Remembering English Professor Burton Cooper
Burton L. Cooper enjoyed a long and productive career in the Department of English, from his time as a CLA undergraduate (BA 1953) through his ascent up the professorial ranks, to his retirement in 1999. After BU, Burt went on to earn his MA and PhD at the University of Michigan. He returned to BU as an instructor in 1961.
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Burt Cooper was a scholar of film and American drama in particular, but in truth taught an amazing range of courses from Shakespeare to O'Neill, Shaw, Wilde, and Beckett; he taught every 100-level introductory course in literature and writing at some point in his career. He pioneered the EN 175 Introduction to Film course and offered advanced courses in the films of Orson Welles and George Cukor, among others, as well as the full range of American and modern drama. He was a dedicated teacher, known especially for his attention to student writing. One student in EN 175 commented on Burt's distinctive style as a teacher:
"Professor Cooper maintained an attitude throughout the year unlike that of any instructor I had before: a sense of intimacy between teacher and student. [This in a course with nearly 100 students!] Rarely have I had an instructor who keeps eye contact with the student and, upon realizing the student's recognition of a concept, allows spontaneous feedback—Never were lectures structured so that students were denied their voice."
One sophomore Broadcasting/Film major in COM put his admiration in even more dramatic terms:
"I have nothing but superlatives for this class. It has been the highlight of my schedule—My opinions have changed dramatically—when I entered this class I thought of movies as escapist entertainment and nothing more. I judged movies by whether they had a happy ending or not. I can only dread what would have become of me if I had not taken this class."
Burt Cooper was deeply involved in the life of the department and the College. In the department, he served for three years as Director of the Freshman-Sophomore Writing Program (the precursor to today's Writing Program), for six years as Director of Undergraduate Studies, and a term as Acting Associate Chair. His comprehensive understanding of the undergraduate curriculum led to his appointment as Acting Assistant Dean of Undergraduate Student Affairs for a year, followed by a long-term appointment as Associate Dean of Undergraduate Student Affairs from 1989 to 1995. He performed all these duties conscientiously, and with his usual wit and style. Indeed, those who were fortunate enough to know Burt valued—along with his encyclopedic memory of theatrical and musical performances—his very dry, very sharp sense of humor. He was one of the great raconteurs, full of wonderful stories but also capable of serious talk about serious things.
Burton L. Cooper passed away on December 23, 2010, at the age of 78.