Within the last few weeks, several events in Lawrence illustrated the emphasis and importance Kansas University officials place on excellence in teaching.
At the Chancellors Club annual gathering, two KU faculty members were honored for their long and distinguished careers as teachers and researchers. They each received $5,000 awards.
Several days later, recipients of this year's William T. Kemper Foundation Fellowships for Teaching Excellence assembled in Budig Hall to receive their certificates and to describe their teaching techniques and their thoughts about being teachers. Each of them already had received a check for $5,000.
One could not have been in the audience at the Chancellors Club gathering or at the Budig Hall session without being tremendously impressed by the dedication and excellence of the teachers being honored. In addition, there was the extra bonus at the Chancellors Club of meeting and learning about the many achievements of 10 KU freshmen who were recognized as the 1998 Chancellors Club Scholars.
All of these individuals, the outstanding students and the distinguished teachers, serve as wonderful examples of what a university is all about and what is important at KU: academic excellence. It is too bad more people do not have the opportunity to meet and hear the accomplishments of the students and teachers and to hear their ideas about teaching, the joys and rewards of teaching and why the talented students chose to come to KU for their college education.
At the Kemper Fellowship ceremony, teachers discussing their work made comments like these:
- Teaching is a continuum with no end because it extends beyond the classroom day.
- It's important to build a rapport with students and sincerely care about your students.
- You should be a positive role model as well as a good teacher.
- Teachers should be ambassadors for education and for personal and professional development.
- Good teachers are always learning from other faculty members as well as from students.
- It's important to develop good reading skills at an early age because if a person is not a good reader, it affects them the rest of their lives.
All those honored indicated they were proud to be teachers and stressed that it is an honorable profession. They said teachers need to ask themselves whether what they are teaching is relevant and important. Other attributes of good teachers, according to those being honored, include personalizing teaching whenever possible, stimulating students and showing them what they can achieve when challenged. They must be prepared, know their subject matter and not pretend if they don't know an answer. Keep it simple, they said, and put your heart into it. A number of teachers stressed the joy of seeing the "light" go on when students understand what they are trying to get across.
- Interact with students.
- The success of your students is the real reward.
- Maintain personal contact with students after they graduate.
These are just some of the comments expressed by the Kemper Fellowship teachers.
In addition to the Chancellors Club and Kemper Fellowship honorees, other teachers were honored at the Kansas-Colorado football game by the KU chapter of Mortar Board. Five faculty members were named Mortar Board Outstanding Educators and recognized for their devotion to academia, teaching style, accessibility and knowledge of their subjects.
Last Saturday, the six finalists and the winner of the HOPE award were introduced prior to the Kansas-Kansas State football game. HOPE stands for Honor for the Outstanding Progressive Educator, and it is another means of recognizing and calling attention to the importance of teaching excellence.
Earlier in the month, the Budig teaching professorship, which carries with it a $5,000 award was given to a member of the fine arts faculty.
Teaching is the top priority at KU, and it is likely to receive added emphasis in the months and years to come.
Private fiscal support will play a significant role in this effort because many of the awards are made possible by private funds.
The KU Endowment Association provided $44,436,311 during the last fiscal year for the university, with $13,598,809 of this targeted for scholarships, fellowships, awards and prizes. During the past 10 years, this segment of Endowment Association funding totaled $91,356,804.
Chancellor Robert Hemenway has made it clear he intends to emphasize the importance of substantial salary increases for KU faculty members. The state, he stresses, cannot afford to lose talented teachers and researchers to other schools in other states.
Clearly, the quality of teaching and the recruitment of talented high school students is receiving considerable attention.
KU is one of the nation's foremost comprehensive state-aided research institutions, but the competition becomes more intense each year. Some leaders at other schools attempt to skew numbers or play games with figures, but the record is clear: KU is indeed the flagship academic institution in Kansas. KU Endowment Association officials, university officials and others have indicated they intend to keep it this way, build on this record and give even more emphasis and support to building academic excellence at the university.
This emphasis on the student, particularly at the undergraduate level, would seem the best way to ensure the continued excellence of the university. A strong university must have a strong base of talented undergraduate students who help attract and hold outstanding faculty members.
KU has a record of a superior undergraduate student body and excellence in many graduate and research programs. It's a winning combination, not only for students and faculty members but also for the state. Even with KU's excellent record, however, there is no justification for complacency because increased efforts will be necessary to keep the university in the forefront of the nation's state-aided schools. Good students, good faculty members and good fiscal support are the essential ingredients for an outstanding university, and it is good to know that KU leaders are committed to placing every added emphasis recognizing and encouraging excellence in teaching and in attracting top-flight students.