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Twenty Years of Honoring Excellence in Teaching

The 2007-08 academic year marks the 20th anniversary of the Bingham Awards for Excellence in Teaching, a program of distinction at Transylvania and nationwide.

The awards were the brainchild and dream of the late William T. Young, former chairman of the Transylvania Board of Trustees. Young provided the initial gift of $3 million, then enlisted the support of Mary and Barry Bingham, who contributed $2 million to the program’s endowment. Designed to benefit all students by raising the level of teaching at the University, the Bingham awards recognize current faculty members for the innovation and creativity they bring to their classrooms. The awards are also used in the recruitment of highly qualified teachers.

“From the beginning, the goal of the program was to reward and foster outstanding teaching at Transylvania,” said President Charles L. Shearer. “We wanted to be able to keep the good professors we had and bring new ones in.”

The Bingham awards were established during the 1987-88 academic year. With additional gifts and market growth, the endowment reached more than $20 million after only 10 years, and is now valued at more than $35 million. The funds are used to make significant monetary awards to faculty members.

The first Bingham awards, announced in the fall of 1988, went to history professor Joe Binford, biology professor Lila Boyarsky, political science professor Jeff Freyman, and English professor Ann Kilkelly. Twenty years later, the Bingham program continues to inspire and reward faculty members for their dedication to the highest ideals of classroom teaching.

“The award has helped sustain my commitment to teaching as a profession,” said philosophy professor Peter Fosl, a Bingham fellow. “In a culture where education is little valued and teaching is poorly rewarded, one is easily led to question whether or not the effort to earn a Ph.D. and pursue a career as a college teacher is worth it. The Bingham award reinforced my belief that Transylvania is an institution that really does value good teaching.

“The award also made it possible for me to focus more on my teaching by reducing the energy I had spent on the financial struggles I faced as a young professor and parent.”

Biology professor Peggy Palombi, a Bingham professor, said she was honored to receive the award and reiterated that the program shows the University’s commitment to teaching. “The faculty work very hard. It’s nice to feel that you get noticed for that.”

A special idea

One of the first teaching award programs in the country, the Bingham program is unusual among colleges, and has inspired several other schools to contact Transylvania about the program. After consulting with Transylvania, Marietta College set up a similar program with a smaller endowment, and former Transylvania vice president and dean of the college James G. Moseley chaired the first selection committee for that program. This is in keeping with the Binghams’ desire that launching the program would have a “ripple effect” at other universities.

From the onset, noted educators from across the country have had a hand in the way the program carries out its mission. The program and its endowment are administered by a separate Bingham Board of Trust, which develops policies regarding the various awards, establishes the maximum number of awards to be granted in a given year, and decides the amounts of the awards.

The founding Board of Trust included John W. Chandler, previously president of Williams College and then president of the American Association of Colleges and Universities, and Mary Maples Dunn, president of Smith College.

Once this board was established, Shearer and then dean of the college Asa Humphries agreed that a non-biased third party should select the recipients of the award, and the Bingham Selection Committee, comprised of distinguished faculty members from fine colleges across the nation, was named by the Board of Trust for this central responsibility.

The original selection committee included professors from Bryn Mawr College and Pomona College. This year’s committee is comprised of Laura Duhan Kaplan, formerly of the University of North Carolina–Charlotte, Susan Jaret McKinstry of Carleton College, Cecilia Conrad of Pomona College, Patrick McDougal of Reed College, and Jonathan Berkey of Davidson College.

The committee visits campus extensively during the selection process for classroom observations and interviews with candidates, then makes its decision based on these visits, letters of recommendation, course syllabi, student evaluations, and other criteria.

Changing with the times

Since its inception, the program has expanded to include four types of teaching awards: Bingham awards, Bingham fellowship grants, Bingham start-up grants, and Bingham-Young awards.

The Bingham awards are given to professors who have demonstrated teaching excellence and are for a term of five years, with a yearly salary stipend dependent on the rank of the recipient. Holders of this award are termed Bingham professors.

