The Enduring Scholar

He begins speaking to you before he has even come out his office door. “Hello, I heard you walk up,” he says. “Come in, come in.” There’s a genteel Southern accent. Virginia Beach, you will learn. And Emory University.

Chris Hudgins appears: a tall man with thick white hair and a full beard. He invites you to sit across from him at a table beside his desk. You will marvel, throughout your conversation with the dean of UNLV’s College of Liberal Arts, about that beard and hair—the way they suggest some archetype: Shakespearean actor, elder statesman, Donald Sutherland? Directly behind the scholar with the plantation voice is, of course, the requisite wall of books. The tones and colors are warm and insular, contemplative, unlike what you see through the small window in the corner—the naked and jagged Las Vegas Strip cutting through a bright blue sky.

He begins to answer sober questions about the university budget. Numbers pour out of his mouth. When you remark that he’s a fine mathematician for an English professor, he laughs a laugh that turns his face bright red, and he quips, “My dad made me take accounting.”

He tells you about his daughter, who is also studying English. She’s picked contemporary American fiction, with an emphasis on the Asian and Hispanic experiences—you have to be specific today. “Right now,” he says, “queer studies is a hot topic in medieval literature.” He will frequently wend away from budget talk to tell stories—short, colorful stories that you will be grateful for: He was once a folk singer, as was his friend, the renowned Shakespeare scholar Stephen Greenblatt, who had been asked years ago to join Simon and Garfunkel, which would’ve made them Simon, Garfunkel and Greenblatt—“Who knows if they would’ve been successful—it sounds more like a law firm,” he says, and he laughs, and his thick cheeks turn red again.

Hudgins almost resigned this spring when he heard he might have to cut the College of Liberal Arts budget by $3.7 million. “But I decided it would be cowardly.” When you pause to reflect on that, he points to a stack of scripts on the shelf behind you. They’re drafts by the prolific British dramatist Harold Pinter, the focus of much of Hudgins’ academic career. Pinter, a Nobel laureate who wrote and acted in innumerable plays, sent him the manuscripts. “He was very generous to me,” Hudgins says. There’s a sense of academic fraternity about it all. A sense that these things—the scripts and books and stories, the bard, the actor, the experiences—are gifts to be passed on, cherished.