UHV history professor to depart Victoria after 37 years teaching

On the left, Hal Smith, a University of Houston-Victoria history and humanities professor, poses for a photo during his early years teaching at UHV. Smith joined the UHV faculty in 1976. On the right, Smith and his wife, Judith McArthur, a former UHV adjunct faculty member, share a laugh during Smith’s UHV farewell reception Thursday. Smith will soon go on modified retirement, and the couple plans to move to Fort Collins, Colo.

During one of several trips to England to research British women’s history, Hal Smith repeatedly was told by a librarian that the archived documents he wanted to see did not exist.

Smith, a University of Houston-Victoria history and humanities professor, knew the librarian was incorrect, so he pressed the matter further. Eventually, the librarian changed her story and told him no one could get to the records because fresh cement had been poured around them.

Undeterred, Smith eventually found the records in the basement of a nearby old building. The documents were covered with at least a half inch of dust. Smith was covered in so much dirt from going through the records that his fellow researchers started calling him a coal miner.

The tenacity toward finding research sources – along with authoring or co-authoring six books, winning two teaching excellence awards and becoming a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society of Great Britain – are what Smith may be best known for during his 37 years at UHV.

Starting Sept. 1, Smith will go on modified retirement.

He and his wife, Judith McArthur, a former UHV adjunct faculty member, will be moving to Fort Collins, Colo. Smith will continue to teach online courses at UHV, which he has done for the past 14 years. McArthur has health problems that will be aided by the move to a different climate, Smith said.

“We’ve talked for some time about moving to Colorado,” he said. “I wasn’t looking to leave Victoria, but her problems have gotten worse. The dry air will help alleviate those troubles.”

Smith said what he’ll miss most about UHV is the faculty and staff.

“One of the things that gets me excited about coming to UHV every morning is that I get to work with some really nice people,” he said. “I enjoy the interaction with my fellow UHV employees.”

Smith, who also serves as director of the UHV history program, has the longest teaching tenure of any faculty member in the UHV School of Arts & Sciences. His 37 years of teaching is the third most at the university, trailing only education professors Diane Prince and Paul Carlson.

“It’s hard to imagine a UHV school year without Dr. Smith,” said Jeffrey Di Leo, dean of the UHV School of Arts & Sciences. “When he started in 1976, the university had only existed for three years, so he’s played a large role in shaping what UHV is today. While I’m glad he’ll continue to teach, we’ll miss having him around campus.”

An Ottumwa, Iowa, native, Smith earned a bachelor’s degree from Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls and a master’s degree and doctorate from the University of Iowa in Iowa City. He taught as a visiting professor at the University of Montana in Missoula and at the University of Missouri-Kansas City before arriving at UHV. He had no connections to Texas and had only been to the state once before starting the job.

“I always assumed I would be here a few years and move on to somewhere else,” he said. “I quickly liked UHV, and I found that it was a nurturing environment for my desire to write. I ended up writing six books here.”

Smith said there wasn’t an exact point where it clicked that being a UHV professor had turned from a job into a career.

“I think it was a situation where I launched into things and got projects going,” he said. “When I finished one project, I started in on the next project. Then I woke up one day, and I had been here 37 years.”

During his first eight years at the university, Smith served many different roles in addition to teaching and research. He was the university’s director of student life, research officer and a special assistant to the chancellor for academic affairs.

“The institution at the time was small, and there wasn’t enough money to hire full-time people for many administrative positions,” he said. “What often happened was faculty members were asked to be part-time administrators. We would continue to teach classes, but we would also have administrative duties.”

Smith said he thinks the single biggest development at UHV since 1976 was acquiring land so the university could have its own buildings. In earlier years, UHV rented space from Victoria College. His first office was in a VC supply closet.

Smith is recognized as a pioneer in research on equal pay for British women. Two of his books were published by Oxford University Press and Cambridge University Press, and they have been used as required readings at Oxford University and Cambridge University as well as other universities in Great Britain and the U.S.

“It’s a testament to Dr. Smith’s dedicated research and writing abilities that his work has been used the past 15 years to educate college students in two countries,” said Jeffrey Cass, UHV provost and vice president for academic affairs.

During the past decade, Smith and McArthur co-authored two books on Texas women’s history, both of which won the Texas State Historical Association’s Carpenter Award. In 2012, the association awarded Smith its prestigious H. Bailey Carroll Award for the best journal article.

Smith and McArthur have talked about taking up Colorado history research. Smith said they already have a project in mind about an early 20th century couple. If those plans materialize, there’s little doubt Smith will attack the research with the same drive he displayed in England.

“While I got a few curious looks about why a man from Texas was requesting documents on British women’s history, most librarians were quite grateful to have somebody show an interest in the subject,” he said. “There wasn’t much in British history books about women. It was clearly an undeveloped field that needed attention.”

The University of Houston-Victoria, located in the heart of the Coastal Bend region since 1973 in Victoria, Texas, offers courses leading to more than 80 academic programs in the schools of Arts & Sciences; Business Administration; and Education, Health Professions & Human Development. UHV provides face-to-face classes at its Victoria campus, as well as an instructional site in Katy, Texas, and online classes that students can take from anywhere. UHV supports the American Association of State Colleges and Universities Opportunities for All initiative to increase awareness about state colleges and universities and the important role they have in providing a high-quality and accessible education to an increasingly diverse student population, as well as contributing to regional and state economic development.

Jeremy Shapiro