Fourteen months ago, Dr. Donald T. McGuire Jr. was unsure if he would ever stand in front of a classroom again. This year he's back – on a scooter.
McGuire owns a handful of titles: adjunct associate professor of the UB Classics Department, coordinator for undergraduate initiatives for the college of arts and sciences, father, husband, scholar, world traveler, "Dead Head," and more.
When he was diagnosed with diabetes, his life and identity were both in jeopardy.
In November of last year, McGuire went to a doctor for treatment on what he thought was an unusual infection on his foot. The test results were shocking: doctors discovered that the infection was, in fact, a toxic reaction to diabetes.
McGuire didn't know he had had diabetes.
He needed surgery as soon as possible. What started as a routine doctor's appointment turned into a lengthy ordeal and several operations. After his big toe on his left foot was amputated, he was hospitalized for three and a half weeks and faced a two-and-a-half month rehab process afterward.
Although his health was in shambles, McGuire never questioned his return to teaching – his true passion.
"At times I worried I might not have a leg and I wondered what that would be like, but I don't think I ever thought it would stop me from teaching," McGuire said. "I don't see how I could not teach at UB...I would have a hard time accepting that. A lot of my identity is wrapped in being a teacher and being a good teacher. That's at the heart of everything."
While hospitalized, McGuire put his normal life on hold, to go into "survival mode," hoping that the worst had passed. His teaching assistants finished his World Civilizations classes, and he wasn't able to go on the study abroad trip he had planned.
No amount of healing could stop the infection from returning due to problems with the original procedure, but McGuire overcame the infection once again and things are finally looking up. McGuire made a return to teaching this year with the help of his special boot, cane, and scooter – all designed to keep weight off his foot.
Students have probably seen him pushing his scooter around in the Honors College and wondered: "What is that guy smiling about?" McGuire is just happy to be back in the classroom.
Sometimes he uses a hand-carved cane to help him get around. The cane – carved in Tijuana, Mexico – displays old, colorful scenes from everyday Mexican life of past and present Mexican culture. The widow of legendary UB Professor and poet Mac Hammond passed it down to him.
"I should be slowly throwing aside my tools of medical convenience," McGuire said. "I expect to ski again. I expect to walk around ruins for 10 hours a day. I expect to just walk around a classroom. The diabetes is there, and I live my life these days taking some care to make sure it's as small of an issue as it can be. It's simply a part of my reality now."
For McGuire, teaching takes its roots in a lifetime of dedicated study in his field. He began studying Latin in high school, and then majored in Latin and Greek at Brown University for his undergraduate degree, before continuing on to Cornell for his Ph.D. McGuire said his teaching style was formed from the influence of many of his own teachers.
"My first ever Latin teacher made it clear to me that teaching was a gift and a craft," McGuire said. "You bring different traits from different teachers and I've always had good teachers. That's part of my luck. I'm always thinking what my teachers would have done in certain situations."
McGuire also credits his world travels as formative experiences that paved the way for him becoming a professor. Much of his identity lies in the many experiences he had as a student of classics.
He travelled to Rome his junior year of college, and that trip changed his life. He decided to get a Ph.D. in Latin and Greek because he enjoyed the languages so much.
McGuire strives to provide students with travel opportunities similar to the ones he had as a student. Although he has sat out of the last two trips he planned, due to his illnesses, McGuire looks forward to an opportunity to bring students abroad to the Mediterranean region again as soon as possible.
"I think travel is a learning experience. I think everybody agrees with that," McGuire said. "My impressions of Italy and Turkey are my own…I want to shape the experience so that the students not only get my take, but also develop their own opinions and make their own reads on what's going in the culture and what's going on with history and what they see of what I show them."
McGuire began taking students abroad as a professor at the University of Southern California. He moved to Los Angeles from Cornell right after graduation, as both he and his wife were offered jobs at USC teaching in the classics department.
As the two lovebirds had met in college studying classics, an opportunity to teach at the same university was a dream come true for the newlyweds.
"We met in grad school as a part of an amazing group of grad students at Cornell, and things worked," McGuire said. "We travel a lot together and enjoy a lot similar movies and materials. We cook together. We have fun."
McGuire and his wife taught at USC until he moved to Buffalo in 1992.
"The student body here is palpably different," McGuire said. "It's a much more populist feeling here at a big state university versus an elite private university in the center of Los Angeles. There's a much wider variety of students here from all economic backgrounds and all different experiences, whether it's kids from farms or kids from Queens or Long Island. There's a really interesting international feel to the atmosphere here, as well."
The "diverse and less privileged" community of students here at UB makes a significant difference in the classroom environment, according to McGuire, as far as the students' attitudes toward learning.
"I feel as though there's a bigger population of students here who really want to make their way and are actively engaged in their education," McGuire said. "The stereotype about LA students and USC students especially is that they're spoiled, and that's not fair. USC had boatloads of great students."
Overall, McGuire feels this makes teaching at UB better than at USC due to interest in learning – that's what makes teaching worthwhile, according to McGuire.
McGuire typically teaches two classes a semester at UB – one upper level class within the classics department and one section of World Civilizations. Students in his classes sense his passion for subject matter and are stimulated by his lectures and classroom conduct.
"He jumps around a lot, but I like that," said Allison Edwards, a sophomore biomedical sciences major who traveled to Italy this past winter break on the trip McGuire planned for the Honors College. "He has really interesting stories and it's not a typical class where the professor is dry and lists facts. McGuire always adds interesting things to the course material from his own experiences traveling in Italy and Turkey."
Students also admire McGuire for his true mastery of the material and his ability to serve as a constant source for help and information in subjects other than what he teaches. They feel that he really cares for them as well as their education.
"You can tell that he loves what he's doing and he tries to get you to love it as well," said Paul Glenn, a sophomore mathematical psychics major. "Also, his memory is ridiculous. It sometimes seems inhuman with all the people and places he remembers."
McGuire incorporates his other loves in life to the class by sharing video and audio clips from favorite movies and musicians in his lectures along with his famous stories.
McGuire's office is a shrine to his many travels and cultural influences in life. A collection of knick-knacks from overseas and posters adorn the room along with his packed bookshelves.
Included in his display is a bottle of Turkish ketchup, a small Japanese alarm clock, several family photos and posters of his home of New England. His favorites include an original concert flier for The Who and another of the Birdkillers and The McGuires. McGuire was not a member of the band himself, but his sister spotted the poster on a telephone pole in Manhattan and stole it for him.
Family is the topic that McGuire speaks of with the biggest smile on his face. His daughter is currently a senior at Cornell and a member of the varsity crew team there. His son is a senior at a local Buffalo high school and is getting ready to choose a college from a list of potential best fits.
McGuire has been lucky enough to work alongside his wife throughout his teaching career. Although they don't often collaborate, a passion in Latin and classical study is one of the many things they share in common.
A man of many titles, McGuire looks forward to a long awaited full recovery full of new and exciting travel – and more students eager to learn about history in modern life.