Spencer Fluhman is an average-looking man with light blonde hair and a boyish smile. He wears a dress shirt and pants, his suit coat draped over the back of his chair.
From floor to ceiling and wall to wall, his narrow office is filled with shelves of religion and history books, many the size of large bricks. It would seem an intimidating situation, sitting in a current history and sometimes religion professor’s office. Fluhman spouts off information about both subjects as if he were talking about the day’s weather.
On the contrary, Fluhman is nothing but welcoming, his laughter infectious as he describes the latest antics of his own kids and the students he teaches, his desire to help seemingly endless.
Fluhman’s love for religion, history and often religious history is rivaled only by his love for sports, especially BYU athletics. Each winter the students in all his classes, as well as his family, fill out March Madness brackets. To this day he cannot even remember when exactly the competition started.
“Holy cow, I have no idea how long ago it was,” Fluhman said. “But I’ve been doing it for a while … It’s gotten out of control in some ways.”
Students have been known to take classes from him during winter semester just for the opportunity to fill out a bracket of their own. The prize for whoever wins the bracket tournament varies from year to year. For the 2011 tournament, Fluhman designed and printed a special T-shirt. Other years he has made cakes and other baked goods. And he does it all in the name of relationship building.
Everything in Fluhman’s classes is about connecting and sharing. He loves open class discussions, though it can be difficult to get conversation flowing.
“It [the bracket tournament] grew out of my desire to have something at the beginning of class to get people talking … It’s a way to get people ready to learn, get them thinking,” Fluhman said. “I try to do it [on] something way off topic … And so one year, just out of nowhere I thought, ‘This will get them talking!’ ”
And so the Fluhman Bracket Challenge was born, and as he said, “took on a life of its own.”
Throughout all the semesters he has been holding the bracket challenge, Fluhman has never once won. He even admitted his wife usually ends up beating him — and sometimes his kids as well. The idea for the in-class bracket tournament actually came from his own family. The Monday before March Madness begins and at the end of family home evening, Fluhman, his wife and their four children sit down and fill out their own brackets. Eventually he decided to combine the family tournament with his classes.
Among students, Fluhman has a reputation as a professor who not only knows a lot about the subject matter, whatever that may be, but one who also helps the students care about the information as well.
“He’s willing to talk about what’s most important to the students in the class rather than worrying about what’s on the schedule,” said Joey Stuart, a senior from Sandy majoring in American studies.
Fluhman’s lectures are high energy and mostly extemporaneous, full of sports and pop culture references to keep people’s attention. Addison Alley, a senior from Broomfield, Colo., majoring in microbiology, has taken multiple classes from Fluhman and keeps coming back for more.
“He’ll dive into really serious issues and yet he’ll still be funny somehow,” Alley said. “He doesn’t skirt around stuff like polygamy and slavery.”
More than half the students in Fluhman’s special topics American religious history class have taken at least one other class from him. Many say it is refreshing for them to have a professor be so real and open.
With his ever growing popularity as a professor and the popularity of the Fluhman Bracket Challenge, Fluhmna said the biggest obstacle he faces is making sure basketball takes up only few minutes at the beginning of class. The students learn to cope with this as well.
Jordan Bratt, a junior from Derry, N.H., majoring in geography, both jokingly and seriously called Fluhman’s classes “the pinnacle of education,” and Ross Christensen, a senior from Provo majoring in American Studies, simply called him “the man.”
So as the time draws near for March Madness to begin, Fluhman is excited not only to watch BYU play but to see how students react in class. He has always wanted to create a “community of learners” and bringing basketball into the classroom does just that as people begin to talk and connect over how well their teams do.
“Even those who don’t seem like they’re big sports fans, I think they like the culture that the class takes on when we are able to kind of celebrate together,” Fluhman said.