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Linguistics professor Dwan Shipley passes away

A student left a note on Shipley’s office door. It read, “We will miss you. Thank you for everything.” // Photo by Kara Spencer

Linguistics instructor Dwan Shipley, 69, died on Friday, Feb. 12 after battling cancer. Shipley has taught at Western since 1997 and became a senior linguistics instructor in 2009.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 24. at Dakota Creek Christian Center.

Shipley taught up to 500 students per quarter in his introductory linguistics courses, leaving to take a break after fall quarter in 2015. He was optimistic that he would be back, said Kristin Denham, professor of English and linguistics.

Shipley taught lecture classes such as introduction to linguistics and sociolinguistics and had a passion for the Salish languages, which he taught specialty courses on in the summer, Denham said.

“He was really passionate about letting people know about the endangered languages,” Denham said. “Especially the languages that used to be spoken all around here.”

This was the second loss for the department in only a month as Eva Baharav, associate professor in the department of communication sciences and disorders, passed away on Feb.1.

Scholarships in both Shipley and Baharav’s name are available for donation through the Western website or through Western’s linguistics program. The department established the scholarship to recognize the impact that the professors had left in the Western community, Denham said.

Shipley was loved and known best by his students, Denham said.

Junior James Molyneux-Elliot, political science major, had Linguistics 201 with Shipley his freshman year. Molyneux-Elliot said Shipley was welcoming and made his classroom a good learning environment.

“I remember in class he talked about ‘buffalo, buffalo, buffalo’ as one big linguistic sentence that works,” Molyneux-Elliot said. “I think my friend said he dressed up like Darth Vader once. [Shipley] was lighthearted but still highly intellectual.”

Professor of Spanish and linguistics Shaw Gynan said Shipley’s death has been painful for the department.

“One of the things I loved most about professor Shipley was his office. It was a scholar’s den, filled to the rafters with references,” Gynan said in an email. “He loved teaching those large lecture classes and worked year after year to find new ways to bring linguistics to students in effective ways.”

Rudolf Weiss, retired linguistics director, hired Shipley after looking for someone who could handle the large lecture courses for a small pay, he said.

“I fought for Dwan and always tried to fight to make sure he had enough courses to make a meager living,” Weiss said.

Weiss and Denham describe Shipley as quiet and mild-mannered but dedicated to the success of his students. Weiss believes that more students entered into the linguistics major because of Shipley than anything else.

Although Shipley was an instructor and not a tenure-track faculty member, he continued to participate in the linguistic department meetings and hold relationships with many linguistics students.

“He was a workhorse when doing his job,” Denham said.

Weiss held exit interviews with students coming out of the linguistics program. In those ten years, Weiss said, not one student had a complaint about Shipley.

Weiss, although fighting cancer for two years, never took a day off of work, Weiss said. Shipley kept his cancer a secret and was in a lot of pain, but continued to serve his students, he said.

“He was proud to teach at Western. He loved teaching and loved his students,” Weiss said. “Out of all the faculty I’ve known – because of his productivity and willingness to teach those courses all those years – he was a martyr.  An academic martyr.”







*Editors Note: This article was updated from a previous version that misspelled Dwan’s name in the headline.


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