Brian Betz, Ph.D., professor emeritus of communication studies, started his storied career as a clergyman.
Born Richard Ferdinand Betz, he took the name Brian when he became a monk. He entered the seminary when he was 14 years old to become a priest, and later a monk, where he started on his path to education, teaching speech correction and language in the monastery in St. Meinrad, Ind.
He left the priesthood to pursue master’s and doctorate degrees in communication studies at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., and married his wife, Beth. The couple later had Brian ’95, and the family moved to Oswego in 1977. Betz interviewed for teaching jobs around the country, but ultimately arrived at SUNY Oswego’s communication studies department.
Then chair, Lewis B. O’Donnell, Ph.D., after whom the annual Media Summit is named, assigned Betz some of the more challenging tasks, like mentoring a student who had been incarcerated.
“He figured because I had been a priest, I could deal with difficult situations,” Betz said.
O’Donnell was right. During Betz’s appointment as chaplain of the Woodmere State Mental Hospital in Evansville, Ind., a disturbed man walked into his office with a loaded handgun.
“He said, ‘Are you a priest?’” Betz said. “And I said, ‘Yes, I am.’ Then he pulled out a handgun, which looked like a double barrel shotgun at the time.”
Betz remembers being scared, but recalled the Catholic belief of “Refugium Peccatorum,” or the refuge of sinners, as he calmly talked with the man and successfully convinced him not to take his own life.
“All of those experiences, talking about conflict and so forth helped me teach,” he said.
At SUNY Oswego, Betz taught various communication classes in the department. He was known for his humor and compassion toward his students as well as his coworkers. He served as president of SUNY Oswego’s chapter of UUP, or United University Professionals, the union for faculty on campus, advocating for benefits and negotiating contracts. Part of his legacy at Oswego is the development of the peer review center.
Described as an innovator by his wife, Betz said that, as a curriculum, “Communications isn’t burdened with a long history. It provides a flexibility, which I think is good.”
– Tyler Edic ’13
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