‘In the blink of an eye’

Retiring geography professor, former department chair Paul Todhunter reflects on 32 years at UND

During a Zoom chat and geography forum on May 5, Paul Todhunter discussed his UND career. Zoom screenshot.

His time at UND went by in the blink of an eye, said geography professor Paul Todhunter.

The former University Senate and department chair discussed his time in academia at a May 5 Zoom chat and geography forum, “På et Øyeblikk: Reflections on 32 Years at UND.” The title, “In an eyeblink,” is a nod to his two stints teaching in Norway for a UND cultural exchange program.

Paul Todhunter

“The great thing about UND is that there is excellent opportunity and work-life balance,” said Todhunter. “I was able to teach good students, work with good graduate students, maintain a research program, be professionally active, and raise a family.”

Todhunter joined the UND geography department in 1989 after teaching at Clark University in Worcester, Mass. He holds bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in geography from UCLA, where he had his first brush with UND.

“When I was a grad student, I went to the geography section of the UCLA bookstore,” Todhunter said. “And there I found The Geography of Famine, by William Dando at the University of North Dakota. When I interviewed at UND in 1989, I ended up getting his job when he moved to Indiana State. And now, 32 years later, I’m facing retirement.”

UND was a good fit.

“I was a poor kid from San Bernardino, Calif., who was provided education at a public university,” Todhunter said. “I was a good student, and UCLA was affordable. It was life-changing. UND provides a similar experience. Access to quality public education betters lives and offers the greatest opportunity for upward social mobility.”

Zoom screenshot.

Teaching, research and service

Research is one of the big positives of his time at UND, Todhunter said.

“I was able to adopt a broad research and teaching agenda that includes climatology, hydrology, environmental hazards, flooding and environmental impact,” he said. “My work is a bit like the Platte River in Nebraska: a mile wide and an inch deep. It worked well.”

Todhunter said he especially enjoyed approaching his work from a public geography perspective and with a regional research focus that benefited North Dakota.

“From floods and climate change to wetlands, and with a focus on community and economic development, the region has a lot of interesting things when it comes to geography.”

Zoom screenshot.

A career highlight was the opportunity to teach at the American College of Norway, which is affiliated with UND. He ended up going twice,  in 2002 and 2015.

“The cultural exchange was a joy,” he said. “We made great friends there. The Norwegian landscape is stunning, and the people are wonderful. I’m a big proponent of studying abroad and having deep contact with another culture.”

Todhunter served as University Senate chair during the 2018-2019 academic year. Awards include the UND faculty achievement award in 2011, among others.

“Our department has always encouraged service,” he said. “Peer interactions are some of my best memories. We have really good faculty at this University, and it’s a big strength of UND. I’m not sure that people in the state understand just how good the faculty are.”

He enjoyed department work, serving as geography chair twice.

“I think geography has maintained an excellent focus on teaching and being centered on students,” he said. “All our faculty have an open-door policy, and we get along pretty well. Instead of infighting, we have a love-fest!”

Todhunter said that hiring good faculty, focusing on serving the state, and improving quality have helped the department flourish.

“When I came here in 1989, the graduate program had recently gotten off program suspension. Today, we have increased graduation rates and job placements. Our grads get jobs all over the country. I’ve been able to work with some really good graduate students, and to publish with some of them.”

Many of those students attended the Zoom meeting, sending congratulations over the chat feature. Todhunter knew them all, reminisced about the work he had done with them, and spoke about how much he enjoyed working with students.

“They have gone on to do great things,” he said.

During retirement, Todhunter plans to stay professionally active, continue some research, and do a little teaching if needed. Big goals are to learn more Norwegian and travel. Attending a live U2 concert is on the bucket list as well.

Takk for alt – thanks for everything,” he said. “It’s been a good career, a good life, and a good fit. That’s what life is about – to have an impact. I don’t believe in saying goodbye. Vi seeswe will see you later.”