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William Scheuerle, a force for liberal arts at USF, dies at 83

Published Aug. 2, 2017

TAMPA — For many years, William "Bill" Scheuerle led University of South Florida graduation processions holding the ceremonial mace.

Colleagues say the role suited him. "He liked that formality," said Richard Dietrich, 78, an emeritus English professor at USF. "That's the impression you got."

"He was the university marshal," said Sara Deats, 81, a retired English professor and department chair at USF. "I think he was as proud of that as anything he had done."

Which is saying a lot.

Dr. Scheuerle, who championed the humanities over a 46-year academic career, during which time he served as a faculty member and administrator, died Feb. 15, the result of a bone marrow disorder, his family said. He was 83.

His passions included the novels of George Eliot, Charles Dickens and Emily and Charlotte Bronte; antiquarian book fairs; Victorian magazines and the work of printer and illustrator George Baxter.

In 1982, the year after Dr. Scheuerle moved from associate vice president for academic affairs to dean of undergraduate studies, he invited a budding Southeastern Nineteenth Century Studies Association to hold their annual meeting in Tampa. The theme centered on a cultural divide between sciences and the humanities, as noted in a famous 1959 lecture by British novelist and scientist C.P. Snow, "The Two Cultures."

Decades before politicians started incorporating the necessity of "STEM" classes (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) — along with a decided and corresponding lack of emphasis on literature, philosophy and the arts — it was a subject close to Dr. Scheuerle's heart.

"I came into academia thinking that dichotomy was over," said Silvio Gaggi, 71, a semi-retired interdisciplinary humanities professor at USF and former colleague. "Over numerous instances I learned it was far from over. Bill and I have fought a losing battle, in my opinion, because that split still exists."

In the small world of Victorian studies, Dr. Scheuerle's was a household name. In the 1970s, he worked to promote both the Research Society for Victorian Periodicals and the Victorian Interdisciplinary Studies Association of the Western United States, serving on the board of both organizations. For several years, Dr. Scheuerle also served as president of what is now called the Nineteenth Century Studies Association and edited the Victorian Periodicals Review.

He was an early and effective advocate of the notion that magazines such as Punch, the British Workman and Pall Mall Gazette provided an otherwise unavailable window into everyday life in the 19th century. Articles grappled with social issues such as the treatment of women and the working poor, said Richard Fulton, 67, a retired vice chancellor for academic affairs at Windward Community College in Kaneohe, Hawaii.

"He understood how valuable those periodicals were in serious research," Fulton said. "The ads showed how society worked, just to read who's advertising for a servant or how much it costs to emigrate to Australia."

William Howard Scheuerle was born in 1930 in Irwin, Pa. His mother worked as a librarian, his father at a watchmaking factory and as a musician.

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"He took people at face value," said Angela Scheuerle, his daughter, a Dallas physician. "Pick a nationality, pick a race, pick a gender. There was no prejudgment, absolutely none."

While earning a doctorate in Victorian studies at Syracuse University, he met Jane Walker, who was teaching biology at Cazenovia College. They married in 1958.

He served two years in the Army, leaving as a sergeant, his family said. In 1964 Dr. Scheuerle moved his family to Temple Terrace to teach English at USF. (Jane Scheuerle would later join the faculty as a speech and language pathologist.) In 1969 he accepted a two-year appointment as an academic adviser for the state Board of Regents, where he persuaded authorities to approve a doctorate program in English at USF.

"That turned us from kind of a small town department into a research-oriented department," Deats said.

In 1994, Dr. Scheuerle left administration to return to teaching. He retired in 2002, but returned in 2003 to become the first director of USF's Humanities Institute, staying on until 2009. For many years he also served on the Tampa-Hillsborough Public Library board, including time as its chair.

"The mission of the Humanities Institute is to be a place where students, staff, faculty and the community can come together to hear great speakers and engage in discussion," said Elizabeth Bird, a USF anthropologist and the institute's current director. "I have tried to maintain his legacy and continue to bring USF and the larger community together to discuss big ideas."

Occasionally, the Humanities Institute has recognized distinguished alumni. The honor is now being renamed to the William H. Scheuerle Distinguished Humanities Award.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at or (727) 892-2248.


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