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Only 7th From SHSU in 40 Years

He was an unprivileged kid who grew up in the southern part of the Philippine Islands, far from the hallowed halls of American academe. But education, principle, and humanity have given Sam Houston State University's Rolando V. del Carmen a special spot in the world, and he has brought its justice-seeking peoples closer together.

One of only five faculty members to hold the title of distinguished professor, del Carmen is only the seventh SHSU faculty member to be named a Piper Professor. The Minnie Stevens Piper Foundation of San Antonio has presented the award for 40 years to the state's top college and university teachers.

He was born in the Philippines, a 7,000-island group that most Americans know only as a cluster of old volcanoes between the Pacific Ocean and South China Sea.

The Philippine economy is primarily agricultural. Exports include minerals, timber and coconuts. But a hundred years after it became a U. S. territory, and 52 years after its independence, it is obvious that one of the Philippines' most valuable exports is Rolando del Carmen.

His family was far from rich or at high social status. But his parents believed in education as the gateway to success. There were 10 children, but all finished college, many with honors, and most went on to obtain graduate and professional degrees. As for the education of del Carmen himself, the late George Beto enjoyed amazing visitors to the Criminal Justice Center by introducing him as "the most degreed man in America."

While that statement may not be technically accurate, del Carmen does, indeed, have five degrees--Bachelor of Arts (1953) and Bachelor of Laws (1956) from Silliman University in his homeland, Master of Comparative Law (1961) from Southern Methodist University, Master of Laws (1967) from the University of California-Berkeley, and Doctor of the Science of Law (1970) from the University of Illinois-Champaign.

He taught in the Philippines, came to Texas after winning a Fulbright-Southwestern Legal Foundation scholarship to study at SMU, and returned to the islands for six years to teach and work as a law professor and university administrator. During that time he was also a political commentator on a daily 45-minute radio program, and got on the wrong side of the rising political party of Ferdinand Marcos.

While del Carmen was back in the United States finishing his graduate degrees in law, President Marcos declared martial law.

"I could not go home because I was on Marcos' 'black list' of individuals who opposed martial law," said del Carmen. "I decided against going home because I would surely have been in prison if I did. Besides, my graduate training in constitutional law and criminal procedure would have been superfluous in a country under martial law."

He taught in Wisconsin, but he and his wife, Josie, didn't enjoy the cold climate. They decided to come to Texas and he became a part of Sam Houston State University's growing College of Criminal Justice in 1974. The partnership has been mutually-beneficial--for his career and for the success of the program.

"His presence and good sense was a calming voice during the establishment of the Criminal Justice College," said Ralph Pease, one of several SHSU faculty members who nominated del Carmen for the Piper award.

"His insistence that new Ph. D. candidates be thoroughly prepared and skilled helped insure the validity of a new program and caused the university to gain its national prominence as clearly one of the three best criminal justice programs in the United States."

Del Carmen returns the compliment.

"I thank my colleagues in the College of Criminal Justice and the university for their tremendous support and encouragement over the years," he said. "I could not have chosen a better group of peers, both faculty and administrators, for what I do. I am truly lucky and am deeply grateful to them."

Piper Professorships are primarily for the recognition of great teachers. Those at Sam Houston State University previously honored were Hazel Floyd (1961), George Killinger (1968), Mary Frances Park (1981), Fisher Tull (1984), Ralph Pease (1987) and Witold Lukaszewski (1991). Great teachers, however, seem to use their excellence in other areas, such as research and service, to make their teaching even better. Del Carmen is no exception.

The university presented del Carmen its first Excellence in Research Award in 1986. Publishing is an outgrowth of research, and del Carmen's credits in that area include 17 books and book revisions, 16 book chapters, 68 articles and 10 government reports. He has given more than 370 seminars to groups in Texas and 44 other states.

"I find this part of my professional life to be just as satisfying as my classroom teaching," said del Carmen. "It enables me to share the product of my legal research with students and field practitioners in criminal justice.

