NORMAN — Ken Hoving refers to himself as “a serious academic,” but he also lays claim to the title sculptor. And let’s not forget that he is adept with a sailboat or motorboat and is licensed in Germany as a barge skipper.
It all flows together to shape a career in higher education supplemented by refreshment of the mind and soul while on the water and now with his hands on clay.
Hoving came to the University of Oklahoma in 1979 when President Bill Banowsky offered him the position of dean of the graduate college and vice president for research.
It was a big job serving both campuses, but the money was available to strengthen the graduate college by fostering the quality and quantity of research programs on both campuses.
“I invited patent attorneys to campus to meet with professors,” he said. There was little interest on the part of the professors. New regulations allowed the professors to have ownership of their research products. Things began to change.
“Once they began to realize that money could be made, the interest in research grew,” he said.
“We funded seed grants for faculty research,” with the help of the Presbyterian Health Association he said.
They also developed criteria for the relationship between the graduate students, the supervising professor and the research program.
“We enriched the quality of research. Top quality graduate students are an enormous benefit the University,” he said.
Research on the OU campuses have led to the development and patenting of such things as medical devices, chemical procedures and computer technology.
Dr. Hoving, whose own studies were in the field of psychology, brought a lot of professional experiences to the OU campus from his former position at Kent State.
Recalling the May 4, 1970, shooting on that campus, he said two of the four who died were psychology students. The President of the University asked him to represent the faculty at the funerals.
“What do you say to parents at a time like that?” he asked, still feeling emotions of the time.
His move from faculty member to administrator at Kent State had been approached with reluctance. Initially turning down the position of dean, Hoving agreed to take the role of “temporary acting dean” of the graduate college at Kent State.
“Temporary acting dean. You can’t get much less permanent than that,” he said wryly.
But, he found that as dean he could do things for the students that he couldn’t do from a faculty position, so eventually he accepted the mantel of dean.
He helped the graduate school at Kent State grow, enough to catch the attention of President Banowsky. One of the things that most appealed to him when he considered coming to Oklahoma was the money available to infuse into the school. “It was the oil boom, and there was money,” to help strengthen the graduate school he said.
In 1993, Hoving returned to his roots in psychology. As chair of the department he attacked a problem of the low employment rate of psych grads.
“The market for academic psychologists was not good,” he said.
But a relationship that developed with the College of Business Education has grown and flourished. Psychology graduates “marketability” was increased, he said, as they found applicable positions in the business world.
The waters of Puget Sound, near where he was born and raised, have drawn he and his wife, Adele, back each year to spend several weeks on their boat where they find rest and renewal. At one time they owned a 75-foot barge, and cruised European waterways.
He has many happy memories skippering the four-cabin barge built in 1908. The waterways often went right through the hearts of villages and they could pull up to a dock and explore the town and countryside.
The son of a Christian educator, Hoving grew up in Lynden, Wash., an area of fertile farm ground.
“I worked in the fields from age 6. Strawberries. Raspberries. Beans. It was a good experience,” he said. “You learn how to work. A terribly important lesson. There was work to be done and you did it.”
As a serious student and academician he never paid much attention to, nor tried his hand at any of the arts. But as an educator and frequent traveler, he began to visit museums and realized that he was drawn to the dimensional aspect of sculpture.
When Paul Moore was named Artist in Residence at OU in 1997, Hoving began to sit in on classes. It was there, working in clay, that he discovered his talent for sculpting, and, in particular, his ability to capture an individual’s facial features and spirit.
His first project was to sit before a mirror and to sculpt his own likeness. To his own amazement, he said, “it looked like me.”
His “most seen” work is the bust of former OU President Paul Sharp which sits in the entryway to the Sharp Concert Hall. He also did the bust of Savoie Lottinville at the OU Press.
Hoving is also proud of the 6-foot by 12-foot bas relief which is in the entry to the auditorium of the school in his hometown in Washington.
“I said I would do the work if I could put my father’s face on one of the figures,” he said.
He accomplished that with an artscape of a grandfather, mother and child, and a teen in cap and gown to symbolize education passing from generation to generation. Busts, often done from snapshots, are a favorite.
“I would love to do more commissioned work,” he said.
Their home includes many pieces ranging from a large piece named “Southwestern Woman” to a small figure of youthful Doris Eaton Travis. The sculpture was done from the photo on the cover of her memoir.
Hoving’s professional career has included serving on many national committees where he developed a network of colleagues, many of whom he worked with as Senior Fellow at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.
“I spent a year looking at a cross section of universities across the country,” he said.
He also served for a time as executive vice chairman of academic affairs for the Oklahoma Board of Regents where he worked with all of the state colleges to help them strengthen programs.
But no matter where his academic career took him, there was always the lure of quiet days spent on the water.
So how is it that he has been happy for more than 30 years in land-locked Oklahoma? The answer is sunshine. Beautiful sunny days in the Northwest are rare.
“We love it here,” he said.