Skip to main content
Skip to navigation

This site is archival. Please visit the current MIZZOU magazine site for up-to-date content.

Around the Columns

An icon of econ


Professor John Kuhlman, who taught Econ 51 at MU, now teaches English as a second language in Asheville, N.C..

The thousands of students who took introductory economics from Mizzou teaching legend John Kuhlman probably remember him as a master at teaching the huge Econ 51 lecture sections that filled Middlebush Auditorium. Kuhlman managed to instill a personal touch as he helped students navigate what for many was the alien world of economics.

Those former students probably won’t be surprised to hear about the personal nature of Kuhlman’s latest educational endeavor. The retired professor, who resides near Asheville, N.C., has been a volunteer English instructor the past four years for the local literacy council. Instead of teaching in a giant lecture hall, Kuhlman now presides over a single classroom where he works one-on-one with his students. All of them are immigrants, many of whom struggle to learn English as they also struggle to provide for their families.

Sometimes he and his students struggle together. More than 20 years ago, Kuhlman lost his hearing almost overnight to a poorly understood condition called sudden hearing loss. Today he is almost totally deaf and has compensated by becoming an expert at reading lips. As Kuhlman explained in a May 21, 2008, article in The New York Times, his hearing disability puts him in much the same boat as his non-English speaking students — he can hear random noise but can’t discern the meaning.

His current students, though, can discern Kuhlman’s passion for teaching and his concern for their success. There’s a long wait list for his classes, just as there was when he drilled Mizzou students in macro- and microeconomics.

During his own college days, he “simply fell in love with teaching,” Kuhlman said in an e-mail interview. “This is a long way from Lamont, Wash., where I graduated from high school in 1941 — third from the bottom in a class of five.”

He finds it especially rewarding to work with his current students, who are willing to make sacrifices to gain an education, Kuhlman said. “These immigrants are devoted to the idea of getting an education. Unlike undergraduates, you don’t have to sell them on the idea of an education.”

When he retired from MU in 1985, friends and former students created an endowed scholarship fund. Each year, an upper-class student with good grades and a record of extracurricular contributions to the College of Arts and Science receives a $2,500 scholarship in Kuhlman’s name.

More: Kuhlman welcomes e-mail messages from former students at

(Editor's note: The fall 2008 print issue of Mizzou Magazine contained an incorrect e-mail address for Professor Kuhlman. You can reach him at the address listed above.)