"I am convinced that academics have an obligation to share the product of their experience and research with those who can benefit most from it and who, in turn, can translate academic findings into practice."

This del Carmen has done at the international level.

One of del Carmen's former students who is now a criminal justice faculty member at Georgia State University calls him "the nation's top scholar concerning legal liabilities in criminal justice," and del Carmen's criminal procedure book, now in its fourth edition, "unquestionably and unequivocally the best (such) book on the market."

"This book is so good that it has been translated into Japanese and is currently being translated into Chinese," said Michael S. Vaughn. "Students literally around the globe clamor for this text when they enroll in the challenging course of criminal procedure."

Vaughn calls del Carmen, "a true scholar who has pioneered an entire area of research in criminal justice."

Indicative of that pioneering status was del Carmen's selection in 1997 for the Bruce Smith Award, the highest award given by the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences, the national organization for criminal justice educators, for "Outstanding Contributions to the Field of Criminal Justice."

To say that he is respected by his students and colleagues at Sam Houston State is a considerable understatement.

"Dr. del Carmen does not merely want us to regurgitate the law," said Bruce K. Wilson, a doctoral research assistant, "but to reach deep within ourselves for the true rationality, as it is applicable in today's society. He is a brilliant scholar and the other students and I were lucky to have had him as a professor, and a mentor."

Toughness is a del Carmen quality.

"It is rumored among the graduate students that Dr. del Carmen's classes are the most demanding in terms of time and thought," said Ruth Triplett, associate professor in the College of Criminal Justice, "but that they are also classes in which a great deal is learned."

For del Carmen, class is never over. Wilson mentions that "after every class session we would not simply end our discussion, we would simply continue it at another place, perhaps over lunch." Other faculty members notice that as well.

"Dr. del Carmen's outstanding graduate teaching occurs outside the classroom, particularly in his collaborations with graduate students," said Margaret Farnworth, professor and associate dean in the College of Criminal Justice. "Rolando routinely co-authors books, journal articles, and books with doctoral students. In the graduate context where learning occurs primarily in apprenticeship associations, Dr. del Carmen is a model for the university professoriate."

Charles Friel has known del Carmen for more than two decades, as his colleague and as his former dean, and says he is "the finest teacher I have had the pleasure of knowing."

"The best testimony of his unique mentorship is the evolution of a generation of his young scholars who have gained national recognition themselves for their work in criminal jurisprudence," said Friel, "mirroring in their teaching and research Dr. del Carmen's unique ability to bring the theory of the law to the practice of criminal justice.

"While most of us who teach probably accomplish little more than instructing our students, Dr. del Carmen truly alters their minds. It can be honestly said that, through his teaching, the body of his written work, and his unselfish efforts on behalf of practitioners, that the quality of justice in this country is the better because of Dr. del Carmen."

Del Carmen will be recognized by Bobby K. Marks, Sam Houston State University president, during May 16 spring commencement exercises. He also receives a $2,500 honorarium from the foundation, which honors only the very top faculty members from Texas colleges and universities.

The money will be a nice "thank you," but money has not been important to him. He might have made more had he become a practicing attorney, a member of the judiciary, or taught at a prestigious law school. He chose instead to teach in a program where the rubber of justice theory meets the sometimes-bumpy road of justice practice.

"I have always considered teaching to be a calling more than a profession," he said. "I teach in a criminal justice program where I honestly feel I can make a more meaningful contribution to the betterment of society and the enrichment of the lives of students with whom I interact.

"I'm deeply honored and thankful for this award. I hope I'll continue to earn it."

The del Carmens have lived in Huntsville for 24 years. Their only child, Jocelyn, graduated as valedictorian from Huntsville High School. She finished her medical degree at the Harvard Medical School and is a physician in Palo Alto, California.


Media Contact: Frank Krystyniak
May 8, 1998
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