Unexpected death of department head evokes memories of influence
Published: Sunday, January 13, 2013
Updated: Sunday, January 13, 2013 23:01
A good professor teaches students about a field of study. A great professor feeds students knowledge that will be carried for the rest of their lives. James Aune, professor and head of the Department of Communication, was a great professor.
Aune died Tuesday after 16 years of teaching at A&M. He is described as a man appreciated far beyond his intellect. His students said he was the teacher they stayed after class to talk to. He was even known for moving a test for things such as Chilifest or sporting events.
Aune had been part of the A&M community since 1996 and had a strong connection with his colleagues and students. Kurt Ritter, professor emeritus of communication and long time friend and co-worker of Aune, said he and Aune shared similar interests, professionally and personally. Over their 16 years of working together, they developed a close friendship.
“He was really appreciated for his intellect,” Ritter said. “He was a really smart guy and people appreciated that of course, but he was also appreciated because he was such a nice person. He was so modest about himself and so concerned with other people.”
On behalf of himself and his colleagues, Ritter said Aune was a great teacher and scholar, as well as a great person.
Aune received his doctorate from Northwestern University in 1980. He was an associate professor at A&M since 1996 and became the head of the Department of Communication in 2011.
Through his intellect, Aune gave students a new perspective on the classroom material.
Senior communcation major Mariclaire Ballentine took Aune’s Rhetoric in Western Thought class.
Ballentine said Aune took information she would have typically seen as boring and transformed it into something compelling and interesting. She said several of her peers felt the same way.
In addition to being an established professor, Aune reached out to several of his students on a more personal level.
Jeff Pickering, Class of 2012 and former student body president. said that out of all the professors he had during his time at A&M, Aune was his favorite.
“He was one of those guys who challenged us as students, but who also cared about people even if we disagreed.” Pickering said. “He respected us, and we respected him back for what a brilliant man he was.”
Ritter said Aune was an influential teacher to his students and the way he taught his material did his students a service.
“He taught them the real and hard way. He was careful not to oversimplify,” Ritter said. “He was such a blessing to our students and it was a wonderful gift that we had someone so treasured by the students, faculty and University.”
In 2003, he was honored with the National Communication Association Diamond Anniversary award for his book Rhetoric and Marxism and Selling the Free Market. He also won the Association of Former Students Teaching award in 2004.
The research done by Aune is widely published in several journals and publications. He also served on the editorial boards of Quarterly Journal of Speech, Communication Theory, and Philosophy and Rhetoric.
Aune found family and faith very important parts of his life and was very active in his synagogue and the Jewish community. He is survived by his wife and two sons.