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Updated 10:00 AM November 24, 2008




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Williams named Michigan Professor of the Year

Ralph Williams, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of English, has been selected as the 2008 Carnegie Foundation for Advancement of Teaching Michigan Professor of the Year.
Ralph Williams, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of English, says he wants students to relate literature to life. (Photo by Scott Soderberg, U-M Photo Services)

One of U-M's most popular instructors, Williams' courses and public lectures typically are filled to capacity. A few years ago when the men's a cappella group the Friars gave its spring music concert, Williams was added as a special guest star to give one of his famous lectures midway through the music.

The well-regarded scholar of Shakespeare also helped forge a partnership between U-M, the University Musical Society and the Royal Shakespeare Company. Williams' deep love of the Bard takes center stage as he gives public lectures in conjunction with these performances, extending his reach to K-12 and college-age students, and the community.

"While I am never the point of my classroom, I try to use whatever I am and whatever I have learned and experienced so that students can gain access to the objects we study in ways that cut across the divisions of mind and body, emotions and intellect, text and history," Williams told LSA Magazine in a recent profile. "The point is twofold: to relate literature to the life, which is its source, and to offer to hearers the tools — and the freedom — to relate it as they will to the lives we lead. What students share in a lecture on Shakespeare, for example, is the 'bounce' of a script not only off my learning but off my whole lived experience as well."

The profile describes students listening to one of his courses by saying their faces "slowly mutate from discomfort, to curiosity, to mesmerization."

Williams is currently teaching two English courses, Questioning Heroic, Singing Romance; Shakespeare's Principal Plays; and a third course, Introduction to World Religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. During the winter term, Williams will teach four: Of Human Bonding: Family, Race, Religion and Nation, University; the Bible in English; Primo Levi and the Memory of the Holocaust; and an Honors Seminar on Memoir and Social Crisis. He will in addition do a series of lectures on Dante in Great Books.

He has been at U-M since 1970 and plans to retire after winter term 2009.

Founded in 1981, the U.S. Professors of the Year is the only national program specifically designed to acknowledge outstanding undergraduate teaching. The honor is administered by Carnegie and the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education.

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