Four Yale Faculty Members Honored for Outstanding Teaching; Posthumous Award Given to Historian

Four faculty members named as outstanding teachers were honored at the Yale College Senior Class Day program on Sunday, May 25, and a Yale historian and former master who died this spring was given a posthumous award for his dedication to students.

The teachers were nominated by undergraduates to receive the Yale College Prizes for Distinguished Undergraduate Teaching and the Sarai Ribicoff Award for the Encouragement of Teaching at Yale College. The awards were presented by Richard H. Brodhead, dean of Yale College.

Nigel Alderman, assistant professor of English, was awarded both the Sidonie Miskimin Clauss Prize for Teaching Excellence in the Humanities and the Sarai Ribicoff Award for the Encouragement of Teaching at Yale College. The latter award was instituted by the family and friends of the late Sarai Ribicoff ‘79, and is awarded annually to a junior faculty member in the humanities whose instruction and character reflect the qualities of independence, innovation and originality that were exhibited in the life, thought and writings of Ms. Ribicoff.

Robin W. Winks, who was the Randolph W. Townsend Jr. Professor of History at the time of his death in April, posthumously was awarded the Harwood F. Byrnes-Richard B. Sewall Prize for Teaching Excellence in Yale College. The award honors the teacher who “has given the most time, energy and effective effort” to educating undergraduates. Winks had served as master of Berkeley College (one of Yale’s 12 residential colleges) from 1977 to 1991. The historian’s widow, Avril Winks, accepted the award.

Teaching Prizes

The other faculty members who received prizes for distinguished undergraduate teaching and the names of their respective awards are:

William Odom, professor (adjunct) of political science – the Lex Hixon ‘63 Prize for Teaching Excellence in the Social Sciences.

Cornelius Beausang, associate professor of physics – the Dylan Hixon ‘88 Prize for Teaching Excellence in the Natural Sciences.

Jane Levin– lecturer in the humanities – the Yale College Prize for Teaching Excellence by a Lecturer or Lector.

Award Citations

The Sidonie Miskimin Clauss Prize
for Teaching Excellence in the Humanities
the Sarai Ribicoff Award for the
Encouragement of Teaching at Yale College

Assistant Professor, Department of English

Hundreds of Yale students and two different prize committees find themselves in agreement: you are one of the best teachers at Yale. “If Nigel Alderman were to propose a course on VCR manuals,” one of your students remarked, “I would want to take it.” Fortunately for the reputation of the Yale curriculum, you have so far kept to courses on the masterworks of English literature, from Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads to Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses. Whether from the front of a packed lecture room or across a table in the Calhoun College dining hall, you encourage students to explore the complex connections that literature makes between art and justice. Instilling both a fascination with hard questions and a resistance to easy answers, you do more than motivate students to make it through your syllabus. You provoke in them a lifelong devotion to reading.

The Lex Hixon Prize for Teaching Excellence in the Social Sciences

Professor (Adjunct), Department of Political Science

One day you are briefing a Congressional committee on how to organize the new Department of Homeland Security, and the next you are leading an undergraduate seminar in New Haven on Russian political theory. Your students are amazed at the way you manage the busy life of a retired Army general and former director of the National Security Agency. But they are even more amazed that you always find time for them. Between classes, you hold what one student characterized as “endless” office hours and have been known to talk for hours on the phone, despite facing your own publishing deadlines, to a student struggling with an essay assignment. In class, it is said, you guide discussions with a military precision that keeps everyone on topic, yet show a truly diplomatic accommodation of diverse points of view. Your career at Yale has given us all a model of how public service invigorates scholarship and how a generous spirit leads to great teaching.

The Dylan Hixon Prize for Teaching Excellence in the Natural Sciences

Associate Professor, Department of Physics

With a level of energy so high that only a physicist could measure it, you generate waves of enthusiasm for the study of theoretical and experimental science at Yale. Students correctly hypothesize that your lecture course on general physics and your seminar in classical mechanics will be challenging. But to their surprise, you also make it fun: not just by coming up with droll problems drawn from sheep herding or circus acts, but by introducing them to the intellectual pleasures of specially-designed experiments at the Wright Nuclear Structure lab. To diffuse your delight in science even further, you have for the past five years organized a Physics Olympiad that draws to Yale over 200 high school students from across the state. Wary novices and committed adepts alike have identified a new universal constant in physics: the passionate intelligence that you show for your subject equals the joy that they take in learning from you.

The Yale College Prize for Teaching Excellence by a Lecturer or Lector

Lecturer, Department of Humanities

Among students in Directed Studies you have become a cult figure, whose votaries attest to the beneficent influence of your broad smile and energetic nod as they face the challenges of this intensive program. You are as much respected for the command of scholarship you display in your lectures on Homer and Shakespeare, as you are admired for the sense of community you develop among those lucky enough to be in your sections. In leading students through close readings of the works of Vergil, Dante, and Cervantes, your constant goal is to equip them for their own journeys of self-discovery. Your focus on detail reveals one of the most powerful lessons that can be gained from studying the epic: that the objects of knowledge have an immediate context, but the process of learning has a distant horizon. Yale rejoices to say that there is no better guide along the many routes toward that horizon than you.

The Harwood F. Byrnes / Richard B. Sewall Teaching Prize

Randolph W. Townsend Jr. Professor of History

[Let me begin by saying something about one of the men in whose name this award was instituted eleven years ago, Richard B. Sewall. A member of the English department faculty for forty-two years, Professor Sewall was the first master of Ezra Stiles College, the author of a National Book Award-winning biography of Emily Dickinson, and one of the most beloved teachers of his generation. After an extended period of illness, Professor Sewall passed away on April 16, 2003.

By sad coincidence, this year’s recipient of the Byrnes-Sewall Prize had died just a week earlier. Like Richard Sewall, Robin Winks was a long-time college master, an internationally acclaimed scholar, and a compelling lecturer. Accepting the award this afternoon is Avril Winks, Robin’s partner in the mastership of Berkeley College from 1977 to 1991 and his wife of fifty-one years.]

In his forty-six years on the faculty here, Robin Winks may have pulled more all-nighters than his students. He was just too excited by all that he wanted to accomplish as teacher, as author, and as public citizen to leave much time for sleep. Everything he did at Yale had its counterpart in the world at large. On campus he helped to found the program in environmental studies, while he was serving as chair of the National Parks System Advisory Board. An indefatigable traveler, he had the distinction of being the first person to visit every unit of the National Parks System. He published over twenty scholarly books on topics as diverse as conservation, colonialism, covert operations, and crime. Despite their range, these works have one thing in common: each is a treat to read.

At Berkeley, Robin and Avril Winks fostered a community of students and fellows that was united by a commitment to good works and the good life. In the junior seminar that, with characteristic boldness, he entitled “The Writing of History,” he showed students that clear writing and clear thinking are inseparable. In lecture courses on the history of Africa and Canada, he seamlessly joined scholarly insights with first-hand observations.

We remember Robin Winks today for his dedication to undergraduate teaching, his championing of the preservation of the natural environment, and his gifts as a writer and orator. He enjoyed what he did and succeeded in getting his students, colleagues, and readers to share his delight. In all that he accomplished, Robin Winks was truly a master.

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