Bob Kerrey, former Nebraska senator and governor, honored the philosophies and life of Walter Capps, a former UCSB religious studies professor and congressman, last night in a lecture, “The Ethics of Walter Capps: From Popular Mechanics to the Beatitudes.”
Approximately 350 people, including Chancellor Henry Yang and around a dozen members of the UCSB faculty, attended the talk downtown in the Lobero Theater.
Capps taught at UCSB for 33 years before he was elected to the House of Representatives in 1997. After his death, Capps’ wife Lois was elected later that year to replace him.
Kerrey also spoke about the “controversial, but popular” Religious Studies 155: “Religion and the impact on Vietnam” class he and Capps team-taught at UCSB.
Kerrey said the controversy surrounding the class was mostly due to Walter Capps’ expanded view of the word “veteran.” Capps defined a veteran as any person affected by war: family members, friends, doctors, nurses, volunteers and military staff not on the front lines.
Capps’ daughter, Laura, said her father brought controversial issues to the front of discussion in the classroom.
“My father’s convictions always drew him to push the boundaries of education,” she said.
Kerrey said the class’ popularity was due to the guest lecturers, usually veterans, who shared first-hand accounts of their war experiences with the class.
“The students were paying extremely close attention and were very respectful to the veterans. They were trying to learn and to understand in a very human way,” Kerrey said.
Kerrey, who shied away from questions regarding his own experience in Vietnam, said Capps believed silent veterans told stories of their own. “Walter Capps believed that nonverbal stories are as important as verbal ones,” he said.
Kerrey said he was greatly influenced by Capps’ unique ability to deliver accessible and comprehensible lectures.
“What I loved about Walter Capps was his extraordinary ability to talk at academic levels and at the street level. [Capps] understood that a philosophy was lost if it wasn’t understood by the average person,” Kerrey said. “[He] taught me how to teach. I’ve learned a lot from him about how to be a teacher. He had a real fearlessness about him with controversial subjects,” he said.
Kerrey said he believes Walter Capps would make a great president, were he alive today.
“I love the idea of a President Capps,” Kerrey said. “If Walter were in office, he would hold up popular mechanics and tell us to be practical,” he said. “[Capps] would have confused us by saying liberals are not the only ones with good ideas,” Kerrey said.
“He was absolutely marvelous,” UCSB history professor Fred Course said. “He was very inspirational.”