The Indiana University Northwest campus continues to grieve this weekend in the wake of the tragic death of administrator and Associate Professor of English Robin Hass Birky, Ph.D., who was involved in an automobile collision Friday morning near her Valparaiso home.
According to published news reports, Prof. Hass Birky’s vehicle was hit by a semi truck at around 9:40 a.m. at the intersection of Ind. 49 and Vale Park Road. IU Northwest Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Kwesi Aggrey said Friday afternoon that Prof. Hass Birky had been on her way to a meeting at the IUPUI campus in Indianapolis.
“She was going to a meeting that was supposed to help teachers get better,” Aggrey said. “She was going to talk about improving teaching. She loved teaching.
“She did her work, she did it well, and she did it with a smile on her face all of the time,” he added. “I could not have asked for a better person to work with.”
On Saturday, university officials reported details of service arrangements for Prof. Hass Birky. Visitation will be held Tuesday, Sept. 2, at Moeller Funeral Home, 104 N. Roosevelt Rd. in Valparaiso, from 2 p.m. until 8 p.m. Services will be held at 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 3, at Heartland Christian Center, 170 S. State Rd. 49, in Valparaiso. Interment will follow at Angelcrest Cemetery in Valparaiso. Spouses of Valparaiso Fire Department will host a luncheon at the Christian Center.
For more information on services for Prof. Hass Birky, contact Moeller Funeral Home at (219) 462-0535, or Heartland Christian Center at (219) 462-4500.
As word of the tragedy spread around the IU Northwest campus on Friday afternoon, friends and colleagues of Prof. Hass Birky recalled her as a kind, outgoing and relentlessly positive person, someone who was always willing to help a friend or make a new one.
“She was the smartest person I knew,” said Prof. Hass Birky’s friend and colleague, Linda Delunas, Ph.D., who is associate dean of the College of Health and Human Services at IU Northwest. “She was the kindest person I knew. She was always full of confidence. And she would do anything for anyone.”
Prof. Hass Birky and Prof. Delunas had worked closely the past few years on the university’s Academic Quality Improvement Program (AQIP) process, which determines the university’s accreditation renewal by the Higher Learning Commission. IU Northwest had a successful AQIP site visit earlier this year, and both Hass Birky and Delunas received high marks from the reviewers and campus officials for their thorough preparation and presentation of the university’s academic achievements.
Prof. Hass Birky, 41, who began teaching at IU Northwest in August 1995, had served for three years as the university’s interim associate vice chancellor for academic affairs, while also continuing to teach classes in English and women’s studies. Friends said Friday that Prof. Hass Birky’s death would leave an impossible void in the close-knit campus community.
“This is shattering,” said IU Northwest Professor of Sociology Charles Gallmeier, Ph.D., Prof. Hass Birky’s friend and colleague in the College of Arts and Sciences. “Robin was the spirit of IU Northwest. Her enthusiasm, devotion and commitment to this campus were unparalleled.”
IU Northwest Chancellor Bruce Bergland said that Prof. Hass Birky’s absence would be felt in every university department and program.
“In my brief time at IU Northwest, I have come to regard Robin as one our most significant members of the campus community,” the Chancellor said. “She was a brilliant, tireless worker who always had the best interests of the university at heart. The impact that she had on IU Northwest is far more substantial than might be expected, given the too-brief period of time that she has been with us. My heart goes out to her family and to our university community.”
Prof. Hass Birky was heavily involved in organizing many of IU Northwest’s special academic presentations, including its annual convocation every October and the College of Arts and Sciences Research Conference each November. She also organized the Reading in the Region book discussion group on campus each year.
Last year, Prof. Hass Birky organized a special convocation presentation featuring a speaker from the war-torn Sudanese region of Darfur. But she didn’t stop there. For months after the convocation, she would update the campus on events taking place in that crisis-stricken land and urge them to become active in the battle to save Darfur.
Prof. Hass Birky earned her doctorate from the University of Texas at Austin in 1995, and she joined IU Northwest that same year. In addition to her role as associate vice chancellor, Birky was a valued member of the English Department faculty as well as an adjunct associate professor of women’s studies. Her areas of research and instruction included medieval literature and rhetoric, English composition and linguistics, and Arthurian legend. One of her favorite research topics was the work of Geoffrey Chaucer.
IU Northwest Vice Chancellor for Administration Joseph Pellicciotti recalled Prof. Hass Birky as a genuinely friendly and outgoing person who always had time to chat or offer advice.
“Those of us on campus are devastated by the loss of Robin,” Pellicciotti said. “She was a kind and caring person and an outstanding professional – one of our finest teachers and administrators.
“She connected with everyone,” he recalled. “For example, my daughter was visiting recently. I introduced her to Robin, and Robin took the time from a very busy schedule to chat. Robin learned that my daughter was interested in English Literature. She not only took time to discuss books that my daughter could read in a particular area, but Robin also went back to her office on the spot and put together a list of books for her. Robin’s kindness was very special.”
Gallmeier, president of the university’s faculty organization, noted that, even when Prof. Hass Birky took on an administrative role at IU Northwest, her relationship with her fellow faculty members never changed.
“She never made us feel like she was anything other than one of the faculty members,” he said. “She had our confidence and our trust.”
Aggrey noted that, as an administrator, Prof. Hass Birky was not even required to teach classes. She did it, anyway.
“She did it because she wanted to,” he said. “She did it for the love of the students and the love of the field.
“The campus and the Northwest Indiana region have lost someone who is impossible to replace,” Aggrey said.
Not much went on at IU Northwest that Prof. Hass Birky wasn’t involved with in some way, Gallmeier noted. And she always made sure to let others know that their contributions were valued, as well.
“Even if she wasn’t leading a particular project, she still wanted to be involved,” he said. “She was loyal, she was supportive, and she was indefatigable in all that she did. And it didn’t matter to her what your title or position was, or what department or division you were in. She always made you feel like the place absolutely needed you.”
Delunas said that Prof. Hass Birky was also incredibly devoted to her family – her husband, Capt. Mark Birky of the Valparaiso Fire Department, and her son, Coel Hass.
“She loved her son so much,” Delunas said. “And she was so proud of him.”
Indiana University Northwest extends its deepest sympathies to Capt. Mark Birky and Coel Hass, and to all of Prof. Robin Hass Birky’s friends, colleagues and loved ones, during this most difficult time. We ask that everyone in the IU Northwest campus community keep the Birky family in their thoughts and prayers in the days and weeks ahead.