I did not have the opportunity to take many classes with Dr. Coleman (Dr. C., as some of us called him), but I did have the chance to attend a number of conferences where he was presenting. Dr. C.’s presentations are among my fondest memories of graduate school and my time at Carolina.
Listening to Dr. C. read his work was delight. He was an exceptional scholar, and his papers were, as might be expected, informative and insightful. They were also, more often than not, deliberately provocative and subversively funny. Dr. C. enjoyed playing devil’s advocate—though he frequently denied it—and no more so than at certain academic conferences. The high point of certain conferences was his panel, which he often shared with Dr. J. Lee Greene, because fireworks were guaranteed. During the reading Dr. C.’s demeanor was always calm, his pacing slow, and his words measured, so that it would take a while for the full implications of his argument to register with his listeners. But once it did register, it was highly entertaining to watch their responses. They perked up, and as soon as the presentation was over they bombarded him with questions and comments. In fact, the question and answer periods following Dr. C.’s presentations were often events unto themselves! At the height of the melee, Dr. C. would utter his signature phrase, “I didn’t come to argue with you,” which was the signal that he was ready to move on. At that point I and the other UNC graduate students who knew him would howl with laughter—because of course he did come to argue, and we all loved him for it. But we all understood that Dr. C. did not seek to cause controversy for the sake of controversy—he wanted to push all of us, especially the students, to think more deeply and to examine more closely the positions we took, because he certainly did. The work we were doing mattered, not just to us, but to the students whose lives we would touch, and Dr. Coleman never let us forget that.
I remain extremely grateful for the education I received at UNC, and for professors such as Jim Coleman. He was generous with his time and his counsel, as well as encouraging, demanding, and kind. I am extremely fortunate to have known and learned from him. He was one of a kind.
Thanks for all of the great arguments, Dr. C.