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Chinsegut Hill: Part 5

In the spring, I wrote a series of articles on the history of Chinsegut Hill, a beautiful USF property in Brooksville.

One of Chinsegut’s greatest advocates is Dr. Georg Kleine, a long-time history professor, now the Associate Dean of the Honors College.

Hundreds of students are indebted to him for introducing a different kind of coursework at the hill. His weekend conferences with his classes there reveal an ideal way to utilize the location.

Although the academic value of his conferences is undeniable, the success is largely due to the social ties that made students more comfortable to share their thoughts. To Kleine, his gatherings are “one of the first opportunities to be together with fellow students outside the confines of the classroom.”

“Social contact at USF has always been an issue. So many relationships began at Chinsegut and made them feel a part of the USF community,” Kleine said.

Such contact is one antidote to the apathy administrators have been complaining about since the early 1960s.

Kleine’s activities demand teamwork as much as individual effort. The students introduce themselves Friday night. On Saturday, volleyball after breakfast loosens up the participants and invigorates them. The class breaks up into teams to pursue a project for the afternoon, usually a debate or presentation. A late-night walk to the lake in the dark provides another opportunity for interaction and cooperation.

“You depend on one another,” Kleine says.

Chinsegut’s idyllic setting of hills, forest and wildlife provides the perfect atmosphere for academic and social gatherings.

“There’s a serenity that removes you from the cares of back home,” Kleine said. “You leave Tampa behind.”

Auxiliary Services, the university division responsible for Chinsegut, paid tribute to Kleine’s efforts in February. The former owners of the site named trees and landmarks after ideas and people, and Kleine has been added to the pantheon.

Upon arriving with his class February 20, I surprised him with the presentation of the Kleine Oak. The young tree replaced a dead oak which had been cut down but a few feet away. The new tree served as an apt symbol for what Kleine has done for over 30 years now: replace the old, lifeless method of classroom lectures with the youthful striving of teamwork, creativity and the outdoors.

Upon unveiling the young tree, I recited a speech I wrote for the occasion, which read in part:

“As I now know it, Chinsegut is not so much a place as an idea and an ideal. About 25 years ago, Kleine told an Oracle reporter, ‘On Friday evening, you go up with 20 individuals and on Sunday leave as a group. Every time it works.’

But Dr. Kleine made it sound then as if the class bonded automatically, in a vacuum. They do not.”

“His trust in students, his respect, reveals his optimism, his conviction, that with minimal guidance and maximum inspiration, students can outperform themselves and their less-adventurous peers when liberated in the atmosphere, camaraderie and spirit of Chinsegut.

“Despite its beauty and history, Chinsegut Hill is not one of the most popular facilities at USF. Let’s face it: Few professors actually want to spend the time and effort gathering with their students for a weekend at an isolated hill.

“Perhaps the most remarkable trait of Kleine’s visits here over the last 30 years or so is that his philosophy seems so compatible with that of Raymond and Margaret Robins, the former owners of this fine estate. Goodwill toward fellows, intense intellectual discussion, large social gatherings, political awareness and closeness to nature are just some of the points where the convictions of Kleine and Robins converge.

“It would make them especially happy to know that we have continued one of their most delightful traditions of naming landmarks on their estate.

“The Kleine Oak is an appropriate symbol for the good doctor, who, instead of perpetuating the shell of a student, who rushes through his or her studies passionlessly and stationary, replaces it with the planting of a tree that is alive, growing, young and like the hill it is planted upon, sacred.”

At a university sometimes obsessed with funding, athletics and pure volume, Kleine reminds us all what an education is really about: fellowship, intellectual challenge, taking risks and making memories. Kleine and Chinsegut have made a great pair over the years. His tradition, begun in the History Department, continues today in the Honors College.