Reflection on Dr. Cowan

Riley Roberts, Contributing Writer

Photo courtesy of the University of Dallas Archives.

Dr. Louise Cowan was a Founding Fellow of the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture and the former chair of the English Department at the University of Dallas. She and her husband, Dr. Donald Cowan, were instrumental in the creation of the university’s Core curriculum.

Many current students did not have the privilege of meeting her, but her ethos permeates the texts that all UD students read. The Cowans meticulously crafted the Core, combining epic, lyric, tragic and comic texts to expose students to the full range of Western tradition.

“[The curriculum should] shake [students] up, make them lose direction, and deposit them, finally, at the roots of the soul,” Cowan said in her lecture “The Poetic Imagination and Education.”

Her Southern, feminine voice commanded rooms of highly esteemed members of society, and her students were enchanted by her intellect and conviction. She guided students to the hearts of novels and helped them discover the hidden depths of literature.

“[Novels give students] a vision of experience, fulfilled and redeemed in knowledge,” Cowan said.

Dr. Louise Cowan is greatly admired at the University of Dallas — students need not look far to find her influence. She dedicated 20 years of her life to the University of Dallas, as she understood the necessity of a Catholic education in the liberal arts.

Cowan claimed that the greatest influence in her conversion to Catholicism was the Russian novel, which is also the name of a course her son, Dr. Bainard Cowan, teaches at the university.

“Dostoyevsky converted me,” Dr. Louise Cowan said in an interview with D Magazine.

She embodied the spirit of the University of Dallas in her passionate Catholicism and devotion to literature, especially Southern texts.

Cowan was a champion of all educators. She began the Teachers Academy at the Dallas Institute, a program that is recognized by the National Endowment for the Humanities as a national model.

“Teachers are the representatives of a culture,” Cowan wrote. “Their task is to ensure the passing on of the wisdom of a people.”

She certainly succeeded in her goal as an educator. Regardless of whether students knew who she was, Cowan passed a wisdom on to her students — a wisdom to which I can personally attest. Although I never had the privilege of meeting her, her beliefs regarding literature and humanity have permeated my education. Like many other University of Dallas students and alumnus, I am eternally grateful for Dr. Cowan and the community she created.

Her expansive wisdom influenced thousands of people, who will continue to reside in Dr. Cowan’s challenging and cultivating education. She was a great-souled woman, whose memory we can honor by continually exploring and preserving the literary tradition for which she worked her entire life to give us.


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