Office of the President
October 15, 2004
2004 Alliant Energy Underkofler Excellence in Teaching Awards
President Kevin Reilly, University of Wisconsin SystemWelcome to the 2004 Alliant Energy Underkofler Excellence in Teaching Awards ceremony. On September First, I became President of this great university system. Since taking office a month-and-a-half ago, I have traveled all around the state, convened two meetings of the Board of Regents, put final touches on the 2005-07 biennial budget for submission to the Governor, and, last week, was called to testify about the UW System’s administrative costs before a legislative hearing on the Audit just issued by the Legislative Audit Bureau. Believe me when I say that being here with you today, to honor the recipients of the 2004 Underkofler Excellence in Teaching Awards, is one of the most pleasurable responsibilities I have undertaken thus far!
I am very proud to be able to honor these outstanding faculty and academic staff. Their remarkable dedication to teaching, and their ability to inspire students, exemplify the best values of the University of Wisconsin System. Their students have testified that these individuals not only have inspired them to academic achievement, but also have served as role models well beyond the four walls of the classroom. Today, we honor their capacity to transform lives, and to help students become a part of something larger—whether that something is a community of learners, an academic discipline, or the world outside the academy.
I want to begin by thanking Alliant Energy for their years of support of good teaching. The awards honor James Underkofler, the company’s former Chairman, and Alliant Energy’s ongoing commitment to public higher education. Such support from the private sector will help ensure the excellence of the UW System well into the 21st century as we seek more creative and innovative ways to provide high-quality education to people from throughout Wisconsin and the nation.
Alliant Energy is represented today by Tim Heinrich, Executive Director of the Alliant Energy Foundation. I’d like to welcome Tim and to give him the opportunity to say a few words before presenting the awards. Tim . . .
Administered by the UW System Office of Professional and Instructional Development, the Underkofler Awards mark a continuing commitment by Alliant Energy to recognize and reward outstanding teachers at UW System institutions within the company’s service area. Candidates are nominated by their home institutions. A System committee of faculty and teaching academic staff makes the final selection. Each year, four recipients are selected and, as you will see, they represent a diversity of disciplines, backgrounds, career stages and pedagogical approaches.
One of this year’s Underkofler recipients is not able to be here today. Professor Eric Wilcots, Professor of Astronomy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is on sabbatical for the year in Australia. We intend to honor him at next year’s ceremony.
As former Chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Extension, I am very pleased to welcome today’s first Underkofler recipient, Professor Kevin Bernhardt.
Professor Bernhardt has a split appointment teaching in the School of Agriculture at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, and as a Risk Management Specialist with the UW-Extension. There was no “fix” involved in his selection, I assure you! Professor Bernhardt joined the UW-Platteville faculty in 1996, after completing a Ph.D. in Agricultural Economics at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
In the eight years he has been at Platteville, he has not only earned tenure, but has also served as Director of the Agribusiness Program and taken responsibility for re-conceptualizing the entire Agribusiness curriculum. In his Extension role, he is co-principal investigator in a half-million dollar grant program to design and implement a dairy price management curriculum and a general agricultural risk management curriculum. These are award-winning curricula which have been widely adopted throughout the U.S.
Important as such accomplishments are, they don’t quite capture Professor Bernhardt’s complete engagement in his teaching and service to students, both in and out of the classroom. Like all faculty at Platteville, Dr. Bernhardt bears a heavy advising load, advising more than half of Platteville’s 120 Agribusiness majors. In addition, he is the faculty advisor to the National Agri-Marketing Association student chapter. This is a national marketing organization that competes each year at the national contest. Under Professor Bernhardt’s leadership, UW-Platteville’s teams have won national honors, bringing Platteville to national prominence and a reputation as a formidable opponent.
