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Bennett and Mager named Syracuse University’s newest Meredith Professors
Bennett and Mager named Syracuse University’s newest Meredith ProfessorsMarch 31, 2001Cynthia J. Moritzcjmoritz@syr.edu
David H. Bennett, professor of history in The Maxwell School of Syracuse University, and Gerald M. Mager, professor of teaching and leadership in SU’s School of Education, while teaching in different academic areas, have a lot in common. Both have taught at SU for many years and both have been active members of the University community. Each has served as chair of his department. But the biggest commonality is that they are both devoted practitioners of the art of classroom teaching. That devotion is what has brought them recognition as this year’s recipients of the Laura J. and L. Douglas Meredith Professorship of Teaching. They will be honored at a reception at 3 p.m. April 9 in Room 209 of the Goldstein Alumni and Faculty Center. “Teaching is the center of my life,” Bennett says. “It is what has sustained me across the years. It is what I am most proud of as a professional.” Mager echoes Bennett’s sentiments. “Teaching is what I do, and what I do best,” he says. “It’s my life’s commitment. I spend a lot of time on preparation and looking at how each class contributes to larger outcomes.” The Meredith Professorship was created in 1995 with a bequest from the estate of L. Douglas Meredith ’26, G’27 to reward outstanding teaching at SU and encourage research and discussion on teaching. Meredith professors serve a three-year term during which they undertake a project to improve teaching and learning at Syracuse University, and each is enrolled for life in the Meredith Symposium. Two new appointments are made each year. The naming of Bennett and Mager brings to 15 the total number of Meredith Professors. Bennett has taught about 14,000 students in all types of classes over the course of his career. He regularly has offered numerous graduate and undergraduate seminars on campus, and has taught in a pioneering independent student gradute degree program, the Master of Social Science Program, since its conception in the mid-1970s. Bennett played a role in teaching and first shaping the course now titled Maxwell 123, an interdisciplinary course for underclassmen. But a most important part of his teaching career involves the two-semester sequence of courses in modern American history that enroll as many as 200 students. “It is a challenge and a privilege to deal with this subject matter,” he says, “and I have had some extraordinary students in these classes across the years.
One of Bennett’s specialties is military history, and his signature course is The World at War (HST 369). He is proud that enrollment is high in the class even though–like his other courses–it’s not required for any student. “Students take this course because they find the subject matter compelling,” he says. His Meredith project will focus on large lecture courses of the type that he likes to teach. He will put together a seminar on lecturing for teaching assistants, perhaps including junior faculty members. One component may be visiting various large classes taught by gifted lecturers. A lot of teaching about teaching concerns itself with improving small-group pedagogy, Bennett says, “but lecturing to a large group is a critically important skill, as well.” Bennett received a bachelor’s degree from SU in 1956, and master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Chicago in 1958 and 1963, respectively. He was a lecturer in history at the University of Chicago from 1958 to 1960 and started his SU career as an instructor in American studies in 1961. He became an assistant professor of history and American studies in 1963, associate professor of history in 1969 and aprofessor of history in 1975. In addition to his other activities, Bennett was for almost 20 years chair of the University’s Athletic Policy Board and SU’s NCAA faculty athletics representative. Bennett was named the University’s Scholar-Teacher of the Year for 1987-88 and The College of Arts and Sciences’ Outstanding Undergraduate Teacher for 1988-89. In 1991, he received a Chancellor’s Citation for Exceptional Academic Achievment. In 1992-93, he was named SU’s Alumni Teacher of the Year. His book “The Party of Fear: The American Far Right From Nativism to the Militia Movement” (University of North Carolina Press, 1990) won the award for best scholarship on the subject of intolerance in the United States from the Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Human Rights in the United States. Mager’s Meredith project will focus on establishing ties between teacher preparation at SU and schools in New York City. “New York City has a desperate shortage of teachers,” he says. “I want to help students have successful student teaching experiences there.” He says SU prepares many excellent teachers, and giving them experience in a larger city school district can only help them succeed in their careers. He thinks of teaching as a performance: “You never know exactly how it’s going to turn out,” Mager says. Despite that uncertainty he spends a lot of time planning his classes. “Teaching is not easy work. I struggle with it enormously.” Mager teaches Principles of Learning in Inclusive Classrooms (EDU 307/607) four times a year. “I made the commitment to do this because it provides some stability in the program, and it is a core issue in teacher preparation,” he says. In this class, Mager examines the concept of learning. “All of these students have been in the classroom for years,” he says, “but when they step into the teacher role they need to take a broader view than they did as students.” Mager tries to help students “make explicit what has been implicit in their classroom experience so far. In making explicit what they already know and believe, they build a platform for developing their practice of teaching.”
Mager received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from John Carroll University in 1970 and 1973, respectively, and a doctorate from Ohio State University in 1978. He joined SU as an assistant professor of education in 1978, and was named associate professor in 1982 and professor in 1993. Mager was the coordinator of the Jamesville-DeWitt/Syracuse University Teaching Center for 10 years, during which time he worked with pre-service students in field settings and with in-service teachers on matters of their professional development. He has served as a member of the New York State Teacher Certification and Practices Board for six years, advising on matters of policy and practice related to teacher education and professional reform. He served as a statewide evaluator for the New York State Mentor Teacher-Internship Program for three years–designing, conducting and reporting on the primary assessment of that new teacher induction effort. He also has served on the Commissioner of Education’s Advisory Committee on the Certification of School Professionals, advising on changes in teacher certification regulation. Currently, Mager is co-director of the New York Partnership for Statewide Systems Change 2000, and he chairs the Higher Education Task Force on Quality Inclusive Schooling, which supports colleges and universities to develop programs for inclusive schooling practice. He was recently appointed to the New York State Professional Standards and Practices Board for Teaching. The first Meredith Professors, Linda Alcoff, professor of philosophy; William Coplin, professor and director of the Public Affairs Program; and William Glavin, professor of magazine journalism– were named in 1995. Other former Meredith Professors include Samuel Clemence, professor of civil and environmental engineering, and Jerry Evensky, associate professor of economics (named in 1996); Marvin Druger, professor of biology and science education, and Shiu-Kai Chin, professor of civil and environmental engineering (named in 1997); and Gerardine Clark, professor of drama, and William Banks, professor of law (named in 1998). Current Meredith Professors include Sari Knopp Biklen, professor of education, and Barry Davidson, associate professor of mechancial and aerospace engineering (named in 1999); and Shobha Bhatia, professor of civil and environmental engineering, and Larry Lewandowski, professor of psychology (named in 2000).