SMU Associate Professor of Political Science Dennis Simon died Sunday, Feb. 12, in Dallas after a long illness. Simon received various teaching awards throughout his 31-year career with SMU, including the Willis Tate Award and President’s Associate Award. In 2005 he also received the Altshuler Distinguished Teaching Professor Award, which is only given to four professors each year for their commitment to student learning.
Simon had a great impact on the SMU community; many of his students were inspired by him, including senior Matthew Reitz.
“Simon was one of the many professors who both encouraged and challenged me,” Reitz said in an e-mail interview. “He could tell I had a big interest in history and political science, especially when it came to U.S. history and foreign policy, and he dared me to go above and beyond in my studies.”
Simon was passionate about his lectures, a trait that anyone could notice according to Reitz.
“The most memorable aspect of Dr. Simon easily, is his passion for civil rights. I remember attending a board meeting for the Tower Center where he spoke about his work on the SMU Civil Rights Pilgrimage,” Reitz said. “You could tell he put his heart and soul into that program with the level of enthusiasm he had for it.”
In addition to Simon’s duties in the classroom, he led undergraduate and graduate students on SMU’s annual Civil Rights Pilgrimage since 2008, a trip he was also very passionate about.
“He truly loved his work and truly loved taking his students beyond the classroom in their learning,” Reitz said.
SMU President R. Gerald Turner also recognized the impact Simon had on the university.
“Dennis Simon’s legacy at SMU will not be forgotten,” said President Turner in Simon’s obituary. “He was both a brilliant scholar and devoted teacher, talents he bridged with a sense of humor that never wavered. Dr. Simon invested his time, commitment and his passion for political science with his students, fellow scholars and the community. His influence will live on in the many lives he touched.”
Simon was also a founding member of the John Goodwin Tower Center for Political Studies at SMU, a center that sponsors conferences, public programs and hosts research by faculty and undergraduate students. Chair of the Tower Center Board of Directors and former member of the Texas House of Representatives, Dan Branch, acknowledged the vital role Simone played at SMU and the Tower Center.
“He was a dedicated supporter of our center, serving us in a variety of ways,” Branch said in his obituary. “Most of all, he was a devoted mentor to our students.”
Simon also hosted various lectures, such as The Maguire Public Scholar Lecture and the TEDxSMU talk on the Civil Rights Pilgrimage.
Simon’s family has chosen to abstain from having a private funeral and will instead join the SMU community for a celebration of his life, according to the SMU Civil Rights Pilgrimage. The details of his celebration are still to be determined.
The SMU community will deeply miss Simon; he was one of a kind.
“Simon was a campus icon,” Reitz said. “The Human Rights and Political Science Departments have truly lost one of their best.”
The Daily Campus will continue to update this story as new information is made available.