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Fitz’s Opus

In 1978, Jimmy Carter was President of the United States. Warren Burger was the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Tip O’Neill was the Speaker of the House. Ray Blanton was the Governor of Tennessee.

“Saturday Night Fever: was the #1 song. Grease, the top grossing movie. Annie Hall won best picture. Laverne and Shirley was the top ranked television show. The Yankees defeated the Dodgers in six games to win the World Series. The then Washington Bullets won the NBA championship. The Vols went 5-5-1 in football.

In-state tuition and fees were less than $1,000, UT had about 20,000 students. The UT system celebrated its 10th birthday.

Dr. Fitzgerald with his former Ph.D. student, Dr. Brian Noland, President of East Tennessee State University

And, for our purposes, most importantly, Mike Fitzgerald arrived in Knoxville from Oklahoma by way of Missouri. A Vietnam Veteran, Fitzgerald was awarded two Bronze Star Medals for meritorious achievement during his tour of duty with the 25th Infantry Division.

“Fitz” earned his doctorate at the University of Oklahoma. At Tennessee, he served in numerous administrative positions. In the early 1980s, with colleagues Stephen Rechichar (political science) and David Dungan (religious studies), he taught innovative courses on the impact of the Vietnam War and that featured presentations by Vietnam Veterans as well as anti-war activists. 

His research dealt with American politics, public administration, public policy, Congress, the president, media, communications, urban policy, state and local government, even a little international relations for good measure. Given the breadth of his research and interests, he could teach across the curriculum: institutions, behavior, policy, political theory, and public administration. He was the ultimate team player. When there was a vacant course, we called on Fitz and invariably, he delivered. Introductory courses, upper-level major classes, electives, and graduate classes in the MPA/MPPA program and the PhD program. He is still a popular choice for dissertation committees. In December, he chaired his final PhD committee and hooded Jesse Cragwell. Fittingly, our newest PhD is a veteran.

Fitz, also known as “Doc,” shined in the classroom. The evidence is compelling. There were the most visible indicators - the myriad of teaching awards. He won about every teaching award one could at UT. But there were other markers. The legions of students who followed him through the curriculum. He had a lot of repeat business. And then there were the alumni. The modal answer to who was your favorite professor is “Doc.” Some past students have contributed funds in his name. Some have even established a fund in his name and donate annually. “How would you like the money spent?” We ask. And they respond, “ask Doc what he thinks you need.” He had a profound impact on two generations of students.

Doc is going to retire at the end of the academic year, ostensibly at least. It is hard to imagine he will not remain active. His passion will live on through his current and recent students and all the alumni who think of him as the embodiment of UT.

Forty-four years is essentially a lifetime. We salute Doc/Fitz and wish him well in his retirement. And we are confident that we will see him around the campus.

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