his son Corey Earle ’07. “But I think it can be glimpsed by the piles of Christmas cards he gets every December.”
“I think the theme of his Cornell career has been truly caring about his students,” Corey said of his father. “He always takes the time to listen to his students and genuinely care about what is going on in their lives.
Earle cited that throughout his career he has lived by his own philosophy, which states, “If I’m going to dish it out to the students, I’m going to take it too.”
In addition to serving students, Earle has established himself amongst his peers.
“As a colleague, Brian is just wonderful,” said Prof. Linda Van Buskirk, communication. “[He] is a gracious and polite gentleman.”
Anyone who has been inside his office on the third floor of Kennedy — behind a door on which a sign reads, “the trial of a messy professor” — knows Earle is a collector. Many will attest to his claim to have never worn the same tie twice in one semester. In COMM 301: Business and Professional Speaking, which Earle has taught since 1985, the class had become so large that students in the back of the class requested that his ties were displayed on PowerPoint.
The decision to retire did not come easy for Earle. “You look at the actuality tables and you know you only have a certain amount of time left,” he said. After his exit, one can be assured that Earle will still be seen driving through campus in one of his vintage cars — he owns a ’27 Hudson and a ’53 Buick — or at Lynah Rink where he has had reserved hockey tickets since the ’70s.
Earle’s presence will also be preserved through his students.
“As a student, I had to get used to inebriated students accosting me in Collegetown to say, ‘Dude, your dad is awesome!’ You’d be amazed at how often that happened,” Corey said.
His older son, Evan Earle ’01 agreed, adding, “I had similar experiences at all four Slope Days I attended!”