As Harvard struggles to define the role of undergraduate education in the tenure process, the Undergraduate Council at a banquet yesterday honored two professors and a graduate student for outstanding teaching.
The council awarded its annual Levenson Memorial Teaching Prize to Ernest H. Wu, a teaching fellow in Biology 7b, Dunwalke Associate Professor of American History Alan Brinkley, and Professor of Government Roderick MacFarquhar.
The Levenson award recognizes the teaching fellow, and junior and senior faculty members whom the council feels are most able to inspire and foster intellectual growth in their students, said Kenneth E. Lee '89, chairman of the council sub-committee which selected the winners.
"This award is intended to celebrate the spirit of undergraduate teaching and the commitment which keeps that spirit alive," said Leo Levenson '83, who established the award five years ago in honor of his father, Joseph R. Levenson, the late Harvard professor of Chinese history.
"There are so many other pressures for research, publishing and committee work that it's not easy to maintain a commitment to teaching," Levenson said. "This award was created to recognize and encourage that spirit."
The council chose the three recipients from among 32 candidates nominated by students who wrote essays commending their instructors. Members of the council selected the recipients on the basis of those essays, CUE Guide reviews, and interviews with students, Lee said.
Calling the Levenson Prize a "jinx," Lee noted that three of the four junior faculty members who have won the prize have since left the University. Brinkley will bring that number tofour out of five as the history professor wasdenied tenure last fall.
"We have to emphasize how important this is. Agreat teacher can make your semester. Thechallenge is to keep these people here, somehow,"Lee said.
This year's three prize recipients were laudedby students for their accessibility as well asteaching skill.
Frederick J. Nager '89, who nominatedMacFarquhar for the prize, said that thegovernment professor was not only "a most amazinglecturer," but also held required personalmeetings with all his students.
"When I came here I fancied myself something ofa China-hand," said Nager, who was raised inTaiwan. "I rapidly discovered the real China-handwas strutting the halls of Boylston."
In commending Brinkley, Robert K. Woo '89called the history professor an "educationalperpetual motion machine" who causes his students"to leave the lecture hall feeling not saturated,but fascinated and hungry for more."
"His clear analysis, vivid descriptions andsuperior lecturing skills aside, this singularability to generate more enthusiasm for learningmakes Professor Brinkley's contribution to hisstudents invaluable," Woo said.
Wu, who was nominated by seven of the 20students in his Biology 7b section, was noted forhis ability to integrate personal experience andcourse material in a low-pressure environment."[Wu] has the rare ability to combine academicleadership with concern for his students bothacademically and socially," said Mary P. K.Rossano '89, who introduced the 21-year-oldteaching fellow.
University officials present at the banquetalso spoke of the importance of recognizing goodinstruction.
"Anything reinforcing the quality of teachingat the University is very important," PresidentDerek C. Bok said. "I will do my best to make surewe don't run out of people to give this award to."
But Wu said that the University should be morecareful in selecting teaching fellows, who carrythe bulk of instruction at Harvard. "I think it'simportant for the Undergraduate Council to lookinto how teaching fellows are trained and picked,"Wu said.
"This is not a university that doesn't careabout its undergraduates and about teaching,"Brinkley said. "Some don't, but many do and I'mhonored to be chosen from among that large group."
Each of this year's recipients received acertificate, two books and $150. In addition,their names were engraved on a plaque which wasrecently hung in Lamont Library