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Ed DeSantis

Ed DeSantis

Late UNM Honors professor had fun with students, unorthodox classes

Ed DeSantis, former lecturer at the Honors College, passed away last week, leaving behind memories of a caring and insightful individual to those he met during his time at UNM.

Honors College professor Dr. Leslie Donovan said DeSantis was at UNM for more than 25 years before retiring after the 2010-2011 school year. Before teaching in the Honors College, he was associate dean in the School of Graduate Studies, and he also held the position of faculty senate president in the mid-2000s.

DeSantis primarily facilitated courses in literature, fine arts, music and philosophy. Donovan called him “extraordinarily thoughtful."

“He was one of those faculty members who, as he walked toward his office, every student that crossed his path, he would speak to,” she said. "He cared greatly for students and he was always willing to talk with them about a wide range of things – fairly intellectual things, but he also had a sense of humor."

That connection with students was manifested in other ways as well, Donovan said. When DeSantis’ wife, Rosario, would go to Mexico City to teach, he would open the doors and space of his home to students.

“To a graduate student or an undergrad who was needing a place to live,” she said. “That was company for him, certainly, but a pretty big gift to give to somebody. Often they would be international students, from Mexico or elsewhere, who needed a little help.”

DeSantis was also thoughtful and unorthodox in how he conducted himself in the classroom. Donovan said one of his courses was centered on the concept of wit, and for another course he let the students pick the reading material.

“I always thought that was brave,” Donovan said. “He was very courageous that way, in being willing to explore without a clear pathway ahead of him in ways that other faculty members are pretty reluctant to do.”

Honors College Assistant Professor Amaris Ketcham once had DeSantis as a teacher, and said it was sometimes hard to tell whether he was being serious or playful.

“He would often to say things that were sort of anachronistic, and make these sort of recommendations on how to live life, like putting Wagner on the phonograph and drinking a fine Cognac when you get home, which really reinforced the perception that students have about older male professors in particular,” Ketcham said.

Briana Van Treeck, a UNM alum who had DeSantis as an instructor in 2010, said that DeSantis was always the dominating figure in the room.

“I think the most unique thing about him as an instructor was his command of a room, simply by his presence,” she said. “He was so soft-spoken that the room would turn silent whenever he spoke so no one would miss a word. He will be missed.”

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The Facebook page for alumni of the Honors College posted about DeSantis’ death on Friday, ant the comments exemplify the kind of impact he left on his students and colleagues.

“He was so warm and really pushed students hard and out of their comfort zones,” a former student commented.

Other comments called him “wonderful,” “one of my favorite teachers” and “one of the most civilized people I’ve known.”

Befriending his students in a way rarely observed by most personified DeSantis, something that Donovan said will be missed greatly.

“He always had a kind word. I never saw him grumpy, never saw him angry. He loved life, he loved interacting with people.”

DeSantis was 78.

David Lynch is the news editor at the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at news@dailylobo.com

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