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College Dean Richard Beeman talks animatedly about his memorable experiences during his years at Penn. Beeman is departing for Oxford University in July. [Shannon Jensen/DP File Photo]

When College of Arts and Sciences Dean Richard Beeman opened his office staff meeting yesterday, he did not start with an announcement about his upcoming sabbatical or an update on the pilot curriculum. He began on a more poignant note.

"This is the first meeting Johnny will miss," he said.

Johnny, short for Chief Justice John Marshmallow, was Beeman's Bernese mountain dog who passed away in July.

Beeman shook his head, "There will never be another Johnny."

Then, after a brief moment, Beeman perked up to announce the most recent development in his life -- Annie Oakley.

The dean proudly circulated pictures of the 11-week-old puppy. Among them was a shot of himself, sprawled out on the hardwood floor with one arm around his new furry friend.

After the meeting, Beeman described the intricacies of his canine transition.

"They don't come from the factory house-trained," he explained. "You've got to watch them like hawks to see if they're about to pee or poop.... It actually requires constant vigilance."

But the grin on his face revealed he does not mind the work.

This history professor may chair committees and mastermind curricula. But his real loves lie outside Logan Hall -- though not all of them walk on four legs.


Beeman also dedicates the same passion and energy to another group in the animal kingdom -- Penn students. He takes the same hands-on, high-energy approach to training them as well.

The professor does not ramble from behind a podium or rely on powerpoint graphics for exciting lectures -- he decks himself out in 18th-century costumes and delivers monologues instead.

Beeman has worn the hats of Jonathan Edwards, Thomas Paine and Davy Crockett. Yet he does not plan to stop there.

"Cross-dressing, you see, is the one frontier I have not crossed," he declared. "It'd be fun to do Anne Hutchinson or Harriet Beecher Stowe!"

Beeman is still debating whether or not to bring his costumes with him to England next year.

"Oxford is a very stuffy, staunchy place," he admitted.

Beeman fears the Oxford-style lecture format is not conducive to performances. So, his costumes may stay on American soil.

But he feels more than comfortable experimenting within the Penn community.

"What I have found really great about the aging process as a professor is that you can feel really free to just be yourself," he said.

"The great thing about being a 60-year-old professor with tenure is that, short of doing really horrible things that will get you fired, you can really indulge your impulses."


Yet, Beeman has not always enjoyed such luxuries.

"I've always been who I am," he admitted. "I'm out there and I've probably never held back much."

But as a young professor, Beeman faced scrutiny by senior colleagues as a result of his eccentricity.

"I was a quintessential southern California guy," he said.

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, Beeman sped around on a motorcycle and scheduled meetings around tennis dates. And according to Beeman, this style did not win the respect of several senior faculty members.

"I actually did confront some prejudice in my senior colleagues," he said. "There was a comment in my tenure meeting that somebody who brought his tennis racket to work with him could not be considered a serious person."

Yet almost 30 years since that infamous tenure deliberation, Beeman has taught as a full professor, chaired the history department and worked his way to the dean position -- and still manages to squeeze in an hour workout during his lunch break everyday.

And now, he has also been named the Harold Vyvyan Harmsworth Distinguished Professor of American History at Oxford University for next year.

Not too shabby for the southern California jock some said shouldn't receive tenure.

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