At the expiration of the Bingham Award period, Bingham professors are eligible to receive a five-year Bingham fellowship grant, which may be renewed for five-year periods up to a maximum of 20 years. The holders of these grants are known as Bingham fellows.

Start-up grants were added to the program in 1989. “We added the start-ups to recruit bright young newly minted Ph.D.s,” Shearer said. These smaller, non-renewable awards are given for one year to unusually promising incoming faculty who are just beginning their careers.

To further enhance attention to the mission of the Bingham program, the Bingham Board of Trust instituted a new award in 1996 known as the Bingham-Young Award. The Bingham Selection Committee may, from time to time, choose a Bingham fellow as the holder of the professorship. The Bingham-Young professor, in turn, designs, develops, and implements a program of curricular enrichment or enhancement of the art of teaching at Transylvania, or both.

Political science professor Don Dugi was the first recipient of a Bingham-Young professorship in 2000, and his topic was the issue of race in relation to teaching and research. In 2004, Fosl’s professorship was titled Liberty, Security, and Justice. Currently, Freyman is conducting a Bingham professorship on liberal education, and later this year psychology professor Meg Upchurch will begin her professorship on Drugged America.

Upchurch said she benefitted in many ways from Dugi’s Bingham professorship, but especially in how she treats material related to race in the classroom. “I think I can speak in a more informed fashion now,” she said at the time. “I have a greater breadth of thinking about these issues.”

Teaching as the top priority

Part of what makes the Bingham program special is the way in which it demonstrates that at Transylvania, teaching is the number one priority.

The awarding of Bingham stipends to external applicants also benefits the school by allowing Transylvania to make salary offers that are competitive with some of the best liberal arts colleges in the nation.

“It helps us with recruitment,” Palombi said. “It allows us to have a chance at competing salary-wise for someone distinguished. We can show that we recognize the strength of what our people do in some slightly different ways.”

For example, Kathleen Jagger, associate dean of the college and professor of biology, was a full professor with significant advising and leadership responsibilities at DePauw University in 2002 when she was recruited to Transylvania and received a Bingham award. “We couldn’t match her salary, but the Bingham program allowed us to do that,” said vice president and dean of the college William Pollard.

Jagger’s previous experience has helped to make her an invaluable member of the Transy faculty and administration. In addition to her Ph.D. in microbiology from the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, she holds a master of public health degree from the Harvard School of Public Health. At DePauw, she had been coordinator of the health services advising program and chair of the science division.

Since 1990, the program has also offered support for continuing professional growth and improvement through the David and Betty Jones Faculty Development Fund, made possible by generous gifts from Mr. and Mrs. David A. Jones and the late William T. Young. In keeping with the broad goals of the Bingham program, the Jones fund provides grants to members of the faculty as well as students who are working on projects that are being supervised by the faculty.

“The idea came in a Bingham Board meeting,” Shearer said, “from a faculty member who suggested that we provide ways for faculty to do research and strengthen their discipline.”

The Bingham program has evolved in other ways to reflect the input of the Transylvania community.

In 1995, roughly 10 years after the start of the program, the board’s academic members, led by Robert A. Rosenbaum, launched a study of the program and recommended changes, including the way Bingham awards were renewed.

At this time the decision was made that Bingham professors could become fellows at a reduced rate after the five-year period. The latest change to the program has Bingham fellows continuing at their rank rate.

“The decision was made to reduce the amount of the awards so that they could be spread around a little more,” said Pollard. “The faculty wanted more worthy candidates to be able to benefit.”

Currently, there are 52 Bingham fellows, and 17 members of the faculty have Bingham awards. Since the program’s inception, 61 have received start-up grants and 387 Jones grants have been awarded. The fourth Bingham-Young professor was appointed for a two-year period beginning in September 2008.

With awards to incoming and existing faculty, the Bingham program is fulfilling its goal of promoting excellence in teaching at Transylvania.

“The program has been very successful and has encouraged conversations about good teaching among the faculty,” Shearer said. “We had little bumps along the way, and made minor changes, but we now have a program that achieves what the founders of the awards set out to do. I think they would feel very good about where we are with the program today.”

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