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At Bethel, Lewis found rigorous scholarship, compatible colleagues

April 16th, 2018

by Melanie Zuercher

NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – After almost 40 years of teaching, most of them at Bethel College, Paul Lewis, professor of psychology and philosophy, is retiring.

He “got bitten by the teaching bug” when he began doing it part-time with college-level students at the Cook County (Illinois) School of Nursing, after finishing a master’s degree in social sciences (1978) at the University of Chicago.

As Lewis continued with Ph.D. studies at Chicago, he had several part-time teaching appointments (St. Xavier University, Roosevelt University, University of Illinois-Chicago, University of Chicago).

“I enjoyed all of them, but I was hankering after a full-time position,” especially once his doctoral work was done, he says.

Lewis’ undergraduate degree from Carthage College, a Lutheran-affiliated school in Kenosha, Wisconsin, was pivotal. “I had such a good experience there that it crystallized my desire to teach psychology at a small, liberal-arts college with rigorous academics and scholarship, that emphasized teaching, research and a senior thesis.”

He found just such a position at Bethel. After three days of interviews, in which he met and liked the Bethel faculty member who would be his teaching colleague for the next three decades, Dwight Krehbiel, Lewis was ready to take the job when offered – even deciding against pursuing interviews at two other colleges.

Paul and Diane Lewis moved with their two small children, Ryan and Emma, to Newton in 1988. Will was born about two years later, and all three eventually graduated from Bethel (2002, 2007 and 2014).

Diane took a position on the music faculty at Sterling College, eventually becoming chair of the department before moving to Goddard High School, where she directed vocal performing groups until her retirement last year.

When asked about highlights from 29 years of teaching, Lewis refers to Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers.

In his research for that book, Gladwell found “three things that make a job satisfying,” Lewis says, all of which are applicable to his teaching career at Bethel.

The three are: “autonomy, and I had that, plus support from colleagues and the academic dean; complexity – there were challenges all along to deal with; and a very clear relationship between effort and reward.

“I experienced a [the last] especially working with psychology majors,” Lewis says. “They’re a self-selected group of students who are excited about the area and thrive under rigorous standards. That has been a great joy.

“They are curious. They work hard. They are sometimes interested in what you’re doing and become your research assistants – or they go in their own direction and that’s interesting as well.”

Overall, he says, he has appreciated “the quality of classes at Bethel. Even when I’ve had people who’ve struggled, who haven’t been adequately prepared, I have still found it satisfying.”

As a member and often chair of “more committees than I can remember,” Lewis has been part of bringing about several important additions to the general education curriculum, including the cross-cultural learning (CCL) and peace, justice and conflict studies (PJCS) requirement, along with the oral exam component of Basic Issues of Faith and Life (BIFL).

“Another [addition] that has really worked out well is the idea of certificate programs,” such as Clinical and Counseling Studies, Neuroscience, Youth Ministry and others.

“One big highlight, and a reason why I have stayed here,” Lewis continues, “is the good people, who are well-intentioned and work hard, not only students but faculty as well as administrators and staff.

“We hold dear a number of values, one of them being religion. Bethel is aligned with Christianity in terms of following the example of Jesus, rather than through doctrine or dogma, and in an ecumenical context.

“We are open to other beliefs and faiths, not forcing Christianity down anyone’s throat. Other views are respected, and I’ve appreciated that.

“[I have also appreciated that] if you were to average all the political stances here, we would come out left of center. Not too far, but insofar as we engage the importance of social action – for example, taking the side of the oppressed and marginalized – and of service.

“Most recently has been Bethel’s open embrace of LGBTQIA individuals. Bethel hasn’t shied away from difficult social and political ideas and issues.”

As he moves into retirement, Lewis has a few goals, he says.

“I’m going to work on becoming a good grandfather. Diane has been retired a year and she has been doing the grandparent thing and enjoying it.”

The Lewises have five grandsons. Emma and Jeff ’07Janzen, with two sons, live the closest, in the Kansas City area; and Ryan, who has three, lives with his family in Copenhagen.

In addition to grandparenting, Lewis has “several ambitious but rather presumptuous projects” he intends to keep working on, he says.

One relates to his ongoing scholarly study of the structure and function of behavioral interpretation itself, and as it is applied to the experience of “divine intervention” and the understanding of schizophrenia.

Another will focus on “my emerging study of philosophy, as a student, teacher, and novice scholar, focusing on original statements re: epistemology, ontology, morality, and the philosophy of religion.”

Finally, he will continue to work at composing and performing (on guitar) “a series of what I call ‘tone poems’ that deal with either psychological or philosophical issues.”

In the recent past, Lewis has performed some of these on campus, as well as via the Singer-Songwriters Circle that convenes regularly at the Artichoke in Wichita.

“I’m excited to have the time to really focus on these three sets of projects,” Lewis says. “Who knows? As long as my lucidity holds out, I’m hoping to have a good 70s decade.”

Bethel College is the only private college in Kansas listed in the analysis of top colleges and universities, the Washington Monthly National Universities-Liberal Arts section and the National Liberal Arts College category of U.S. News & World Report, all for 2016–17. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see

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About Bethel

As the first Mennonite college founded in North America, Bethel College celebrates a tradition of progressive Christian liberal arts education, diversity within community, and lifelong learning.