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Robert Daly

Robert Daly, SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor in English and Comparative Literature, reads his essay, “Literary competence and the ruling class,” in Clemens Hall.

The more we know, the more we notice

The headline above is one of many nuggets in “Literary competence and the ruling classes,” an essay written by Robert Daly, one of UB’s longest-tenured and most beloved English professors.

“The trouble with experience as a teacher is that too many people die from it.”
Robert Daly
SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor in English and Comparative Literature

In it, Daly explores the value of a literary education.

He tackles heavy subjects such as how a well-read populace can strengthen democracy, the poet’s role in society and how experience, while the best teacher, can be deadly. With nimble wit, he weaves the words of Aristotle with insights from a modern British literary critic.

While a treat to read, the essay is more powerful when Daly speaks it. His voice is authoritative yet warm, calm but commanding.

Perhaps Maya Angelou said it best: “Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with deeper meaning.”

Working among literary giants

Leading voices in American literature, including Carl Dennis (top), Leslie Fiedler (middle) and John Barth (bottom), taught at UB.

The list of scholars who have taught in UB’s English Department includes Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Carl Dennis; Leslie Fiedler, regarded by many as the most influential 20th century American literary critic; and the best-selling novelist John Barth.

Yet for every big name, there are professors who, while not as glamorous as their peers, are incredible teachers. Count Daly, who joined UB’s faculty in 1973, among them.

His credentials - a Leverhulme fellow, a Guggenheim fellow, a teaching appointment at Cornell, a research appointment at Cambridge, and the author of a book on Puritan poetry - are extraordinary. But other accomplishments - too many teaching awards to list, a member of the Doylestown (Ohio) High School Wall of Fame - reveal the caring, humble and charming man that generations of UB students have learned from.

Browse Daly’s name online and you'll find the unabashed praise of former students.

“Dr. Daly’s class is the intellectual experience of a lifetime.”

“I signed up to take an English course and I came out with a different way of looking at the world around me. No joke.”

“A hell of a smart man, good teacher, and funny guy.”

The compliments are not a summation of Daly’s career. They do, however, cut to the core of what he does: teach. He has done it well for years, and he continues to do it well today.

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