Passing of Dr. Karen Lee

Photo Credit: Karen Lee
by Dawn Braithwaite Wed, 12/17/2014 - 00:00

Above: Karen Lee, left, with family.

Colleagues at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln share with heavy hearts that Dr. Karen King Lee passed away on December 13, 2014 after a four-year battle with breast cancer.

Karen came to UNL in 1992 and was a member of our faculty for 22 years. She was born January 15, 1948 outside of Chicago. Like so many of us, she came to the discipline via debate, graduating from Thornton Fractional South High in Lansing, IL. She earned her BA in Speech at Illinois State University in 1970, with a secondary teaching certification. She earned her MA at Baylor University in 1971, becoming Assistant Professor of Speech and Director of Debate at the University of Northern Iowa from 1971-1976. Karen entered the doctoral program at the University of Iowa in 1976 and received her Ph.D. in 1980 under the direction of Bruce Gronbeck.

While at Iowa, Karen met her husband Ronald Lee. They married in 1980. After graduate school they moved to the faculty at Indiana University-Bloomington where Karen was the Director of Forensics from 1979-1992, being promoted to Associate Professor in 1986. Karen and Ron moved to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 1992. While at Indiana, they adopted Amanda Lee in 1989 and she is the light of their lives.

While at Nebraska, Karen was a Professor of Practice and served as the department’s Chief Undergraduate Advisor. She was the Interim Director of Forensics in 1999-2000. Over her career she taught fourteen different undergraduate courses and five graduate courses. She and Ron published many articles together, centered in argument and focused on issues surrounding racism, religious discourse, poverty, and adoption.  Their book, Arguing Persuasively, was published by Longman Press in 1989.  She was an active member of the National Communication Association and regularly attended the NCA/AFA Conference on Argumentation in Alta, Utah.

While at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Karen served as the Department of Communication Studies’ Director of Undergraduate Studies from 1998-2010, a member of the Undergraduate Committee, member of the Executive Committee, representative to the Faculty Senate, advisor for the Lambda Pi Eta Chapter, a member of the Awards Committee, and the faculty advisor for UNL’s chapter of the American Cancer Society since 2013.  She also served as an Assistant Coach of Lincoln Pius X High School Speech and Debate Team from 2003-2010.

Karen was a devoted teacher and her students shared that devotion right back. They regularly talked about her as wise, thoughtful, and kind.  As she reflected about her teaching, Karen highlighted, “Teaching for me is still and always has been exciting and a real labor of love. I never feel more energized than after a class has gone very well. Likewise, I never feel more frustrated than when I fail to ignite that spark in my students that allows them to taste and share the passion I have for the discipline of communication studies and become collaborators not only with me but with each other in the exploration of communication theory, research and practice that has the power to define the kind of community we are all a part of.  … I do not think of my students as empty vessels into which I am pouring information. Rather, I seek to encourage students to critically assess that information, to challenge it and me and their classmates who are engaging in the same process.  Together we can create a dynamic classroom community that fosters sophisticated thinking about complex topics, an openness to new ideas and a willingness to argue with civility and integrity.”

Karen was active in the community, especially St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Lincoln.  She had a passion for serving the poor, through the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, a Catholic lay organization dedicated to helping the poor. She was Secretary of St. Joseph’s Parish Conference of St. Vincent de Paul since 2004 and was a member of the Transition Committee for the organization’s new outreach center. Her daughter Amanda described her mother as “A woman with a heart the size of the universe, she never stopped thinking of others.”

Karen is preceded in death by her parents. She is survived her husband Ronald Lee and daughter Amanda of Boulder, Colorado. In lieu of flowers the family requests donations to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul/St. Joseph Conference.