The student letters in support of his nomination repeatedly point to the commitment of time and energy Dr. Bernhardt brings to his advising role. They also point to his ability to inspire students to go above and beyond what they thought they could do. One of his former students writes that, “Dr. Bernhardt enjoys seeing students slightly out of their comfort zone. This means he will find a way to challenge each student to further his or her growth. Students are willing to go out on a limb for the things that Dr. Bernhardt suggests because he is also always trying new things. He recently started milking cows at the University Farm so that he would have a better understanding of the day-to-day operations of a dairy. I can’t think of another college professor or any teacher in my past who has possessed such a love of learning and who so readily transfers that learning to others.”
Professor Bernhardt has a teaching philosophy centered on six principles that allow him to meet, in his words, “his obligation to develop the whole student.” He is passionate about the teaching of agriculture, teaching his students that there is a long and rich history of agricultural and food-system development, which includes demographic changes, and geo-political developments. He writes, “If I can somehow bring the interconnectedness alive, to awaken the students to an appreciation for the value of history, math, cultural differences, etc., then, I have done a great service to the student’s ability to be successful in an agribusiness career, to the parents desires that their child receive a quality education, and to employers who are seeking new recruits who will add the most value to their business.” Professor Bernhardt . .
Our second 2004 Underkofler winner is Howard Erlanger, Professor of Law and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Professor Erlanger arrived at the UW-Madison campus 34 years ago, as a freshly minted Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of California, Berkeley. He has a split appointment in the Law School and in the Department of Sociology, but since receiving his J.D. from Madison in 1981 (graduating at the top of his class), his primary teaching appointment has been in the Law School. He was named to the Voss-Bascom Professorship in 1993.
Those of you in the room who know Professor Erlanger will understand when I say: where to begin! The evidence of his uncommon commitment to teaching, his mentoring of both students and new faculty, and, in the words of his Dean at the Law School, his “almost fanatical devotion to curriculum reform and pedagogical improvement” is overwhelming! I’ll begin, then, with “intestacy.” No, this is not a disease but rather, the legal status of someone who has died without a will. It is one of the key topics in a course taught in the Law School by Professor Erlanger, “Trusts and Estates.” And when I finish telling you still more of the many notable achievements of this distinguished, multi-faceted faculty member, we will all want to sign up for his course.
The “Trusts and Estates” course is emblematic of the kind of curricular transformation Professor Erlanger has effected over the duration of his teaching career. The pre-Professor Erlanger descriptions of the course were “dry,” “technical,” “arcane,” a “graveyard for teachers!” Sounds like university administration! Professor Erlanger resurrected the course, introducing real-life stories from practitioners, material from the popular media, and humor (“bringing life to a dead topic,” in his words!), all the while keeping the complexity of the law, and the importance of understanding law in its social context, at the forefront of his teaching.
As one former student wrote, “It matters to him whether students understand the technical features of the material, the rationale underlying court decisions and legislation, as well as the broader social implications of the relevant rules. . . . Professor Erlanger made his high expectations clear and provided students with the tools necessary for meeting those expectations. His boundless enthusiasm for, and knowledge of, the subject infused the entire classroom.”
This former student I just quoted is now a tenured professor of law at Washburn University, and was recently voted “Professor of the Year” by her students. Indeed, his students—past and present—are vocal in their admiration and they keep in touch. Professor Erlanger offers his students a “lifetime warranty” for his courses: students—past and present—are invited to call or email when they encounter a trusts and estates, or other legal problem, they can’t solve. Many, many people take him up on this offer!
What Professor Erlanger has done with the “Trusts and Estates” course, he has done with several other so-called “problem” courses. Professor Erlanger writes, “Rethinking and reorganizing these courses led me to a ‘learner-based’ approach to teaching, which I now apply in all my classes. My focus is on the students—what is their starting point, where am I trying to move them, how will they experience my ‘teaching,’ what difficulties will they encounter, and how do I motivate them to work hard and integrate the material into their own thinking and understanding.”
His commitment to the teaching of law extends beyond the classroom
to encompass climate issues for both students and junior faculty. He
has mentored countless J.D. students over the years, whether toward
careers in teaching or in legal practice. He works closely with the
Law School’s Hastie Program, a program that brings promising lawyers
of color to campus to work toward teaching careers.
