Students know 68-year-old associate professor of classics and religious studies Thomas Winter as the skateboarding professor, but he won’t be a professor much longer.
Winter was propelled to Internet stardom last spring after a photo of him skateboarding on campus was uploaded to Reddit. In September, he announced his retirement, effective May 10, 2013.
His decision stems from frustration over the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s faculty compensation as well as a desire to pursue other interests.
Winter is a pilot and owns a small plane. He plans on putting a folding bicycle in the back of his plane and flying around the state, landing in small towns and then riding his bike through and around them, he said.
He also wants to design a website, continue doing scholarly research and try to get an airplane welder license, because he also enjoys welding and brazing.
“I’ve still got most of my health, and I’ve got lots of interests,” he said.
Winter said although he’ll miss certain aspects of teaching, he’s looking forward to the next chapter of his life.
“There are some professors who are unhappy in retirement,” he said. “I don’t think I’ll be one of them; however, of course there are things I’ll miss. The students inspire (me), and I hope I inspire them right back.”
According to Meghan Johns, a senior English and classics and religious studies major, he does. Johns is taking her fourth class with Winters and said he is the reason she decided to major in classics and religious studies.
“He’s one of the most creative and entertaining professors I’ve ever had,” she said. “It will be a big loss (when he retires).”
When Winter started at UNL in 1970, he was welcomed by Thomas Rinkevich, also an associate professor of classics and religious studies.
“I love him like a brother,” Winter said. “I don’t know if that’s mutual, but my hat goes off to him.”
Rinkevich said they became fast friends when Winter started, and he helped Winter learn about the university.
“(Winter) is a very generous fellow to his students,” he said. According to Rinkevich, in the 1970s and 1980s Winter and his wife took students living out of their cars into their home.
Johns said Winter’s retirement is a loss for students who won’t have the opportunity to take a class with him.
“(Future students) are not going to be able to see the passion and dedication that he’s given his whole life,” she said.
John found out about Winter’s retirement via Facebook. Winter said he uses Facebook to keep in touch with students.
According to Winter, his pay has been affected by salary compression. He said many tenured professors – himself included – earn less money than new faculty hires. He noted that salary compression is widespread in higher education and many universities use it to competitively attract new professors.
Winter said although he’s ready for retirement, knowing it’s just on the horizon has brought some sad realizations. For example, last week he said he was in the middle of teaching Classics 233, Science in the Classical World, when he thought to himself, “this is the last time I’ll teach this class.” He said he’ll miss instructing students.
Science in the Classical World is a course Winter has been teaching since the early 1970s.
“It’s my pet,” he said.
Junior biological sciences major Daniel Cloonan is in the class and said he took it specifically for Winter.
Cloonan said Winter is a “wacky” character because he embodies both the academic aspect of college life and the crazy, unusual parts of it too.
“I think he’s an important piece of campus culture,” he said, referencing Winter’s fame as the skateboarding professor.
As a farewell to the university, Winter will be teaching a class in the first summer session of 2013.
He said students have been the best part of his job for the past 42 years.
“I like my students, I think without exception,” he said. “At heart, I think they’re all inherently worthwhile.”
Winter said his favorite memory of UNL is helping students succeed. He said he has always loved writing recommendation letters for students.
“When I get down, I open my files (of recommendation letters I’ve written) and remind myself of the great and glorious students there have been.”
He’s also going to request to keep his office in 940 Oldfather Hall so he has a place from which to continue his scholarly endeavors. If the university doesn’t grant him the office, he said he’ll just take over a part of Love Library and work from there.
Winter said students can still expect to see him, and his wheels, in the future.
“Campus is a great skateboard park,” he said.