Some days the muses sing to me. Other days they belch really loud in my face and scream, “No good column ideas for you this week, sucker!” That what my muses have been yelling me the past couple days.
Yesterday morning, I found myself sitting on a bench to the side of Old Main wondering if there were enough letters to the editor to fill my regular column space. Lately most of the letters that the Wildcat has been receiving have been from individuals residing in various correctional facilities across the country (Favorite line of the week: “If the female is Miss Right then marriage would be in effect.”) No, I had to write my column. As I sat on the bench, I found myself thinking about another windy, overcast day that I had sat on the same bench. A day back in the spring of 1991.
I was a senior in high school and visiting the university for a day. I had just finished observing a political science class taught by Professor James Todd and sat down on the bench to relax. The class had surprised me. The professor was funny, intelligent and genuinely interested in the subject matter. The discussion had been free-flowing and the students seemed to be learning and enjoying themselves simultaneously. It was everything that college was suppose to be. All the statistics and facts thrown at me later in the afternoon by an administrator did not come close to impressing me as much as that single class did.
Since then, I have taken three classes from Professor Todd, and all of them were outstanding. His classes are both lively and topical and he encourages students to think rather than regurgitate dates and places. He is passionate about the subject matter, but more importantly, he is compassionate for his students. Throughout my four years, his door has always been open to me and I have come to value his advice. I have talked to Professor Todd about things ranging from personal problems to the occasional lack of a column idea and he has always taken the time to listen. He is not only a top-notch educator, but he has become a true friend.
Professor Todd is not the only teacher at this university who has had a profound effect on my life. Professor Donald Carson of the journalism department taught me the basics of news writing and the importance of accuracy and fairness. He has also given me the confidence to pursue a career in journalism, something which I had been lacking. Dr. Homer Pettey of the Humanities Department opened my eyes to a world of literature that I never knew existed. The list of teachers could go on, but unfortunately my column space is limited.
Teaching awards at the UA are few and far between. The creation of the University Distinguished Professors Award by the UA Faculty Fellow Program is a start. The annual award will give two professors $5,000 salary increases for demonstrating a commitment to outstanding undergraduate teaching and commitment to students that extends out of the classroom. But for every two teachers who will receive a teaching award, there will be dozens of others who are just as worthy. The administration has made overtures about awarding teachers for undergraduate education, but after the “60 Minutes” debacle, it is crucial for them to act now. Promotions and pay raises based on outstanding undergraduate teaching is a must.
Of course, in a perfect world, teachers would be appreciated and recognized for the efforts that they put forth inside and outside of the classroom. One way of showing appreciation for a faculty or staff member is by writing to the Wildcat. I encourage every student to write a letter or send the Wildcat e-mail about people at this university who have impacted their lives. As opinions editor, I will do my best to make sure every one of those letters will be printed. Try to limit the letters to less than 450 words, so all of them can be printed. This is an opportunity to give credit where credit is due.
It is said that when two people meet, it is like a chemical reaction — both are forever changed. There has been a number of faculty members who have forever changed my life for the better. And for that I sincerely thank them.
Jon Burstein is a journalism and political science senior.
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