By Alvin Powell
Five professors known for their outstanding teaching abilities have been named the University's first Harvard College Professors, an honor created to recognize those especially dedicated to undergraduate teaching.
This year's recipients are Lawrence Buell, the John P. Marquand Professor of English; Jorge Domínguez, the Clarence Dillon Professor of International Affairs and director of the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs; Peter Ellison, professor of anthropology and the Peabody Museum's curator of human biology; Eric Jacobsen, professor of chemistry; and Judith Ryan, the Robert K. and Dale J. Weary Professor of German and Comparative Literature.
The five-year chair comes with support to aid the recipient's professional development in the form of a semester of paid leave, or commensurate summer pay, or an equivalent fund to support their scholarly work.
Four or five appointments to the five-year chairs will be made each year until a steady state of 24 such professorships has been reached. Those who already hold a named chair will hold both titles. A gift from John L. Loeb, SB '24, LLD '71 (hon.), and Frances Lehman Loeb made possible this first set of Harvard College Professorships.
Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Jeremy R. Knowles, who announced the recipients at the April 14 Faculty of Arts and Sciences Faculty Meeting, said the Loebs wanted to recognize outstanding teachers with more than just a title and applause and so helped set up the chairs.
"It is with delight that I'm able to name the first five colleagues to Harvard College Professorships," Knowles said. "In the five years that they carry this title, these colleagues will enjoy an additional term of paid research leave or a commensurate fund in support of their research. John and Frances Loeb were wonderfully generous and imaginative supporters of the College."
Though Harvard is known as a research institution, it has a large number of excellent teachers, which made the selection process very challenging, said Dean of Undergraduate Education William Mills Todd III, the Curt Hugo Reisinger Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures and a member of the committee that reviewed candidates for the chairs.
"This was a very difficult procedure because so many people do innovative and effective things in their teaching, both in large and small courses," Todd said.
All the recipients said they're honored by the award and most said their teaching does stimulate their research.
Lawrence Buell took his commitment to undergraduates a step beyond the classroom, serving as dean of undergraduate education from 1992 to 1996. A specialist in American literature and in environmental writing, Buell said he's always devoted at least half his teaching time to undergraduates.
"To be recognized publicly for what one considers inherently most important in one's professional life is by no means to be taken for granted, and I am very grateful," Buell said. "Never during my eight years at Harvard have I taught an undergraduate course that I didn't enjoy teaching."
Jorge Domínguez tackles research and undergraduate teaching at the same time by organizing classes around topics that are also of interest for research. For 20 years, Domínguez taught Government 1295, Comparative Politics in Latin America, which led him to write a series of essays on the problems and opportunities in the region. That work led to a book on the topic, Democratic Politics in Latin America and the Caribbean, published in March.
"Harvard College has an outstanding teaching faculty, many of whom I have come to know through the Core Curriculum and the Government Department," Domínguez said. "I am humbled by being part of the first set of these [Harvard College] professors."
Peter Ellison said the caliber of Harvard undergraduates makes teaching them very rewarding. He has interacted with students outside the classroom in several ways -- as freshman adviser, as Allston Burr Senior Tutor, and as head tutor in the Anthropology Department. Ellison, a biological anthropologist who looks at things such as how diet and exercise affect fertility, said he enjoys having students involved in his research.
"I am deeply honored to be named a Harvard College Professor, especially knowing how many talented and dedicated teachers there are on our faculty," Ellison said. "It sends a wonderful message, not only to students and faculty here, but to the broader academic community, for Harvard to recognize in this way the depth of commitment that its faculty members have to undergraduate education."
Eric Jacobsen is a chemist whose research focuses on designing and developing catalysts, some of which have gone on to find practical use in industry. He said the award is a tremendous honor and that he's been impressed with how many of the Harvard faculty have a real commitment to classroom teaching.
"To be a truly effective researcher, I have always felt that one must be an effective teacher," Jacobsen said. "If one cannot inspire students with the basic principles defining one's field, how can one hope to inspire other, more advanced students to perform research at the frontiers?"
Judith Ryan hadn't known the professorships were in the offing and said she was overwhelmed by the honor on returning from a trip and discovering she'd been named a Harvard College Professor. Ryan, a professor of German and comparative literature, said teaching, research, and writing for her are complementary activities. Ryan said she plans to use the leave to write a book about German fiction of the 1920s and 1930s, tentatively titled Charting the Rise of Nazism.
"It's exploring things with students that I find exciting," Ryan said. "I find teaching gives me a lot of ideas that I use in writing."
Copyright 1998 President and Fellows of Harvard College