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In Memoriam: Ben Arbaugh

BenArbaughBen Arbaugh was a titan in every sense of the world. The word titan from Greek mythology brings to mind giant and powerful, and it is used as his university’s mascot. But in one important way, Ben was nothing like the mythological titans. He was incredibly kind, always seeking to build bridges and bring people together for mutual benefit.

Ben was the quintessential Titan at UW Oshkosh, dedicated to his students and colleagues in powerful ways. The current Dean of  the College of Business, Barb Rau, noted that, “Ben was instrumental in convincing the former Dean and the College to allow pedagogical research to count twice in the merit process:  Once as research and once as teaching. Because of Ben, we reconceptualized ‘excellence in teaching’ to mean not just the dissemination of information but also the creation of new teaching method and advancement of our knowledge of teaching and learning.” Ben took his passion for management education, as both a teacher and scholar, and used it to shape his home institution. And he made these changes collaboratively. Ben coauthored with at least 13 different colleagues at UW Oshkosh.

Ben was a titan in the field of management education, where he practically pioneered the empirical study of online management education, shaping the theoretical and empirical landscape. His awards are too numerous to list, and he wouldn’t want us to spend time counting them. More importantly, Ben shaped the management education community by reaching out and inviting new people to the field. Ken Brown, who followed Ben as editor of Academy of Management Learning and Education, noted that the primary reason he got involved with the journal, and with the management education community, was because Ben invited him. “I owe Ben so much because he believed in me, and asked me to review and then work with him editing the journal. He was quick with a compliment, and always made me feel as though my involvement made a difference.”

And Ben was a titan in his personal life, where he was a dedicated spouse and father. He worked hard at the office but took time off to be with the family whether for a mundane Scout meeting or a major illness. He was there. And when it came to facing his own illness, he was both positive and honest. When he gave his Last Lecture to the University community, he talked about his research passionately, complimented his colleagues and coauthors and family, and simultaneously joked about a miraculous recovery and acknowledged that the end was near. He was, to the end, a titan with a gentle heart.

In her eulogy for Ben, Barb Rau concluded with these words:

    “In 2002, after my brother passed away unexpectedly, I heard a knock on my door, looked up and saw Ben standing there. He seemed uncomfortable, at a loss for words, and a bit like he’d rather be standing anywhere but at my door. He said simply, “I am very sorry about your brother.” I choked out, “Thank you, Ben” and he nodded his head at me and left. And so this is how I think of him. Set aside all the research, all the awards, all the students who adored him, and you will find that he was a man of integrity, who did uncomfortable things because he knew they were important and the right thing to do.”

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