Oakland University remembers Professor Emeritus Jack Barnard

By Kevin Teller

Last month, the OU community lost one of its members, professor emeritus V. John Barnard.

 Referred to as “Jack” by his friends and colleagues, Barnard first came to OU in 1964 and served as the labor historian for the history department until his retirement in 1997.

It was through the process of his retirement that he met current labor historian Daniel Clark.

“He was just a marvelously warm and generous person,” Clark said. “He was always interested in what everyone else was thinking about and learning.”

With more than three decades of work at the university, Barnard’s legacy made a considerable impression on many of those whom he worked and interacted with.

Clark also commented on Barnard’s historical writing and research. He noted that that Barnard displayed a balanced method of assessment in his work. Clark said that this quality is in short supply, particularly among such a heated subject like the history of labor unions in Detroit, which was Barnard’s principal area of study and expertise.

With regards to his work on the Detroit labor unions, Barnard published two books on the subject. Walter Reuther and the Rise of the Autoworkers, Barnard’s biography on the labor union leader, was published in 1983. After his retirement, Barnard’s book American Vanguard was published in 2004.

When speaking about American Vanguard, Clark explained that while it may seem like having only a couple of published works is not very much, these pieces are the culmination of Barnard’s entire academic work.

The books and articles that Barnard published over the course of his lifetime represent the dedication that Barnard had to seeking the truth in all circumstances and not merely depicting the most popular angle on a subject, according to Clark.

Barnard’s continued work past his time at OU, publishing American Vanguard after his retirement, inspired former OU history professor Mary Karasch to do the same with her research.

Karasch is a former colleague and coworker of Barnard’s and retired in 2010. She described Barnard as being “well-informed” in terms of the depth of his research. Karasch noted that he did not seem to be of any particular ideological perspective.

In addition to his work academically, various members of the history department have praised Barnard’s personality.

“He was someone you could always talk to,” said Karasch on Barnard’s approachability, even as he ascended to the role of department chair.

Both professor Clark and current history department chair Todd Estes noted their appreciation of Barnard’s generosity as he gave away a large portion of his personal library to both of them before his move to Cape Cod for the final years of his life.

“Shortly after hearing the news about his death, I looked for those volumes and found them and remembered anew his generosity,” Estes said.

Estes kept in touch with Barnard via email through his retirement, keeping him up to date on happenings about OU.

“It was always nice to hear from him and I looked forward to his messages and notes,” Estes said.