Thank you, Tony, for that introduction and thank you to the Ream and Paradiso families for their generosity in establishing this award, which I am very honored to receive. And thank you to the selection committee. It is with great pride that I follow previous recipients such as Doug Collar, Jo-Ann Sanders, Dave Kimmel, John Owen, Amy Berger, and my spouse, Julie O’Reilly – The Dr. O’Reilly, competence personified.
When it comes to my own teaching, I consider Charles Barkley’s famous quote, “I am not a role model,” apropos. Julie certainly knows this. My nocturnal work habits (which keep me on a student schedule by the way), fondness for texting and hashtagging, lack of punctuality, deliberate ways, and occasional visits to the provost’s office, speak to a particular heterodoxy. Yes, I once taught a Human Rights class in a student’s College Hill apartment when he preferred to play video games in his living room rather than attend class across the street in Aigler 201. My spouse thought it a dumb teaching decision. The provost and dean concurred. It likely won’t earn me an innovative teaching award. To this day, however, the student, Matt Curley, who coincidentally asked me for a letter of recommendation this week, revels in the fact that, for one day in his life, class came to him.
Notwithstanding my occasional lack of common sense, I believe that effective teaching simply requires commitment. Commitment to the material I am trying to convey in the classroom. More importantly, commitment to the students I am trying to educate, advise, and mentor. While a Ph.D. student at the University of Connecticut, one of my mentors, Dr. Betty Hanson, embodied that kind of pedagogy. She always made time for her students, strove to give them the best scholarly and personal advice, and impressed upon them her passion for global politics. She epitomized the scholar-citizen. And her dedication wowed me. She was there when I took the Phi Beta Kappa oath, my proudest day as a student. Whenever I asked her why she attended to some obscure task, organized the type of event that no other professor could be bothered with, or took on additional responsibility, she would always snap back, “This is important. Someone has to do it.” Her colleagues may have snickered, as her extra duties earned her no supplemental pay or other material benefit. But she made quite the impression on me. And unwittingly, she prepared me to teach at Heidelberg.
As my now retired colleague, Skip Oliver, likes to say, teaching at Heidelberg is the best job anyone could hope for. Not because it pays well. It does not. Not because the hours are short. They are not. Not because resources, financial and otherwise, abound. They do not. Not because the university offers a frustration-free work place. It most certainly does not. But Heidelberg allows me to connect with students and provide them with opportunities -- whether in a campus classroom, in my office, at Fireside Café, at the Mexican Restaurant across town, at a Model United Nations conference in San Francisco, at the Walsh University Political Science Undergraduate Research Conference, at the International Studies Association-Midwest conference in St. Louis, or while touring Greece, Turkey, Italy, Vatican City, Monaco, France, the United Kingdom, or Canada.
As a professor, this is what I offer: relationships and possibilities. This is what Heidelberg sells and excels at. A star recruit, who won the November Scholars Day competition, confirmed that for me when she committed to Heidelberg last Saturday. In her email, she wrote, “Everyone who I had the privilege to speak with offered a new insight into the university and how they would help enrich my education during my undergraduate years. The very attitude of the students I met astounded me. So often I hear college students say that it is a bad idea to get too involved, but not a single Heidelberg student said that to me.”
Be a participant, not a spectator, John Bing, Heidelberg’s resident sage, likes to say. As witnesses to student lives, we professors have a front row seat, to paraphrase another Heidelberg philosopher, Jim Troha. Yesterday, at the Student Research Conference, I had the best ticket on campus. I watched, with great expectation but also with some trepidation, as 21 of my students presented their work to their peers and to the Heidelberg community. Like the 70 or so other presenters, they delivered. And that, to paraphrase a famous poet, makes all the difference. That performance, when you see how much students care and how much they have learned, makes all the difference. To witness my star senior, Ali Sayre, burst into tears upon recalling the Fall 2012 death of a young man, fatally stabbed outside a Washington, D.C., metro, whom she tried but failed to resuscitate. To observe as some of my freshmen struggled, as professors sometimes still do, to utter coherent sentences or answer a challenging question. To stand in awe as Hannah Long-Higgins dazzled an overflow crowd in Adams 104 with a presentation on her Summer 2012 trip to Tanzania that married exquisite photography with extraordinary self-awareness, introspection, and cultural appreciation. Days like yesterday make all the difference. They make teaching at Heidelberg the most rewarding job I could ever have envisaged while growing up in Montreal. Thank you.