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A truly distinguished lot

Five faculty members, lauded by their peers and students alike, are honored by this year's Distinguished Teaching Awards.

16 April 2009

Maximilian Auffhammer

Maximilian Auffhammer
Title: Assistant Professor of Agricultural and Resource Economics and International and Area Studies
At Berkeley: Since 2003
Words of wisdom: "Being passionate about something as dry as economics appears strange to the students at
first, but eventually they start cheering when my voice skips from excitement over a downward-sloping demand curve."

Auffhammer has revitalized Intermediate Microeconomics, one of the least successful courses in International Area Studies (students called it "economics for students who hate economics"), turning it into one of the most popular and successful courses in the undergraduate program. Students time and again point to the fact that he manages to turn a subject that they don't necessarily respond to into something fascinating and relevant: "I have done poorly in econ before," said one student in evaluating the course, "and this is a 180-degree change for me. I now actually like econ."

Goodwin Liu
Title: Associate Dean and Professor of Law
At Berkeley: Since 2003
Words of wisdom: "By meticulously parsing argument and counterargument, I want my students to see that the law, though often indeterminate, can have integrity that makes it worthy of respect."

A former law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Liu is an expert in constitutional law, education policy, and civil rights; co-director of the Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Race, Ethnicity, and Diversity at Berkeley's School of Law; and a frequent media commentator on law and educational policy.

His course on education law and policy draws enthusiastic comments from students, who praise his pedagogic skills and substantive expertise. One lauded Liu's "masterful organization of materials — balanced perfectly between education case law and policy — and his incredibly deep and thorough knowledge of all the issues explored." Another course, a "gateway" class on constitutional law that, according to law dean Christopher Edley, has challenged many a Berkeley Law faculty member in the past, has been taught by Liu with "consistent success." Said one student on an evaluation: "If I didn't know better, I would think he had been doing this for 20-plus years."

Goodwin Liu

Mitchell Breitwieser
Title: Professor of English
At Berkeley: Since 1979
Words of wisdom: "A teacher's conclusions can seem to have arrived effortlessly, but such facility can reinforce students' feelings that, because they are struggling, there must be some personal deficiency, and such feelings reduce the chance that the intellectual problem will be solved, because academic success depends upon properly understanding the encounter with difficulty."

Breitwieser's teaching ranges over the four centuries of American literature, from the Puritans to contemporary science fiction. "For range and variety, this is an extraordinary record," observes Susan Schweik, chair of the English department's teaching-evaluations committee, who also points out that Breitwieser has taught an impressive 20 courses over the past four years: four freshman seminars, three lower-division lecture courses, five upper-division lecture courses, five upper-division seminars, and three graduate courses.

Students praise him for his eloquence and passion as well as for such traits as "approachability," "sincerity," "patience," and "respect for student views." Wrote one: "When [he] lectured, my mind would buzz all day and night with ideas, and my fingers would not stop hurting from the ferocious note-taking."

Andrew Stewart
Title: Nicholas C. Petris Professor of Greek Studies, History of Art and Classics
At Berkeley: Since 1979
Words of wisdom: "I try to foster a number of key elements essential to the learning process: enthusiasm; engagement; effective research techniques; ability to communicate complex ideas both orally and in writing; and, perhaps most importantly, analytical and critical processes that challenge received wisdom."

Characterized by his department chair as "among the finest, most dedicated, and most beloved teachers on the Berkeley campus," Stewart garners praise for his teaching from students past and present, peers and colleagues, and academic observers. One supporter of his nomination, a former GSI in one of Stewart's undergraduate courses, wrote, "I can say from substantial experience that the greatness of his achievements as a scholar is matched by his talent for teaching....He breathes life into the ancient world and makes it relevant in a manner all his own."

Stewart's role as an adviser and mentor to graduate students in "perhaps the most innovative Art History department in America" (so judged in a letter of support from a colleague at the University of Chicago) was cited by supporters as enthusiastically as his classroom skills. One current Ph.D. candidate wrote that he is "generous, funny, and extremely kind, willing to give professional and practical advice and ready to welcome graduate students into the world of academia as valued contributors."

Andrew Stewart
Matthew Francis

Matthew Francis
Title: Associate Professor of Chemistry
At Berkeley: Since 2001
Words of wisdom: "It is critically important that we show students how much fun we are having, how much we love the science that we study, and that we are (or at least were!) very much
like them."

Francis has been deeply involved in making changes in the chemistry curriculum. He initiated and continues to advise two student-run seminar series that attract speakers from around the country; he is also chair of a committee that is redesigning all undergraduate-chemistry teaching labs.

The Distinguished Teaching Awards committee praised his remarkable ability to engage students and his commitment to their education. Francis teaches a broad range of classes: physical organic chemistry, chemical biology, transition metal chemistry, and freshman-level quantitative analysis, to name a few. And he teaches them well, if this year's Distinguished Teaching Award, his two Departmental Teaching Awards, and the College of Chemistry's Noyce Prize for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching — all awarded between 2005 and 2009 — are any indication.

Photos by Peg Skorpinski