August 7, 2007

turner.jpgMark Hopkins, 19th-century educator and president of Williams College, reportedly said that for education to occur, all that is needed is a student and a teacher sitting at opposite ends of a log. Although that image does not befit today’s educational environment, it does capture the importance of the special relationship between learner and instructor. That is why recruiting and retaining a distinguished faculty is so important to SMU’s progress. Excellent faculty who create stimulating learning environments will best serve the aspirations of our students, and the reputation arising from this quality will help SMU advance among the top private universities in the nation. For these reasons, in preparing for our next major gifts campaign, we have identified faculty resources as a high priority.

Such resources translate into the hiring, development and retention of new professors; into endowed faculty positions to attract senior-level scholars or further support those already in our midst; and into resources for research and creative achievement. All those outcomes enrich the classroom experience, lead to new understandings and advancements, and raise the visibility and impact of faculty expertise.

One example of this increased visibility is the recent PBS series “The Supreme Court.” Among the handful of experts from throughout the nation who appeared on the series was Joseph Kobylka, SMU associate professor of political science and Altshuler Distinguished Teaching Professor. Professor Kobylka’s re­search on the Supreme Court is reflected in scholarly publications and already has raised national awareness of SMU’s strength in political science.

In our Department of Physics, Professor and Ford Research Fellow Ryszard Stroynowski will travel to Switzerland as U.S. coordinator for the ATLAS Experiment, a major component of the Large Hadron Collider, the largest and highest-energy particle accelerator ever built (at one time popularly called an “atom smasher”). Named one of the “Seven Wonders of the Modern World,” the LHC will be the site of experiments to recreate conditions at the beginning of the universe, to help scientists understand subatomic processes.

In the next few months, we will be welcoming two new academic leaders who will support and nurture faculty as well as student achievement. Paul Ludden, dean of the College of Natural Resources at the University of California-Berkeley, will join us in July as new provost and vice president for academic affairs. A noted scholar in environmental biochemistry, he will lead the faculty, the schools, the libraries, admissions and other areas of academic life at SMU.

Another eminent researcher, James E. Quick, will join SMU as associate vice president for research and dean of graduate studies, reporting to the provost. Quick, a prolific author and program coordinator for the U.S. Geological Survey, will lead our efforts to increase funding for faculty research and strengthen graduate studies.

Recent faculty appointments also are strengthening areas of expertise at SMU. For example, the severity of natural disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes, and the possibility of recurring terrorism, have revealed urgent needs in disaster preparation and management. Environmental and Civil Engineer­ing Professor Laura Steinberg, who has worked at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as well as Tulane University, has joined SMU’s School of Engineering. She studies how the effects of natural disasters are magnified in urban areas when nature and technology interact, and how engineering safeguards can reduce destruction.

In May other outstanding professors will be recognized with the 2007 annual Altshuler Distinguished Teaching Awards, funded by Trustee Ruth Sharp Altshuler (’48) and her husband, Ken, and with Ford Research Fellowships, funded by Trustee Gerald J. Ford. These gifts are examples of how donors are supporting excellence in teaching and research, and we hope they will serve as examples for others to follow.

What do such resources and appointments mean to the teaching mission of SMU? Although we are far removed from the proverbial professor and student sitting at opposite ends of a log, enriching the interaction between them remains important. Today, we’re more rapidly bringing new knowledge to the teaching equation. In the words of David J. Weber, the Robert and Nancy Dedman Professor of History, “A great university can’t simply repeat what has been learned from scholars at other institutions. To stimulate intellectual curiosity in our students, we must produce new ideas through research and bring that knowledge to the classroom.”

In the months ahead, through this magazine and other communications, we’ll show how new ideas and resources are stimulating higher achievement among faculty and our students, our future alumni.

R. Gerald Turner