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Professor Teaches About Death While Resisting Cancer

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(credit: CBS) Frank Vascellaro
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CBS Minnesota (con't)

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By Frank Vascellaro, WCCO-TV

St. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) – An unconventional college professor known for living life to the fullest has been teaching about death through his personal experiences.

Monte Bute started teaching about death at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul about a year ago when he was diagnosed with a rare form of terminal cancer. And the lessons keep coming, even more now that his illness is in remission.

“The best thing a student can say about their experience with me is he woke me up,” Bute said.

That’s exactly what happened when he wrote these words, “Dying in Class,” when he walked into a sociology class last year.

“It wasn’t the curriculum,” former student Jeanne Burns said. “But it was present every day, every time.”

Another student, Missy Weismann said, “I feel like he was pretty able to compartmentalize. You could see him deal with it, and then move on.”

Bute, who likes to treat his students as colleagues, and wants them to learn how to teach themselves, saw a rare opportunity. He could teach about life by talking about death.

“I thought about it,” he said, “and being a teacher I realized this is a teachable moment.”

“He certainly isn’t your conventional professor,” student Christopher Nguyen said.

No he isn’t. How many other professors have a Facebook page to update students on their health. Or in this case, remission.

“I learned about his remission from the Facebook page,” Nguyen said.

However, Monte isn’t taking anything for granted. His first remission only lasted three months, so he’s making the most of each day, and leaving a legacy all over campus.

“What I hope they’ll remember me as is somebody who was a friend,” he said. “And someone who was a mentor. And someone who opened the big questions of life for them.”

Monte has been teaching about philosophy this semester. He’s certainly suited for it.

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