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 Stories for April 15, 1998

1998 Distinguished Teaching Awards

by Steve Tollefson, Educational Development, Student Life
posted Apr. 15, 1998

A dead frog in a writing class; students happily tied up in “Socratic knots”; a cucumber in the business school. The common thread? These are all teaching components of this year’s recipients of Berkeley’s Distinguished Teaching Award.

The award, given annually by the Committee on Teaching of the Berkeley Division of the Academic Senate since 1959, recognizes excellence in teaching.

Recipients for 1998 are Jesse H. Choper, law; Anne Haas Dyson, education; Donald Friedman, English; Patricia Jane Jones, College Writing Programs; and Richard K. Lyons, business.

The five will be honored Tuesday, April 28, at 5 p.m. at a ceremony in Zellerbach Playhouse. Also honored will be the recipient of the Presidential Chair in Undergraduate Education.

The ceremony will feature remarks by Chancellor Berdahl, Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Carol Christ, Academic Senate Chair William Oldham, and Alumni Association President Irene Miura.

The public is invited to the ceremony and the reception that follows in the Toll Room of Alumni House.

Donald Friedman
English Department

“I believe that constant and vigorous engagement with one’s subject is the foundation of good instruction,” says English Professor Donald Friedman. “So I read as much current scholarship, in books and journals, as I can.”

Students are the beneficiaries of this engagement and understand its power. Says one, “He is passionate about his work, and his incredible knowledge also adds to the effectiveness of his classes.” Another student adds, “Professor Friedman knows EVERYTHING.”

In his classes, Friedman works to put the literature into context. “It is important for students to realize,” he says, “that ‘Shakespeare’ and ‘Milton’ aren’t the same as a set of ideas, but rather that they were individuals whose thinking changed over time in response to the events of their lives and to the history that was happening around them.”

One student says, “I came away from the course feeling that I understood not just the poetry but the period in ways that I hadn’t anticipated.”

Students admire Friedman not only for his knowledge but for his attention to them. “His interest in his students’ thoughts was evident and joyful,” says one student. Another admires his “sincere interest in the individual student, with the result that one always feels helped in one’s project rather than intellectually bulldozed.”

“It is people like Professor Friedman who distinguish Berkeley from 90 percent of other universities,” says one student, and another adds that Friedman’s greatest strength is “the sheer generosity with which he shares his erudition with graduate students and undergraduates alike.”

A specialist in Milton, Shakespeare, and the 16th and 17th centuries, Friedman joined the English Department in 1961. He received a BA from Columbia College, a BA and MA from Trinity College, Cambridge, and his PhD from Harvard University.

Jesse H. Choper
School of Law

Recently, Jesse H. Choper, Earl Warren Professor of Public Law at Boalt Hall, was invited to speak to a group of federal judges. One of those judges, a student of Choper’s 30 years ago, says, “At the conclusion of his remarks, I told him what I never thought I would hear myself saying, that listening to him speak made me actually miss being in law school.”

Choper explains some of his teaching this way: “I take time in the opening class to describe my approach and why I use it, emphasizing that my purpose in pressing students hard in response to their views is not to make them look dull, but rather to indicate the great complexities of the problems, most of which have no real ‘solutions.’”

A former student comments on this technique: “He is well- known for getting a student so tied up in a logical conundrum that the student ends up advocating a position diametrically opposed to the original premise. At the same time, the student manages to appreciate the predicament in which he now sits and can laugh at himself for becoming entangled in a Socratic knot.”

Time and again, students and former students point to Choper’s combination of intellectual openness and rigor: “He engaged intellectually with each student during the semester. I’ll never forget the line, ‘What’s your point?’” says one. Another adds, “He made all ideas and viewpoints welcome. We struggled. We pondered. We laughed (a lot).”

One of the nation’s authorities in constitutional law and corporation law, and vice president of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Choper joined the School of Law in 1965. He received his BS from Wilkes University and his LLB from the University of Pennsylvania.

Patricia Jane Jones
College Writing Program

“In her classes reluctant writers become eager ones; worried writers gain confidence; and non-writers come to think of themselves as authors,” says a colleague of Patricia Jane Jones, a lecturer in College Writing Programs.

