Leonard Oakland has been frequently described as a Renaissance man and a living legend on the Whitworth campus, and for good reason. For English majors, his classes on Russian literature, British poetry and classical epics inspired or renewed their own passion for the written word. Others are apt to tell you that Oakland profoundly affected the way they watch and appreciate movies, from The Godfather to Annie Hall (it’s likely they’ll also have watched White Men Can’t Jump, if only to enjoy Oakland’s cameo as Jeopardy player No. 3). Still others have traveled with Oakland on the France Study Program or the British Isles Study Program, their eyes opened to worlds filled with rich culture, curated by Oakland.
On campus, many have enjoyed the fruits of his labor in the Westminster Courtyard, the garden outside the English building that Oakland tends each season. Finally, hardly any student since the 1980s has sat in a Core 250 lecture hall without witnessing Oakland’s performance as Friedrich Nietzsche, where he proclaims that the students sitting in front of him are all part of the herd. But these examples are all generalizations; many students will tell of their own unique relationship to the man whose voice is as iconic as the glasses resting on his forehead.
Oakland has been at Whitworth since 1966, which makes him the university’s longest-serving professor. Before coming to Spokane, he completed a master’s degree in English and Scandinavian at the University of California, Berkeley, and he taught from 1962-65 at Westmont College (Calif.), where he had earned his undergraduate degree. In 1977, he completed his doctoral work at Washington State University, where he wrote his dissertation on Donald Davie and modern British poetry.
Oakland is known throughout Spokane for his weekly classical-music program on KPBX-FM, the NPR affiliate in Spokane, and for his occasional participation in a weekly film-critics’ show, Movies 101. In 2009, to honor Oakland and his dedication to film studies, Whitworth launched the Leonard Oakland Film Festival. The festival takes place on campus each February. Ron Shelton, a student of Oakland’s at Westmont and the screenwriter and director of the movies Bull Durham and White Men Can’t Jump, said of Oakland, “There’s no one like him. His curiosity and love for learning are his biggest gifts. If you have those gifts or are given them, then life is an unfolding, dynamic process of learning. You are always young in that way.”