NORMAN — University of Oklahoma professor Alan Velie isn’t stopping any time soon. In fact, he isn’t even slowing down.
After teaching at the university for 46 years, Velie said he still loves teaching.
“Teaching is fascinating. Every time I teach, I learn something new,” Velie said.
Velie suffered a stroke last February, but was back to teaching by the end of the semester. In fact, after his stroke, not one class day was canceled, as other teachers volunteered to teach his classes and students remained diligent about showing up.
“I think that speaks of the love and compassion that students to alumni, like myself, to President Boren, who visited Alan when he was in the hospital after his stroke, all have for him,” said Tripp Hall, Velie’s past student and OU vice president for development.
So while Velie may now use a golf cart to get around the OU campus, students believe he is still the welcoming, intellectually challenging professor he has always been. Velie said his future plans are teaching, simple as that.
“My dad says he wants to make it to 50 years teaching at OU, but I think he’ll keep going,” Will Velie, Alan Velie’s son, said. “ He always jokes that he doesn’t garden, so what else would he do.”
Velie was born and raised in New York City. He obtained his PhD at Stanford University and is an ex-Marine. He met his wife, Sue Velie, while she was attending Radcliff College, and he was at Harvard University. They have two sons, Jon and Will Velie, who are attorneys in Norman.
Velie is a David Ross Boyd Professor of English. He began his career as a Shakespeare professor, but when students began to demand classes on American Indian literature, he was asked to take on the challenge of crafting a course that would apply literature analysis to Indian literature. Velie said he didn’t know anything about American Indian literature to begin with, and in the ’60s, there wasn’t a lot of Indian literature in print — maybe nine novels. Velie explained that “House Made of Dawn,” by Scott Momaday, was part of the American Indian Renaissance, and today there are several hundred American Indian novels.
Velie’s work with American Indian literature was innovative and his courses were the first in the country to examine contemporary Indian fiction and poetry, so much so that The New York Times wrote an article about Velie’s work and, over the years, the American Indian literature courses at OU have grown to four teachers teaching two courses per term each.
Now, Velie teaches a course on the Bible and the English department’s capstone that ties together everything student’s have learned during the course of their studies. He also is working on a series of volumes on the American Indian Renaissance. Velie said the American Indian Renaissance was a mutli-field phenomenon like that of the European Renaissance. The series first volume, on Indian literature, is complete, and a volume on the visual arts is in the works.
Velie’s teaching style is captivating and enriching and is much more of a discussion than a lecture. Velie’s past student Kyle Harper, OU senior vice provost, described Velie as no nonsense, a straight shooter and likable.
“He’s the kind of professor you want to hang out with,” Harper said. “He is versatile as a teacher and scholar. Before it was cool, he was setting trends in American Indian literature studies. Having a professor like him really speaks of the strength of OU.”
OU President David L. Boren also expressed his praise for Velie.
“Alan Velie is a master teacher. He successfully passes on his love and passion for literature to the next generation. He is one of OU’s true treasures,” Boren said.
Hall said when he was a student, Velie’s office hours were so popular that students began coming as a large group so they could all have more time with him. Hall said the admiration he had for Velie as a student hasn’t been lost on him now that they are professional colleagues. When Hall was asked to join the OU faculty, Velie was the first professional contact that reached out to him.
“He told me to get ready and that he’d be here to help me,” Hall said. “He also said to call him Alan. It took me about three years to get used to that.”
Beyond teaching, Velie has been a longtime supporter of the OU rugby team. In fact, Velie is the founding faculty advisor and was a member of the OU Rugby team. Rugby has been a club sport at OU for more than 30 years. OU’s field is one of the top collegiate fields in the country allowing the team to host a number of major collegiate tournaments and is named after Velie, the Al Velie Rugby Football Complex. Velie also has been taking students to the best pubs in London since 1999 as part of OU’s Honors at Oxford summer program.
“The university has changed quite a bit over the years. The students have gotten markedly better due to the recruitment of national merit scholars. It’s been a very satisfying career,” Velie said. “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”
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