“I want my students to understand that writing comes from life,” says Jones. “So I send them to libraries, museums, Strawberry Creek, Telegraph Avenue. Then, using carefully chosen words, purposefully formed paragraphs, strategic organization, they can take their readers back to the street, the creek, the work of art, the complex text.”

Students clearly respond to her teaching: “Instead of showing me how to write,” says a former student, “Professor Jones showed me why to write.”

But Jones recalls one of her less successful assignments: “We read a piece in an anthology and dove into the ‘Questions for Discussion’ at the end, dissecting this piece of writing as if it were a dead frog in formaldehyde. We cut out the thesis and then dissected what remained. We ended up with not just a dead frog, but a mutilated frog. How did this inform their reading and their writing? It didn’t.” Such careful reflection is typical of Jones.

“Jane knows how to engage students with the reading,” says a colleague, “and then challenge them to respond to it critically and write about it creatively.”

For students, Jones’ influence extends beyond the class: “Each time I pick up a book, I think of her because she made me realize the power of knowledge found in books. She opened the doors to different worlds.” Another student says, “She does a fabulous job of helping you help yourself.”

Jones received her BA and MA from the University of New Mexico, and joined the College Writing Programs in 1984.

Anne Haas Dyson
Graduate School of Education

“She has answers and questions for everything,” says one student of Anne Haas Dyson, a professor in the Graduate School of Education. The student’s nice twist describes Dyson’s teaching style and her effect on students. They consistently refer to the way she links research, the real world, and their own varied research topics, finding the common threads. Students often refer to her classes as “life-changing.”

“I think intellectual, political and moral issues of teaching and learning are best understood – and grappled with,” says Dyson, “when they are embodied in everyday human experiences of teachers and students, in and out of schools.”

One student commented on her “incredible incisiveness and insight and her other-worldly ability to give us at once the big and small picture.”

A former student remembers that “Anne has a gift for choreographing classes that had students coming away astonished not so much by what Anne thought and knew (although we all knew that we were in the presence of an incomparable thinker), but by what we came to think and know ourselves.”

Dyson echoes a sense of shared mission: “There is nothing lonelier than standing in front of a class when I’m not sure they are, intellectually, with me – and nothing is more satisfying than when we are all making progress together.”

In the Graduate School of Education, course evaluations contain the question “What did you like least about this course?” On Dyson’s evaluations, more than one student wrote, “That it’s only one semester.”

A specialist in early literacy development, Dyson joined Berkeley faculty in 1984. She received her BS in elementary education from the University of Wisconsin, and her PhD in education from the University of Texas, Austin.

Richard K. Lyons
Haas School of Business

“Always” is a word used frequently in comments about Richard K. Lyons, an associate professor at the Haas School of Business. “Always had time for questions”; “always available for appointments”; “always prepared”; “always enthusiastic.”

Lyons’ knowledge, enthusiasm and attention to the needs of his students are cited over and over again. “The fact that you really care about us and our experience in the course shows in absolutely everything you do. Live long and prosper,” says a student.

“His enthusiasm for the subject matter and his communications skills make for a level of dynamism that is hard for most professors to achieve on their best days in the classroom. He does it day in and day out,” says a colleague.

Lyons, a specialist in international finance and trading in the foreign exchange markets, says, “When teaching undergrads, I keep in mind a phrase I read years ago: ‘The primary purpose of a liberal education is to make one’s mind a pleasant place in which to spend one’s time.’”

Says a student, “I left class not only with a much deeper understanding of the subject, but also a feeling of empowerment – that I could now tackle bigger and more challenging problems.”

Lyons sees an added dimension to teaching doctoral candidates: “PhD interaction is as much about communicating values as it is about developing critical thinking. I value honesty in the classroom. I value mutual respect. I value intellectual curiosity and creativity.”

Says a student, “If Rich were teaching ‘The Influence of the Cucumber in American Business,’ I would take it.”

Lyons joined the Haas School of Business faculty in 1993. He received his BS from Berkeley and his PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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