English Prof. Ralph Williams awarded University's first-ever Lifetime Achievement Golden Apple Award

BY VALIANT LOWITZ
For the Daily
Published March 9, 2009

During a routine lecture yesterday, students witnessed history as English Prof. Ralph Williams was honored with the first-ever Lifetime Achievement Golden Apple Award.

Chris Dzombak/Daily
Prof. Ralph Williams reacts to his receipt of the Lifetime Achievement Golden Apple Award.

Williams' course, English 313: On Human Bonding, was interrupted last night as members of the organization Students Honoring Outstanding University Teaching filed down the Angell Hall lecture hall stairs with balloons and flowers in hand.

The Golden Apple Award honors outstanding teachers, and variations of it exist across the country. The University’s annual tribute was created by SHOUT in order to single out University professors who “strive not only to disseminate knowledge but to inspire and engage students in its pursuit.”

Williams, who was unaware of the award, was beaming and teary-eyed following the surprise.

“There are seldom times when I am speechless,” Williams said. “However, this is one of those moments.”

After receiving the award, Williams spoke about the importance of work ethic and told a story of a childhood conversation with his parents.

“You best be useful in life,” Williams said he learned from his parents. “Because you are certainly no ornament. I looked in the mirror and thought, ‘God, they’re right.’ ”

In 1992, Williams received the annual Golden Apple Award. The award he received last night was the first to honor an entire career of exemplary teaching.

Williams began his career at the University of Michigan in 1970, and quickly became a well-known figure on campus. During his nearly thirty years at the University, he has been chair of the University English program, director of the Honors program in English and head of the Great Books program.

Williams is a favorite among students and known for making every effort to know students on a personal level.

His theatrical lectures and passion for his course material have been cause for packed lecture halls for years, with students and parents of students seeking to catch a glimpse of Williams’ unique teaching style.

Students turned in nominations for professors through the Golden Apple website.

The members of SHOUT then collect the nominations and give the award based on the number and content of the nominations.

The nomination form asks for the name of the professor and a short answer description of why the nominated professor should be given the opportunity to recite an “ideal last lecture.”

In most cases, the "last lecture" given by the honored professor is a metaphorical. But in Williams’ case, it will truly be his last lecture as a University of Michigan professor, giving him a chance to leave his final stamp on an illustrious career at the University.

Williams’ last lecture and the presentation of the award will be on April 21st at the Rackham Graduate School at 7 p.m.