I have only begun to scratch the surface here! His range of activities, his varied accomplishments, the notable achievements he has engendered in former students and colleagues are truly awe-inspiring. His contributions to the way law is both taught and practiced in Wisconsin are indelible and enduring. Professor Erlanger . . .
Our third and final Underkofler recipient to be honored today is Thomas Kleese, Assistant Professor of Art at the University of Wisconsin-Richland.
Professor Kleese studied Studio Art and Art History at the University
of Wisconsin-Madison, and received his M.F.A. from Madison in 1998.
He began teaching Art at UW-Richland in 1998 as a lecturer and became
an assistant professor there in 2001.
So, while technically he is still a junior faculty member, the maturity and the depth of the pedagogy and the learning opportunities he provides to his students are astonishing and powerful. Indeed, while he was still a lecturer, Professor Kleese developed the first online art history course in the state of Wisconsin. He has now taught the course seven times, and is working on the next course in the sequence (Renaissance to Modern).
The value of online teaching resides not, as Professor Kleese would say, in “techno-education” for its own sake. Rather, in his own words, “One of the reasons I love trying new technology is that its very presence allows me to dream of ways of teaching and learning that do not currently exist. A Blackboard website for an oil painting class may not have much relevance, but then again, maybe the combination of conventional and unconventional instruction produces something beyond imagination.” Indeed, he is constantly seeking to help his students discover the relevance of art and art history in their daily lives, whether through his assignments to students to go out and explore the examples of Classical architecture in Richland Center (who would have thought!), or his assignment to design or re-design CD covers for their favorite music (how much do you suppose students like that assignment!).
He is also an innovator in the scholarship of teaching and learning within the discipline of art. As a first-year assistant professor, he submitted a proposal to his professional organization’s Annual Conference on the difficulty of teaching students how to critique their own work and that of others. This is an enormously difficult concept for students, who prefer to think that critiquing art is equivalent to giving one’s subjective opinion. Entitled “’I Don’t Know Why I Like It, I Just Do’: Best Practices in the Use of Critiques for Undergraduate Studio Courses,” the conference proposal was accepted, attracting almost 200 people in a standing-room-only crowd of art historians, scholars and educators. The session obviously struck a chord, he has been invited to repeat it at other conferences, and has now written up the presentation as a chapter in a textbook that is being considered by Prentice Hall.
On the first day of each of his classes, he offers his students a quote from William Butler Yeats: “Education is not the filling of a pail; it is the lighting of a fire.” No, students are not given the option of sitting idly as passive receptacles of the professor’s knowledge—not in Professor Kleese’s classroom. Whether he is teaching Byzantine art history or the principles of design, his energy is contagious and students—whether they are art majors or not (and most of them are not)—cannot help but be inspired. One of his colleagues, writing in support of Professor Kleese’s nomination, describes the wonderful student artwork exhibited throughout the halls of UW-Richland buildings. Her favorite “non-traditional venue,” she writes, is Professor Kleese’s door! Students take turns designing it during the semester and they are, by her report, very inventive and competitive.
Is it a coincidence, maybe, that Professor Kleese describes his design course in the following manner on his syllabus: “Think of this course as a richly decorated entrance hall that serves as the access point to the many rooms of a magnificent home, all of which are accessible through this foyer. The entrance hall represents design. This room is so exquisite and enticing that your experience of simply being in it will be rewarding, even if you never journey into the rest of the house (in other words, this doesn’t have to be simply the prerequisite for future courses—it has value in and of itself).”
I don’t know about you, but such a description makes me want to enter, makes the world of art relevant, exciting, and inspiring. In fact, when Thomas participated in the UW System’s most recent Brittingham Art Invitational, he so inspired my predecessor that President Lyall purchased one of his paintings! Professor Kleese . . .
That concludes today’s presentation of the Alliant Energy Underkofler Excellence in Teaching Awards. I thank you all for coming but hope you will stay, enjoy the refreshments, and bask in the glow of these outstanding teachers.