Bohn Lattin, PhD | University of Portland

Bohn Lattin, PhD

Professor of Communication, College of Arts & Sciences

Bohn LattinWhat’s a rite of passage almost every high schooler dreads? Speech class. But if you ask Bohn Lattin, that’s just because they haven’t had enough practice. If Bohn had his way, public speaking would be woven into the school curriculum starting in kindergarten. With that kind of preparation, he says, this country’s citizenry might be able to engage in civil discourse with, you know, civility.

Though he hasn’t convinced the public school board to change its curriculum—yet! (more on that later)—the communication professor has made a huge impact on students over his 32-year tenure on The Bluff. He was the co-founder and director of the award-winning University of Portland Ethics Bowl Team, and has taught countless classes in public speaking, argumentation and advocacy, and rhetorical theory and criticism. But perhaps his proudest achievement is founding and directing the award-winning UP Speech and Debate Union with the goal of creating an inclusive space where anyone can learn the life-changing art of public speaking and use their skills to advocate for those without a voice.

“I wanted to create an activity to help anyone, people of all levels, learn to be a good public presenter of ideas,” he says. Bohn’s journey to the lectern began on his very first day in school. “From the time I started attending kindergarten through 12th grade I wanted to be a teacher. Every year I admired my teacher and wanted to be that teacher.”

He found a mentor in his high school speech instructor, and his aptitude for speaking to crowds blossomed. “He had me do all the extracurricular events. I was the emcee for the homecoming bonfire and for band programs. I just grew a great appreciation for public speaking and that got me directed into speech.” Bohn planned to earn his bachelor’s degree and teach at the high school level, but a professor encouraged him to continue his studies. After earning his PhD from University of Oregon in 1992, he achieved his lifelong dream when he arrived on the UP campus that same year to teach communication.

“I have loved every year here,” he says. “The UP administration and my colleagues have always been supportive. I’ve enjoyed the warmth and professional camaraderie of everyone I’ve worked with.”

Bohn’s future plans look a lot like the present—lots of teaching, although in different mediums and venues. He’ll continue working with the pastor at his church to train up-and coming preachers, and he’d like to turn his expertise into a YouTube channel anyone can access. He’d also like to write a book about public speaking that people will actually want to read. “If you take a look at what passes as a public speaking textbook it’s as dry as a driver’s ed manual,” he says. “Public speaking should not be that way.”

After years of watching students finally overcome their public speaking fears as young adults, he’s also thinking about advocating the public education board for a curriculum change at the K-12 level. “If they would start from show-and-tell and help students learn gradually, it would help.”

Bohn clearly has plenty to keep him busy, but working directly with UP students and watching them learn to communicate their thoughts clearly and with confidence is what he’ll miss most. “When you teach public speaking, you really get to know each student and hear their ideas and visions,” he says. “When a student emails or drops by my door to tell me how they grew and learned, that’s been the highlight of my education career.”