Everyone remembers a teacher.
I remember many, although none more vividly than Ted Stirling, the silver-haired English professor who brought The Iliad to life with such verve and emotion that when he died soon after I graduated,
I skipped work and drove back to Sewanee just so I could walk in his funeral procession, a black parade under spitting snow.
Many will remember Liviu Librescu. According
to media reports that followed the shootings at Virginia Tech on April 16, the professor of engineering science and mathematics was teaching a class in Norris Hall the morning Cho Seung-Hui entered the building on a killing rampage. Librescu blocked the door of his classroom as best he could and ordered his fifteen students to flee, allowing most of them to jump out of the second-story window to safety before Cho shot and killed him. A Romanian Jew who survived the Holocaust, Librescu died on Holocaust Remembrance Day. In addition to his family, students, friends, and colleagues, the parents of those whose lives he saved surely will never forget.
Also killed was Christopher James Bishop, a German instructor who grew up in Pine Mountain, Georgia, about an hour from the Emory campus. Described in the Chronicle of Higher Education as a “born teacher,” the former Fulbright scholar rode his bike to campus each day and also designed book covers for his father, a writer in residence at Georgia’s LaGrange College. Librescu and Bishop were two of the six Virginia Tech teachers who died that morning.
Each of them was some student’s Ted Stirling.
This year, Emory has observed the Year of the Faculty, a time of exploration and planning around the University Strategic Plan’s goal of strengthening faculty distinction. Provost Earl Lewis and Senior Vice Provost Claire Sterk, among many others, have devoted much of this year to conversation with deans and professors, defining faculty excellence and how best to attain it. The outcomes are many and varied, but central among them is a renewed commitment to teaching, for many the very heart of the University’s mission.
Associate Editor Mary Loftus, alumnus Alec Young 03OX 05C, and I had the pleasure of going “back to school” for our special section on teaching, sitting in on a number of classes and watching professors at work. And we learned a few things.
In the classroom, Emory professors are engaging students in topics from basic cell biology to stem cell research, the French Revolution to the ethics of war,
and science fiction to the insanity defense. They are using technology to open up new dimensions of learning, whether it’s analyzing a piece of music through sonic data or simply showing a clip from YouTube to capture students’ attention and illustrate a point. They are pushing students to think about career possibilities by showing them what it’s like to run a business or a research lab. They are even teaching them how to teach.
But learning here is not bound to the classroom. Vital medical education is taking place right where the action is, in hospital clinic rooms, while patients await treatment a few feet away. Professors of every discipline are in touch with their students constantly, in hallways, over coffee, and via email. Many faculty members also are teaching in service beyond the classroom—such as a Candler professor who teaches creative writing to inmates at a women’s prison.
Sometimes teaching takes place on a grand scale,
such as the February appearance of former U.S. President
Jimmy Carter, who spoke to a packed Glenn Auditorium
about the conflict in the Middle East, or when Distinguished
Writer in Residence Salman Rushdie delivered the Sheth Lecture on Indian art that same month.
And in October, His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, who recently accepted an appointment as Presidential Distinguished Professor, will give a public talk on “Educating the Heart and Mind.” The Emory-Tibet
Partnership will allow the University to take its teaching as far as Dharamsala, India, where faculty will offer a specially created science curriculum for Tibetan monks.
Most University faculty will never block a classroom door while a madman wields a gun on the other side, negotiate peace between warring countries, or live for years in exile from their own.
But all are heroic. Frances Smith Foster, a professor of English and recipient of last year’s University Scholar-Teacher Award, believes that teaching is a calling. To answer such a call requires courage—the courage to believe in something so strongly that you devote your life to imparting it to others.
There are some 2,710 full-time faculty at Emory, and more than three thousand teachers in all. In this issue of Emory Magazine, we are able to shine a light
on only a handful.
But all are someone’s Ted Stirling. And for that,
we thank them.
—Editor Paige P. Parvin 96G