If you were to observe Dr. Jack McTague during a typical day on the Saint Leo University campus, you’d realize pretty quickly how much of an impact this man has had on the institution.
The 74-year-old originally hails from Albany, N.Y. While he spent his formative years in the Empire State, he has resided in Florida for more than half his life as a member of the Saint Leo community.
In terms of education, he completed his high school years at Vincentian Institute. He then went on to earn his bachelor’s in history at Siena College before completing his master’s and doctoral degrees in history at the State University of New York at Buffalo.
The eldest of five, he has three sisters and a brother. His longtime girlfriend is Kris Porter.
Launching a Rewarding Career at Saint Leo University
In the summer of 1976, McTague left behind the brutal winters of Buffalo and moved to Florida. He began his career as a professor in the fall of that year at what was then known as Saint Leo College. At the time, it was a job he never could have imagined sticking with for more than just a handful of years.
He explains how he first learned about the school.
“I actually answered a job ad for a position with Saint Leo College in a professional journal,” he says. “Dr. James Horgan called me up and said they’d like to have me fly down for an interview. I had never been to Florida before.”
Horgan was the chair of the social sciences department at the time and would go on to a 30-year career with the university himself.
“So, I had the interview and was offered the position as a full-time history professor,” McTague recalls. “I went back home to Buffalo, consulted with several individuals and ultimately decided it was the right thing to take the job. I knew it would give me some nice experience teaching in a college environment. Plus, I did have some experience teaching and serving as an academic advisor at SUNY Buffalo.”
The Saint Leo Campus of Yesteryear
When McTague started as a Saint Leo history professor in the mid-1970s, the campus looked quite different than it does today.
“When I started here, we probably had half of the buildings than what we have now. We had about 1,000 students on campus and did have a few of our Education Centers, but of course there were no online programs or any graduate programs back then. All of the faculty also knew each other pretty well.”
To this day, he still primarily teaches courses on world history. Horgan handled the American history courses when he was still with the university.
He talks about how education can be delivered so much more effectively nowadays compared to years ago.
“Today, students can see all kinds of visuals from history,” he explains. “In the past, a class was basically myself talking and interacting with the students. Now, you can show photos of all kinds of people and places throughout history. It’s so much easier for students to learn when they can connect information to something visual. I have also found that students tend to remember more of what they see than what they hear.”
Military students have always stood out to him, he says.
“I remember when some active-duty military students could transfer to Saint Leo’s main campus for their senior year. They were always so motivated and driven to succeed.”
Throughout his time in front of a class, he has taught history courses on Great Britain, Russia, the Middle East, the Far East and Latin America. Most of his research, however, has focused on Middle Eastern history.
“When I was in college, most students were studying Vietnam,” he says. “I did my dissertation on the British going to Palestine after World War I. I’ve been lucky enough that the Middle East has remained a very relevant topic in our world.”
He admits that he has never taught an online class and truly enjoys the interaction of face-to-face classes.
“I’ve always wanted to get students as involved as possible in class discussions. I want them to talk, ask questions, and give me feedback on the material.”
A Family Affair
He has seen multiple generations of students come through his classroom doors, including Isabella Jacus and her aunt and uncle.
A big reason he has stayed at Saint Leo for so long is the atmosphere.
“It’s like a second family to me,” he says. “We have a family-like atmosphere here where everyone supports each other. My experience at Siena College was very similar as it is a small, liberal arts college. I kind of wanted to get back into a place like that. It gives you a comfort level that you can’t always find elsewhere.”
In addition to educating students, McTague has always made an effort to support them outside of the classroom.
“I will go to sporting events, theater programs and other activities on campus,” he says. “I think it’s important for students to see their professors supporting them both inside and outside of their academic programs.”
With thousands of students who have gone through the courses he has taught, McTague offers up some advice on how to succeed in college.
“First off, always show up to class. Don’t procrastinate. Plan out your semester so you can spread out your assignments, and study regularly so you don’t have to cram for exams. Ask questions in class or by visiting your professor during his or her office hours.”
Along with his duties as a professor, McTague has shared his passion for music with the Saint Leo community for most of his tenure. In 1984, he started a cover band called Time Warp. Its members have consisted of students, faculty, staff, alumni and others with connections to the university.
“Back in the early ‘80s, I saw a flyer on campus from a student saying he wanted to start a band. So I reached out to him and we found another professor to get involved. I came up with the name Time Warp because of my age difference with the students and how this band has incorporated all generations.”
As the only original member of the group, he still maintains a list of all its members over the years. The band has played at alumni events on campus and at local venues in the area. Its set lists generally span several eras of pop and rock, including tunes from The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. An early member wrote some original material as well.
McTague says he didn’t get into playing music until college. It was the Fab Four who turned him on to the idea.
“After The Beatles showed up on The Ed Sullivan Show, every young man in America wanted to be in a band,” he says.
He started out playing the drums and then learned bass guitar. He has played both and has provided vocals for Time Warp.
In addition to music, you might see McTague out and about riding his bike. traveling has also been a big passion of his.
“I’ve had the opportunity to visit 40 different countries, each of which is fascinating in its own way,” he says. “I think it’s so important for an instructor to have visited certain places he or she is teaching about because a book can only take a student so far. I also think students should travel as much as they can to experience other places. I always encourage them to study abroad.”
Summing it Up
Entering his 44th year at the institution in the fall of 2019, McTague plans to make this his final one in the classroom.
“Just in the last year or two, I could tell that I just didn’t have the same amount of energy I used to have,” he says. “My body was telling me it’s time to retire.”
In his mind, he never thought he’d be a Saint Leo professor for more than just a short time.
“My graduate school professors always told me that I should ultimately teach at a big university,” he recalls. “When I first came to Saint Leo, I figured I’d only stay for a few years and move on to a larger school. But I fell in love with this place and have never looked back.”