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Five honored with Thurnau professorships

BY JOHN A. WEISS
Jr.
Published March 2, 2009

In recognition of the fact that outstanding faculty are essential to any successful university, five professors were recently awarded Arthur F. Thurnau Professorships by the University.

At its February meeting, the University Board of Regents named Charles Bright, August Evrard, Andrei Markovits, James Walsh, and Margaret Wooldridge as this year’s recipients of the professorship. The award is given to faculty members for outstanding contributions to undergraduate education at the University.

The Office of the Provost’s website says the award honors tenured faculty “whose commitment to and investment in undergraduate teaching has had a demonstrable impact on the intellectual development and lives of their students.”

Recipients of the award also receive a $20,000 grant to aid their teaching.

The honorary title remains with professors for the duration of their time at the University.

Evrard, professor of physics and astronomy, said he was “pleasantly surprised,” to learn of his award.

“It’s funny. It’s not like a beauty contest or "American Idol". It’s not as dramatic a process as reality television,” he said.

Evrard said he plans to use the money to fund conferences and pay for a D-scribe — an advanced student who transcribes lecture materials into a digital product that can be published online.

“Imagine it as a global C-Tools,” Evrard said.

Markovits is the Karl W. Deutsch collegiate professor of comparative politics and German studies, Germanic languages and literatures, political science and sociology. This year, Markovits is at the Center for Advanced Study in Behavioral Sciences of Stanford University, finishing a book titled “Global Players, Local Cultures,” and is beginning work on human-animal relations.

“Total incredulity,” Markovits said his reaction was upon hearing that he had been selected. Named a Karl W. Deutsch collegiate professor for his research, and honored with the Golden Apple Award for outstanding teaching, Markovits compares the Thurnau Professorship to hitting the trifecta.

“I love every aspect of my job,” he said, adding that the University has been very good to him.

“Love what you do, and do it with passion and with dedication and it will be fun,” said Walsh, who knew that he wanted to be a professor since his junior year at Columbia University.

Walsh is the Gerald and Esther Carey professor of business administration, a professor of management and organizations and professor of strategy in the Stephen M. Ross School of Business. He said he was deeply honored to be a recipient of a teaching award.

"I'm pleased because I really do pour my heart and soul into my teaching," Walsh said.

He also wanted to remind students to take advantage of the University not only as a place to gain the accumulated wisdom of previous generations, but also as a place of inquiry.

"Sometimes with all of the pressure for grades we lose sight of what is really at play. This is not all about digesting facts and the like. I fear that some people mistake their performance on assignments and tests as the mark of a good education. Education is all about inquiry," Walsh said.

Walsh said he plans to use the grant money to take his classes to China to investigate global corporate governance, something he has done in the past.

"I'm always looking for funding to be able to do that,” he said. “My orientation is to spend the money on the students somehow."

Wooldridge is a professor of mechanical engineering and associate professor of aerospace engineering in the College of Engineering and Bright is a professor of history, director of the Residential College and co-founder of the Semester in Detroit program.

Funding for the award comes from the Thurnau Charitable Trust. A student at the University in the early 20th century, Arthur Thurnau established the trust to give back to a campus that he gained so much from in his undergraduate days.