Political science and German Prof. Andrei Markovits was five minutes into his Sports and Society class yesterday when a voice interrupted him from the top of the lecture hall.
“Excuse me, Professor Markovits?” it asked. With a bewildered expression on his face, Markovits looked in the direction of the voice.
It belonged to LSA junior Andrew Bronstein, co-chair of Students Honoring Outstanding University Teaching.
Bronstein and three other SHOUT members then descended the stairs of the lecture hall in the Dennison Building, a bouquet of maize-and-blue balloons in hand, to present Markovits with the 17th -annual Golden Apple Award, given each year to the teacher a student committee selects as the best professor on campus.
“If I had known this, I would’ve put on a jacket,” said Markovits – clad in a pair of brown corduroys and a merlot-colored hooded sweatshirt – after the strong applause of his students died down and he had a moment to collect his thoughts.
Once the honor had sunk in, Markovits returned to the day’s lecture on the history of the National Hockey League in North America and its wider global significance, which he delivered, seemingly from memory, as his notes lay spread before him on the large lab table at the front of the room.
“I thought someone didn’t like what I said about the Red Wings,” he said in an interview once most of his students had left the lecture hall after class. Just before the SHOUT team appeared, he had mentioned the Detroit Cougars, who wouldn’t become the Red Wings until 1932.
Later, in his office, where bulging shelves of books line the walls, Markovits reflected on the afternoon’s excitement.
“I’m so flattered, and I’m so humbled, and I’m so honored,” he said.
“It was perfect that it happened in the sports class,” Markovits continued. “I love that class. Sports is still not treated with the same academic respect. I am very committed to fighting that.”
Markovits called himself an “LSA man,” referring to his joint appointment with the German and political science departments and his partnership with the sociology department in developing the sports course.
“I’m using sports as a vehicle to explain and illustrate larger social and political phenomenon,” Markovits said. “You can do this with film, once can do this with pretty much anything that you study at a university. It so happens that sport, to me, is a very good vehicle to look at all these things.”
“It’s not just a class about schmoozing about the Yankees,” he said.
Still, the topic attracts students to the class in droves.
Rackham student Jeffrey Luppes is one of two GSIs who are assisting Markovits with the course for the second time and was one of the students who nominated Markovits for the Golden Apple. The committee accepts nominations from the student body.
Luppes said that the first few weeks of the class are hardest on the GSIs because of the number of students who want to enroll. He said it isn’t uncommon for waitlists for discussion sections to include more than 10 people each.
“His excitement is genuine, and it’s infectious,” Luppes said of Markovits’s passion for his material. “He makes students want to learn more about the topic and understand it like he does.”
Luppes said Markovits extends this enthusiasm beyond the classroom and is quick to write a recommendation for a student.
“Everyone knows him in the German political world, so if you have his recommendation, you’ll probably get what you’re applying for,” he said. “His voice carries a lot of weight.”
According to Bronstein, though, Markovits popularity doesn’t come from letting students slack off.
“Students look to him because he is challenging,” Bronstein said, citing the nominations that SHOUT received on behalf of Markovits.
In addition to his mid-lecture visit, Markovits received an assignment from SHOUT: to give his ideal last lecture. Bronstein explained that this is a cornerstone of the Golden Apple award because it gives all students the opportunity to listen to a professor who they may never have the opportunity to take a class with. Markovits will deliver his ideal last lecture on April 12 at 8 p.m. in Rackham Auditorium.
Recent recipients of the award include English professor Eric Rabkin in 2006, English professor John Rubadeau in 2005 and history professor Matt Lassiter in 2004. The Golden Apple has been awarded since 1991, when psychology professor Drew Westen won the first one.