Report of the Committee on Teaching Awards in the University

 

We are pleased to be part of the effort by the University to recognize and encourage distinguished teaching. Having considered issues of criteria, eligibility, and process during the course of this semester, we write now to convey our recommendations and elements of the reasoning which produced them in the hope that they can be implemented this academic year.

The following procedures we propose are geared to secure a visible place for teaching awards on our campuses, and to achieve the goals of inclusiveness, thoughtful participation, and efficient administration:

1. Number of the Award:  At the conclusion of each academic year, the University should award up to five (ordinarily no fewer than three) teaching awards. A larger number, we believe, would dilute the symbolic value of each tribute; a smaller number would be insufficient to a community of our scale. Whether the full complement is utilized should depend on the number of compelling nominees.

2. Recognition:  A suitable framed certificate or plaque should accompany a wash award of $5,000 per recipient. The ceremony either should be incorporated into Commencement or held in a highly publicized venue at the close of the academic year. Our preference is for the former. Commencement would provide a well-attended, prestigious setting with students, alumni, parents, and faculty in the audience. At this occasion, the time devoted to presenting the awards could be relatively brief, but the symbolic impact would be high.

3. Eligibility:  Eligible faculty should include all full-time colleagues as well as clinical and part-time instructors who have a significant relationship to the teaching program. We favor an inclusive pool because the University has many effective teachers whose links to the University vary in intensity and duration. Ordinarily, teaching awards would be made to individuals. From time to time, however, prizes might be awarded to collectivities which make special contributions to campus pedagogy.

4. Distribution:  There should be no a priori allocation across ranks, schools or fields should be mandated, but the selection committee should take into account the desirability of a distribution which reflects the diversity of the University. In particular, we are keen to see these awards appreciate excellence in teaching graduate and undergraduate students in both the Arts and Sciences and the professional schools. In any given year, but especially over time, care must be taken to give recognition to teaching at these levels and locations.

5. Criteria:  We recognize, of course, that outstanding teaching neither is fixed in form and venue nor easily assessed. Yet irrespective of whether instruction takes place in lecture courses, seminars, or laboratories (or whether it is pitched at introductory or advanced levels), exceptional pedagogy is marked by the active, critical role of the instructor whose demanding presence fosters critical thinking and inspires students to engage the quest for knowledge as a value and as a craft. We considered, but put aside, the suggestion that one or more awards be reserved for pedagogical innovation. While this achievement might provide the basis for an award, the institutionalization of this criterion would introduce an element of undesirable rigidity into a system whose effective functioning depends on the exercise of flexible judgment.

6. Nominating Procedures:  We strongly urge that the initiation of these awards and opportunities for nominating candidates be publicized widely in our student, faculty, alumni, and administrative communities. Any member of the University, from the most junior to the most senior, should be eligible to nominate. To be considered, these nominations would have to be made in the form of a detailed letter. The selection committee would screen these nominations and send those supported by sustained reason, hence which are prima facie persuasive, to the relevant unit of the University with a a request that a full dossier--including teaching evaluations, a letter of support from the chair or dean, and other germane material--be assembled and transmitted to the committee.

7. Selection Procedures:  The Teaching Awards Committee would recommend awards by selecting from among the full complement of nominations supported by informed dossiers. These materials will stay on file.

8. Timing:  Ordinarily, an announcement including a statement of aims, criteria, and procedures should be distributed by Thanksgiving. Nominations should be due by February 10, dossiers by March 1, and awards decided by the end of that month. During this academic year, a strong and visible campaign of publicity should be deployed by the first week of the Spring semester.

 

Qais al-Awqati
Akeel Bilgrami
Barbara Black
James Carey
Paul Glasserman
Ira Katznelson, Chair
Elaine Sisman
Nicholas Turro
Charles Hamish Young
 
December 5, 1995
 
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