By Eva Dominguez
Our professors design the courses, create classroom culture and, above all, loom large and play a dominant role in defining our community. But who are they when they aren’t lecturing, giving assignments and grading exams? “In My Other Life” is a column that intends to explore the intriguing lives of NYU’s professors both outside of the classroom and before they began teaching.
If you search the dark corners of the internet, you’ll find a simple video featuring a close-up of Professor Ward Regan’s head, with fake blood dripping down his face for nearly four minutes. This was a promotion for his off-broadway, one-man show, “A Paranoid’s Guide to History.” The production combined Regan’s creativity, performance, and expansive historical and cultural knowledge — elements that sum up the Liberal Studies’ Social Foundations professor and explain his captivating energy in the classroom.
During our interview, Regan sat in front of me, legs propped up on the desk, in his office full of wall decorations such as The Clash band posters, a photo of a pile of discarded objects, and pictures of historical figures. He considers himself a worldly man, having lived in places as vastly different as the East Village, Lower East Side, Upper West Side, and Brooklyn.
As an undergraduate, he was in NYU’s General Studies Program, the precursor to what is now the Liberal Studies Program, and transitioned into Gallatin after two years. If he could do the experience over again, he would have traveled abroad and worked less, but he never changed his mind about his career goals. He recalled, “I went in wanting to be a history teacher, I came out and wanted to be a history teacher and then got a teaching job.” After earning his bachelor’s degree, Regan taught in Pennsylvania before pursuing a Ph.D. in Labor and Cultural History from SUNY Stony Brook.
While in graduate school, he became involved in organizing the academic union. “I think the union work I did was very important. I would not change that at all, I would definitely do that again,” he says of his proudest work. He used to be only an adjunct professor at NYU while doing other odd jobs and creative ventures. While living on the Upper West Side, he befriended Greg Abbey, an actor known for voicing Raphael on the 2003 TV show, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” who helped him get work as a voice actor.
He did not know at the time that Abbey was a ninja turtle, but they lived in the same building and became close friends. “Greg would come home and I would be in his bathtub. That’s true. But, you know, I was taking care of his cat… and he’d hang out at my place.” Because of Abbey, Regan provided the voice of Cabaji the Acrobat in the English version of the Japanese show, “One Piece.” He finds it funny that students sometimes recognize his voice from the show; “My students are more excited about the fact that I’m on IMDB than [I] have a Ph.D.”
He also formed an idea with Abbey for a show called “The Sushi Friends,” a cartoon about five pieces of sushi that are brought to life and become crime fighters. They met with major studios, wrote scripts, and had voice actors lined up, but in the end, the show fell through because of another cartoon called “Sushi Pack,” which according to Regan, had very similar animations and made it to television first.
Though Regan has not continued his career in the animation industry, he has always enjoyed acting. He has been involved in a few films, most recently Francis of Brooklyn. Teaching and acting go hand in hand for Regan, who says “I identify much more with the creative element in my profession…teaching is a performance.” This is evident in his classroom where frequently he pulls exaggerated facial expressions and never fails to say “Jesus” without inflecting his tone like a southern preacher delivering a sermon.
Lately, free time for Regan has been limited. Other than teaching, he has been occupied with academic research for a paper he will soon present in Paris. In addition, Regan dedicated this past summer to finishing the editing of the collaborative effort of several NYU professors, “Great Books Written in Prison.” Even though his academic career is time-consuming, Regan doesn’t know what he would do if he hadn’t become a teacher. He declares “It would probably be virtually impossible for me to transition into some kind of ‘job’ job, you know, with hours. And a boss. And an office. Like, you know, where you go in a tie or whatever.” Regan is not a suit and tie kind of man. His usual attire for class is cargo pants paired with a T-shirt and, since he also works from home, he claims “I wear my pajamas a lot. I like pajamas. I’m a big pajama guy.”
In some cases, people know early in life what they were meant to do, and their entire lives are built around fostering that passion. Professor Regan is one of those few; during our interview, it was apparent from his stories of exploring places in search of history and culture, in the way he’d launch into a completely unprompted lecture on post-Cold War Berlin, or even in the classroom where he always keeps his students interested in a dry subject by injecting his entertaining sense of humor. For the most part, Regan is currently exactly where he imagined himself when he first attended NYU as a student, with no career do-over’s necessary.