Deacon Profile: Ken Zick

Returning from a year-long sabbatical after retiring from a 24-year term as vice president for Student Life, he now serves in the role of  professor of law, teaching undergraduate courses in American Constitutional History, the History of the English Common Law and Freedom of Speech.

He graduated with Phi Betta Kappa distinction from Albion College in Michigan, and then received his juris doctor degree from Wayne State

Ian Rutledge/Old Gold & Black

Ian Rutledge/Old Gold & Black

University and a post-graduate M.L.S. at the University of Michigan. He is also the author of the historic novel West to Donegal Bay: A Novel of Irish Islands.

Both his children attended Wake Forest, and when not teaching, he enjoys learning more about the students at the university he has called home for more than two decades.


What drew you to the teaching profession?


I began my graduate studies at Michigan in political philosophy, then I deviated from that course. I became infused with the social justice bug, especially at that time of American history.

People really wanted to make a difference, there were several issues following on the heels of the Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam War that kind of propelled people in that direction.

And so I moved in that direction as well, but returned to teaching as my first passion, primarily because of the role models that I had as professors when I was a student.


What interested you about history and law as a field of study?


I always loved history in college, in large part because I believe that discovering patterns and trends allows us greater insight into contemporary affairs.

It is a wonderful feeling to figure a puzzle out, and then to advance your theory of historical meaning derived from pulling together these disparate pieces of the puzzle.

It was always very fascinating to me and continues to be so.


What is your favorite part about being a professor?


Well that’s easy, it’s definitely the students. Having been on leave of absence for a year, I think that’s what I miss the most. I kind of knew that I would.

Seeing students grow, both inside and outside of the classroom, is just a real gift. Especially now that I’ve hung around for so long, I’ve experienced the joy of hearing from alumni and take some pride in their accomplishments and lives.

Sometimes I’m kind of haunted by it, but in a good way. When I look out over a class, sometimes a son or daughter of someone I taught is in the class. Often they are so much like their parents, it’s like a community that shares the same values, both in the past and present.


How does it feel to be back in the role of professor after serving as Vice President of Student Life?


It feels great [laughs]. That’s a tough question though.

I loved my work in administration and being a small part of a larger vision for the university was very fulfilling. But as in all things, retiring from administrative life offers new vistas for me as well, whether it’s a scholarly piece that I would like to revive or reflections on professional life in student affairs.

I think that the stress of administrative life is not fully understood by most people because if administrators are doing their work well, it won’t be seen. It will just happen seamlessly, naturally.

So I am pleased that the stresses of that life are in my past. However, it’s still arduous being a faculty member.


What is your favorite thing about the university?


Once again, the people. I have been blessed to live in a place that brings remarkable minds and hearts to work here.

Benefitting from their insights and wisdom has been magnificent.

And I count the students in that mix too, because so many of them come to reflect the mind-set of Wake Forest. To see that sink in is absolutely fascinating.


Do you have a favorite class to teach?


That’s an unfair question, I couldn’t begin to say what’s my favorite because each of them have different challenges and offer different dimensions for growth.

I think it would be easier to identify particular periods of history or aspects of intellectual history that interest me the most. But those ideas can be found in each of the courses.


How did you get involved in writing a novel?


It was a way of relaxing on holidays and initially I became very intrigued with the diaspora with a sect of Mormons called the Strangite Mormons in an archipelago in Northern Michigan.

We vacationed on this island, so I became intrigued when I saw that the historical society had published no less than four volumes of history on this small island.

Prominent in that history was the history of these Mormons. James Strang was a New York lawyer who was a devotee of Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon Church.

When Smith was assassinated, there was a schism in the church and Brigham Young brought one group to Utah, but Strang also declared he was the successor.

He led another group to these isolated islands in Lake Michigan, and at one time the main island hosted about 3,000 Mormons.

Because Northern Michigan was not very populated in the 1850s, he became a state legislator.

But he was a thorn in the side of the Irish Catholics that he kicked off the island, literally by force.

He was eventually brought to Detroit and tried on treason charges because he declared himself king of the islands.

He was an attorney and successfully defended himself on first amendment grounds.

So you can see that this would interest me because I teach Freedom of Speech. I was just absolutely intrigued by this subject.

Although it had been discussed by scholars, it had never been accorded popular treatment. It didn’t really cause much of a ripple back then.

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