The University Record, March 22, 1993

Six named to Thurnaus for contributions to undergrad education

Six faculty members have been named to Arthur F. Thurnau Professorships, which “recognize and reward faculty for outstanding contributions to undergraduate education.”

Those honored are Richard I. Ford, professor of anthropology; Richard G. Lawton, professor of chemistry; Terrence J. McDonald, professor of history; Kim Lane Scheppele, associate professor of political science and public policy; James C.G. Walker, professor of atmospheric, oceanic and space sciences and of geological sciences; and Robert A. Weisbuch, professor of English.

The Thurnau Professorships are named after Arthur F. Thurnau, a U-M student in 1902–04, and are supported by the Thurnau Charitable Trust established through his will. The University each year selects faculty members who are designated as Thurnau Professors for a three-year term and receive a grant to support their teaching activities.

Richard I. Ford

Prof. Ford “has dedicated himself to undergraduate students throughout his career at the University,” said Provost Gilbert R. Whitaker Jr. “He graduated from Oberlin College but has always believed that the rich resources at Michigan could provide an even better education for undergraduates if the interaction between students and professors could be as personal as it is at small liberal arts colleges.

“As a faculty member in the Department of Anthropology, Prof. Ford has initiated courses which have fostered personal, in-depth learning experiences for undergraduate students. He also restructured the honors class in anthropology-archaeology by incorporating an original research requirement. Prof. Ford has also worked to improve the undergraduate experience by enabling numerous students to do archaeological field work and to do research in his laboratory.

“As Chair of the Department of Anthropology, Prof. Ford has worked to develop the Undergraduate Anthropology Club as a forum for informal education opportunities. He is complimented by his students for his open door policy and his personal interest in and commitment to them as well as for his outstanding classroom teaching.”

Richard G. Lawton

Prof. Lawton has been “a dedicated teacher and an influential mentor of undergraduate students for more than 30 years in the Department of Chemistry,” Whitaker said. “Even students who do not necessarily enjoy the subject matter have favorable impressions of Prof. Lawton. Students recognize his qualities of fairness, decency, integrity, impartiality, accessibility, and genuine concern for their welfare.

“Prof. Lawton often disarms audiences of undergraduate students and faculty colleagues alike when he declares to them, ‘I don’t teach.’ People soon learn that this means that he prefers to provide the way to self-discovery: learning.

“He presents high standards to his students as attainable goals, along with the strong encouragement, accessibility, humor, sensitivity and patience that it takes to support and promote the effort. Students are inspired and converted by his personal involvement in and enthusiasm for chemistry. He presents them with a useful model for how one should think rather than just what one should think, the latter of which is the stereotypical goal generally associated with introductory science instruction.”

Terrence J. McDonald

Prof. McDonald “has established himself as one of the most talented and dedicated teachers in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts [LS&A],” Whitaker noted. “A specialist in American urban history, he began by revitalizing the Department of History’s undergraduate courses in this important field.

“His successful development of an undergraduate seminar in 1983, Diversity in American Society, led to the creation of two new introductory lecture courses for the program in American Culture on Community and Diversity in American Life. Prof. McDonald’s efforts also led to a revitalization of History 161, the underclass survey of United States history, which, in turn, has been primarily responsible for the integration of problems and concepts of race and diversity into the department’s larger offerings.

“Prof. McDonald’s contributions to undergraduate teaching go further than teaching his own classes. Throughout all of 1989–90 he organized a comprehensive review of the problem of teaching about ‘diversity’ in LS&A as a whole and gathered together a group of faculty and students to work out a comprehensive proposal designed to enhance the LS&A curriculum.”

Kim Lane Scheppele

Prof. Scheppele is “a careful and exacting teacher in her work with undergraduates,” Whitaker said. “The topics she teaches are popular, drawing long lines of students to her door. She treats them all as if they were students in a small seminar, listening to their concerns, working with them on assignments, providing detailed feedback on their work and helping them to develop effective study skills. In so doing, she contributes to their education not just by transmitting a particular body of knowledge but by teaching them how to become good learners, individuals who will complete their undergraduate education with the skills required to learn new things in virtually any setting.

“Prof. Scheppele has been nominated for her outstanding teaching in our Institute of Public Policy Studies where she has earned the respect of both students and her faculty colleagues for her ability to make a critical difference in the education of the undergraduates she teaches. In her courses she wrestles with very complex and highly charged issues such as abortion. By working carefully and thoughtfully with students on these issues, she helps them to examine their own views, to understand how they have formed the opinions they hold, and to understand how people have come to hold different views.”

James C. G. Walker

Prof. Walker is “renowned for his teaching skills,” Whitaker noted. “In addition, he is well known for his introduction of extensive discussions of social and ethical concerns into introductory courses, particularly for non-scientists. His work in the classroom has allowed students to learn for themselves why science and engineering issues have important and direct societal and environmental relevance in the real world.

“Prof. Walker has also enhanced undergraduate education by incorporating state-of-the-art technology into his teaching. Undergraduate students attending his classes benefit from a set of highly sophisticated computer laboratory exercises he has developed for introductory courses. They develop a deeper understanding of complex, chemical, geological and atmospheric processes through the use of these exercises, which allow the students to interact with the controlling equations and generate immediate graphical results for analysis.

“Most recently, during the past year, Prof. Walker has developed an innovative and imaginative new undergraduate curriculum in atmospheric, oceanic and space sciences.”

Robert A. Weisbuch

Prof. Weisbuch is regarded as “an extraordinary undergraduate teacher,” Whitaker said. “His students regularly comment on his energy, his love of literature and his astonishing ability to engage large groups of students in rewarding discussion.

“Prof. Weisbuch has been a leader for many years in undergraduate education within the Department of English. He served as undergraduate chair, associate chair with responsibility for undergraduate programs and, since 1987, as chair. In all of those positions he has been a committed and effective activist on behalf of excellence in undergraduate education. As chair, Prof. Weisbuch has presided over a virtually complete revision of the concentration program as well as innovations all across the curriculum.

“Prof. Weisbuch’s commitment to excellence in undergraduate education has also been manifested in the work he has done in LS&A and at University levels. Perhaps more than any other individual faculty member within LS&A, Prof. Weisbuch is responsible for transforming an unfocused dissatisfaction with the undergraduate education we offer to an effective reform movement that will bring about change.”