ByGeorge! Online

May 15, 2003

Columbian Research Fellows Established

Faculty Members Selected to Finish Research, Departments Develop High-Quality Replacement Plans

By Greg Licamele

Six Columbian College of Arts and Sciences (CCAS) professors will spend the next academic year as Columbian Research Fellows, allowing them to continue or finish important research while their departments welcome accomplished visiting faculty members as their teaching replacements.

“This program is important for the future of the college because it invests directly in two important activities: the scholarly, creative, and research programs of the faculty and the integration of research and teaching,” says William Frawley, CCAS dean.

The following professors and their research were selected by a committee of five peers and the dean’s office: Cornelius Bennhold, associate professor of physics, will develop a new Center for Innovative Teaching in Science and Engineering; Jeffrey Cohen, associate professor of English, will complete his book, “The Flow of Blood in Medieval Norwich”; Linda Levy Peck, professor of history, will complete her book, “Consuming Splendor: Luxury Consumption and Cultural Borrowing in 17th Century England”; Josef Pryztycki, professor of mathematics, will complete two books on topology and knot theory; and Steven Tuch and Ronald Weitzer, professors of sociology, will complete data collection and write a book about police-minority relations in America.

These fully-funded professors are released from their teaching responsibilities while working on their projects, but they are required to share their research with the Columbian College and to help their departments develop innovative replacement teaching plans.

“I find that time is my most precious resource,” Bennhold says. “The fellows program provides time to put an idea in place that benefits the college. I also feel that it contributes to a ‘sense of community’ for the faculty within the Columbian College since, in effect, the college as a whole says to me: ‘What you’ve proposed sounds interesting, so we’ll pick up part of your teaching load to allow you to implement this idea.’ ”

Bennhold says the new center will provide a forum for innovative ideas in the teaching of science and engineering, something he and the physics department have worked on over the last few years, most notably with Respondex, the interactive classroom response system.

“This research activity clearly has great value to our mission of science education and, by the increased interest in physics, the results of such research may help the nation recover from a three-decade-long decline in the number of physics majors,” says William Parke, chair of the physics department.

While these faculty members are conducting their research, plans have been developed by each department to bring in well-regarded replacements.

“We’re not only investing in a faculty member who is going to complete research and bring something back to the University, but while this person is working on his or her research project, we’re bringing in accomplished scholars who are going to share their research with undergraduates and graduates,” says Nina Mikhalevsky, CCAS assistant dean for academic programs and planning.

Sociology’s Weitzer and Tuch will spend the fall semester writing a book on policing and racial minorities in the United States, covering such topics as police misconduct, racial bias, community policing, and reforms to improve police practices. They say the book is expected to break new ground both in terms of its scholarly contribution and its implications for changes in police practices and reforms in police department policies — changes that should help to improve relations between the police and minority groups. Weitzer and Tuch also will give a lecture describing their work.

In return, the sociology department will bring in two scholars, one whose interest is in race and the other in criminology: Jeremy Travis, former director of the National Institute of Justice (the research branch of the Department of Justice) and now a senior fellow at the Urban Institute in Washington; and Chester Hartmann, president and executive director of the Poverty and Race Research Action Council. Hartmann will teach “Race Relations” in the fall and Travis will teach “Mass Incarceration and Prisoner Reentry” in the spring. Each scholar will give at least one public lecture to the GW community during their time in residence.

“Crucially, the teaching plans for those replacing the Fellows will have to involve senior faculty with undergraduates,” Frawley says. “Part of ‘the deal,’ as it were, is that this investment in research requires a concomitant investment in undergraduate teaching.”

Parke believes the high-quality teaching replacements create a winning situation for CCAS and physics. Earl Skelton, currently a visiting professor and formerly of the Naval Research Laboratories, will continue his teaching endeavors. He recently taught a Hewlett Foundation-sponsored seminar using Washington-area resources that emphasized hands-on learning. His focus on new teaching methods, coupled with Bennhold’s work, will position the department as an innovative place to study physics.

“Research in physics education has convincingly demonstrated that ‘teaching by telling’ through the traditional lecture is an ineffective mode of physics instruction,” Bennhold says.

For Przytycki, his classroom obligations have precluded him from finishing two books about topology and knot theory, topics he has researched with his students for the last 15 years, eight of which have been at GW. Przytycki will continue to teach his freshman Dean’s Seminar on knots, even with his research release.

“This is an opportunity to do something we’ve always wanted to do for Josef, but struggled to do before,” says Michael Moses, CCAS associate dean for graduate studies and associate professor of mathematics.

Frawley envisions the Columbian Research Fellows continuing each year.

“My own research experience is like my colleagues’: when my best ideas were coming to fruition, I wished I had the support to give me time to fine-tune them,” says Frawley, also a professor anthropology and psychology. “Now that I’m in a position to allow these things to happen, I thought it would be important to have a program where faculty members would compete for the opportunity to bring projects to completion, but with a critical twist — promote high-quality, innovative teaching at the same time. The fellows program is very much like a CCAS-internal think tank, a kind of Columbian Center for Advanced Study that obligatorily connects idea-generation with teaching.”


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