Great Teachers

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Some time ago, I read The University, an Owner’s Manual (published in 1990), by Henry Rosovsky former Dean of Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences.  Rosovsky’s book focuses on his experiences as the undergraduate Dean and a faculty member at Harvard and provides commentary on managing academics at universities.  There is a dialogue in Rosovsky’s book that I think of often.  As Dean, he entertained a group of prospective students who had been admitted to Harvard through its Early Decision process.  One of the students asked for a special meeting and told Rosovsky that he was being pressured to select Harvard by his father (a Harvard alum) but that he had also been accepted into Haverford and Brown and was considering Haverford.  Rosovsky provides an explanation of the differences between liberal arts colleges (Haverford) and university colleges (Harvard).  He provides a definition of teaching versus research (approximately 50/50) and teaching undergrads versus graduates (approximately 50/50) at Harvard and other universities.  He contrasts that with the liberal arts colleges where most of the focus is on classroom teaching.

When I first read Rosovsky’s book, I thought about my experience as a student, which was similar to the description under the university college. I thought about the teachers that I considered great teachers during my years as an undergraduate at Duke UniversitySeymour Mauskopf (history), James Charlesworth (religion) (currently the George L. Collord Professor of New Testament Language and Literature and Director of the Dead Sea Scrolls Project at Princeton Theological Seminary), James Bonk (chemistry), Richard Hodel (mathematics), and Calvin Davis (history) were at the top of my list for instructors who provided me with inspiration in my learning.  I created a similar list for my graduate school experience at Tulane UniversityStephen Zeff (accounting) (now the Herbert S. Autrey Professor of Accounting at Rice University), Larry Arnold (operations research), Ed Strong (marketing), Jim Murphy (finance), Anthony Hope (accounting), Richard Hays (organizational behavior), Bill Mindak (marketing), James Linn (accounting), Kenneth Boudreaux (finance), Victor Cook (marketing), and David Harvey (accounting) came to mind.  

Thirty years later, the number of memorable instructors for my graduate school is double the number of memorable instructors for my undergraduate years which were also double in length (four versus two).  I don’t know if others who attended university colleges had a similar experience or not.  I enjoyed my years at both institutions.  I waived out of a number of required general education courses at Duke through Advanced Placement and Achievement tests, so I don’t attribute my lower number of memorable teachers to a year or two of required courses similar to my high school curriculum.  I happen to believe that the diversity of the undergraduate curriculum, the restricted access of some upper level courses to program majors only, the fact that some courses were taught by graduate students versus full professors, AND the more focused nature of graduate school provided me with more qualified instructors and led to a better teaching/learning experience as a graduate student.  I would be interested in others’ perspectives on this topic, particularly if you attended a liberal arts college before attending graduate school.

Wally Boston Dr. Wallace E. Boston was appointed President and Chief Executive Officer of American Public University System (APUS) and its parent company, American Public Education, Inc. (APEI) in July 2004. He joined APUS as its Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer in 2002. In September 2019, Dr. Boston retired as CEO of APEI and retired as APUS President in August 2020. Dr. Boston guided APUS through its successful initial accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association in 2006 and ten-year reaccreditation in 2011. In November 2007, he led APEI to an initial public offering on the NASDAQ Exchange. For four years from 2009 through 2012, APEI was ranked in Forbes' Top 10 list of America's Best Small Public Companies. During his tenure as president, APUS grew to over 85,000 students, 200 degree and certificate programs, and approximately 100,000 alumni. While serving as APEI CEO and APUS President, Dr. Boston was a board member of APEI, APUS, Hondros College of Nursing, and Fidelis, Inc. Dr. Boston continues to serve as a member of the Board of Advisors of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA) and as a member and chair of the board of New Horizons Worldwide. He has authored and co-authored papers on the topic of online post-secondary student retention, and is a frequent speaker on the impact of technology on higher education. Dr. Boston is a past Treasurer of the Board of Trustees of the McDonogh School, a private K-12 school in Baltimore. In his career prior to APEI and APUS, Dr. Boston served as either CFO, COO, or CEO of Meridian Healthcare, Manor Healthcare, Neighborcare Pharmacies, and Sun Healthcare Group. Dr. Boston is a Certified Public Accountant, Certified Management Accountant, and Chartered Global Management Accountant. He earned an A.B. degree in History from Duke University, an MBA in Marketing and Accounting from Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business Administration, and a Doctorate in Higher Education Management from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. In 2008, the Board of Trustees of APUS awarded him a Doctorate in Business Administration, honoris causa, and, in April 2017, also bestowed him with the title President Emeritus. In August 2020, the Board of Trustees of APUS appointed him Trustee Emeritus. In November 2020, the Board of Trustees announced that the APUS School of Business would be renamed the Dr. Wallace E Boston School of Business in recognition of Dr. Boston's service to the university. Dr. Boston lives with his family in Austin, Texas.

Comment(2)

  1. First of all, it’s nice to be “mentioned in dispatches,” even if after so many years (yes, Wally, it’s your 30th reunion).
    One obvious difference between Rosovsky’s overview and your recollections is the difference between prospective analysis to make a choice between colleges and retrospective analysis of one’s own educational experiences. I just read a Wall posting by an undergraduate who graduated in May who said she wanted very much to come back to campus in the fall…but it was clear that she meant to the dorm and campus life, not for the opportunity to sit once again at the feet of her professors.
    And I think that must be true: That the undergraduate experience is particularly about finding your friends and discovering the way that you interact with them in the welcoming environment of your chosen school. I’ve only zipped by the Duke campus, but the Tulane professors rather fondly referred to our students who had been Duke undergraduates as “Dukies,” signifying a group that seemed to stick with one another and knew how to have a good time…in addition to being smart.
    I think when you go to graduate school you are ready for a different experience. You still have the interpersonal relationships, but they are somehow at a different level, and you have narrowed your interests. The really surprising thing about your list of Tulane professors is that the ten professors you list were about one-third of the faculty at that time. An astounding yield rate! But it has more to do with your receptiveness than with our brilliance; you were ready for us and we performed.
    Looking at that list of professors, I have to add that the old TUGSBA (pre-Freeman School) was a very distinctive institution. For one reason or another, we had assembled a very disparate group of professors in an atmosphere that allowed each of us full rein in the design and execution of our courses. Almost impossible to manage, but there were some great poker games.
    Since I’m rushing into print with this posting, I want to be sure that I state my Web 2.0 research hypothesis here first: If Wally’s notion that grad school yields greater memorability of professors than undergraduate experiences, then the average number of undergraduate professors “friended” on Facebook per student will be less than the average number of graduate school professors “friended.” Of course, we will have to let a few years run in order to be sure that the recency of the establishment of Facebook has worked its way through the system.
    Thanks, Wally. Good to hear from you and know that some of it stuck.

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