Robert M. Smith

Robert M. Smith

Hall of Fame Class of 2004

Robert M. Smith’s (1925 -1995) professional adult education career began at Indiana University as an adult education professor. He was a founding father of the Commission of Professors of Adult Education. He earned a doctorate in Comparative Literature from Indiana University in 1953, followed by a year of study at the University of Toulouse in France. The experience initiated an interest in international work, and after establishing himself in adult education at Indiana University, he eagerly accepted USAID assignments and served as an adult education advisor in both Nigeria (1961-1963) and Liberia (1965-1967). 

After working as an adult education advisor in Liberia and Nigeria, followed by administrative work as Director of the University Center for Continuing Education at Wayne State University, he returned to professorial work at Northern Illinois University (NIU) in 1974, which he continued until his 1991 retirement. During his career, he presented at conferences in Canada, China, and The Netherlands. He was the first NIU adult education faculty member to teach in China. 

Smith’s contributions to adult education were threefold: scholarship, mentoring students and colleagues, and as an active retired professor. His scholarship was broad and ground-breaking. He earned an international reputation as the Senior Editor for the Handbook of Adult Education (1970) and for five years, as co-editor of Adult Education. His scholarly interest in learning to learn began at Indiana University through field experience in participation training. A series of publications resulted from this interest and one earned him the first annual Cyril O. Houle World Award for Literature in Adult Education (1983). His mentoring of students was based on a belief that through special internship assignments, they would become skilled in learning to learn. His mentoring of colleagues took the form of critiquing manuscripts and sharing his wisdom and experience. Dr. Smith redefined the professor emeritus role by contributing in various ways after retirement and was quickly known on the NIU campus as an elder statesman. Smith touched many lives during his career and exemplifies the meaning of Hall of Fame membership.

"Education is not to reform students or amuse them or to make them expert technicians. It is to unsettle their minds, widen their horizons, inflame their intellects, teach them to think straight, if possible."

-Robert M. Hutchins