By: Dr. Matthew Mullins
Dr. Michael Travers was a professor. He was a teacher and a scholar, but he was also a person of deep convictions, and he professed those convictions with skill, care, and wisdom. He died on March 2, 2017 in Oklahoma, where he served as associate provost, associate dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, chair of the Division of Language and Literature, and professor of English at Oklahoma Baptist University. When I first met Dr. Travers I was a directionless college student, one of those people who has no real reason for going to college other than that it is something to do after high school. I had no desire to leave Wake Forest. I had a job and a girlfriend, and although I loved to read, I had hated virtually every minute of formal education I ever experienced. I only applied to one school, The College at Southeastern, and I only did that because it was local, I had some friends there, and my parents promised I could live at home and save on room and board.
I learned a great deal in my first two years but wouldn’t say I enjoyed college. I went to all my classes chiefly because I was working to pay for school and didn’t want to waste my tuition money. But in year three with most of my required courses completed and a host of elective hours to fill, I signed up for a class called “Development of the British Novel” with a newly-arrived professor named Michael Travers.
Everything changed. The books awakened some intellectual enthusiasm and attention in me that had never been there before. The classroom couldn’t be contained by its walls. But it was the professor who changed my life. He didn’t just teach the texts; he loved them and his love for the reading was contagious. He didn’t just lecture or lead discussion; he built us into a community. Perhaps most importantly, he didn’t check his religion at the classroom door, but neither did he subject the books or us to a stifling hermeneutic.
Dr. Travers encouraged me to pursue further education and supported me in the endeavor. He got me my first work as an adjunct professor while I was still in graduate school, and he was instrumental in bringing me back to Southeastern after I completed my Ph.D. in English. That last sentence alone is a testament to his influence. I went from a directionless kid who didn’t really care whether I went to college at all to a professional student who spent a dozen years in school by the time I was finished, and what’s more, I now serve, like Dr. Travers, as a professor of literature.
My entire life, the life of my family, and the lives of my own students have been profoundly altered because of the faithfulness of Dr. Travers. And my story is just one of hundreds spread across his decades-long career. I have talked with numerous students, former students, colleagues, church members, and friends in the last few weeks whose lives have been radically changed by Dr. Travers. The lives he changed will continue to change other lives as his influence grows exponentially. His intellectual and spiritual footprint is vast. He taught us what it means to love God and others through the imaginative power of his teaching and through his steadfast example as a Christian. He loved the Bible as a work of literature, as God’s revelation, as a source of comfort and instruction. No one taught me the pleasure of the word of God like he did. May his memory be for a blessing.
Dr. Matthew Mullins is Assistant Professor of English and History of Ideas at the College of Southeastern and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.