Four faculty members recognized for their outstanding teaching
Princeton NJ -- Four Princeton faculty members received President's Awards for Distinguished Teaching at commencement ceremonies June 4.
They are: Leora Batnitzky, assistant professor of religion; Peter Bunnell, the David Hunter McAlpin Professor of the History of Photography and Modern Art and professor of art and archaeology; William Jordan, professor of history and director of the Program in Medieval Studies; and Kyle Vanderlick, professor of chemical engineering.
A committee of faculty, undergraduates and graduate students selected the winners from campuswide nominations.
Batnitzky, who earned her Ph.D. in religion from Princeton in 1996, joined the faculty the following year. Her teaching and research interests include philosophy of religion, modern Jewish thought, hermeneutics and contemporary ethical, legal and political theory.
Colleagues and students alike praised her abilities as a lecturer and discussion leader. She is an expert on the work of several philosophers of "daunting difficulty," according to one colleague. "Her success in illumining such difficult thinkers reflects not a tendency to oversimplification, but a remarkable ability to discuss even the most obscure topic with great clarity."
A graduate student wrote about Batnizky, "Throughout her course, she shepherded us ... through difficult arguments and complex prose. By the end of the course, we had put the pieces together of seemingly impenetrable arguments. Leora, by juxtaposing readings and thinkers, had connected many important theoretical dots, leaving us with an invaluable picture of the conceptual landscape."
Other students mentioned her dedicated work with them outside the classroom as an adviser. "Professor Batnitzky's incredible command of the subject matter along with her perfect sense of how to guide me along the process contributed significantly to the content of my thesis," wrote one alumna. "She was always helpful in recommending outside reading that would enhance my understanding of the time period as she, from memory, would suggest one book after the next that might contribute to my paper."
Bunnell will transfer to emeritus status this summer after 30 years on the Princeton faculty. He came to the University following a six-year stint as curator of the Department of Photography at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and also has served the University as faculty curator of photography and curator of the Minor White Archive at the Princeton Art Museum. He teaches classes on the history of photography.
During his extensive career, Bunnell has inspired legions of students who have become teachers and curators of photography. "It is no exaggeration to say that Peter is recognized as the senior scholar in his field," wrote one colleague in nominating him for the award. "Indeed, he has played a major role in shaping the field, both through his scholarship and his teaching ... his students hold major curatorial positions in museums and collections throughout the world."
Those who have become teachers wrote of the example Bunnell set in the classroom. "I am very deeply moved by the intelligence and passion of Professor Bunnell's teaching and his ability to guide his students so carefully and yet without pushing them in any particular direction," wrote one former graduate student. "He is the kind of professor I aspire to be every day: kind, rigorous, thoughtful, funny and inspirational."
Even students who elected to pursue other interests fondly remembered their experiences with Bunnell. "The study of photography as art was a new idea for me," wrote one alumnus who has had a career in business. "Thanks to Peter, it became the single richest intellectual experience of my time at Princeton. I never missed a lecture because they were so stimulating, and the precepts were filled with moments of intellectual door-opening and just plain 'oh, wow' excitement that shine through the cobwebs of memory even now, as I prepare for my 30th reunion."
Jordan earned his Ph.D. in history from Princeton in 1973 and joined the faculty the same year. He has taught courses on subjects ranging from "English Constitutional History" and "The High Middle Ages" to "Law and Legal Education in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance" and "The Medieval City."
Colleagues said that his teaching has left an indelible mark on many students. "Whenever I have occasion to speak to undergraduates," wrote one in his nomination letter, "what I hear is always that they either look forward with enthusiasm to taking one of Bill's courses, or that they have taken it and they look back on it as the high point of their experience so far."
A current student wrote, "Professor Jordan's enthusiasm for the material he studies and teaches is infectious. He has the precious ability to render the past present for his students. As a lecturer, he conjures the realities of the Middle Ages in striking detail, making vivid the pains of a plowman, the suffering of a leper or the delights of a medieval feast."
Others commented on his devotion to advising and mentoring students. "What will never cease to amaze me about Professor Jordan are his unstinting efforts on behalf of his students: weekly meetings to discuss readings; monthly letters during research abroad; a stream of references, criticisms and edited pages running through one's mailbox at the dissertation stage," wrote one former graduate student. "I have never known a professor who kept his office door as open as Professor Jordan does, or one who took as seriously or defined as broadly his responsibility to his students."
Vanderlick came to Princeton in 1998 and, in just four years, has "set a new standard for teaching excellence," according to one colleague. She leads classes on an introduction to chemical engineering, fluid mechanics, and interfacial science and engineering -- and a freshman seminar on "The Engineering of Ice Cream."
"An outstanding classroom instructor who combines magnetic personality, boundless energy, a wonderful sense of humor and a deep understanding of her subject matter, she challenges and engages her students to embark, as equals, on true intellectual journeys of shared discovery and adventure," wrote another colleague in nominating her for the award.
One alumnus, who has gone on to pursue a Ph.D. in chemical engineering, wrote that Vanderlick "relates to her students in a very open, honest and accessible manner. I think this makes her students very willing to learn from her, both in and out of the classroom. ... She has an excellent ability to hone in on the central concepts of a topic and explain them in sufficient depth so that students can really understand them without getting lost in the details."
Many of those supporting Vanderlick's nomination wrote of her sincere interest in students, as evidenced by her visits to the undergraduate lounge to work on problem sets, her advice on career choices and graduate schools and her attendance at student activities such as dance performances. "Her attitude and respect toward students are exemplary," wrote one student, "and she consistently demonstrates her devotion to undergraduate students on both an academic and personal level."
Editor: Ruth Stevens