Yale Bulletin and Calendar

May 26, 2000Volume 28, Number 33

The six faculty members honored on Senior Class Day for outstanding teaching are (from left) Leslie Brisman, Eric Worby, James Aspnes, John Merriman, Liselotte Davis and Hilary Fink. They were selected by undergraduates for the annual awards.

Teaching Prizes

Six faculty members named as outstanding teachers were honored with special awards at the Yale College Senior Class Day program on May 21.

The teachers were nominated by undergraduates for the awards, which were presented by Yale College Dean Richard H. Brodhead. This year's winners and their award citations follow.

Hilary L. Fink
Assistant Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures

The Sarai Ribicoff '79 Award for the Encouragement of Teaching at Yale College

A. Bartlett Giamatti said of Sarai Ribicoff that she possessed "an acute and penetrating mind, effortlessly independent, always engaged, capable of generating original ideas and pursuing them." Each year the Faculty of Yale College bestows the award named in her memory on a junior faculty member in the humanities who best exemplifies these same qualities of character and intellect.

So enthusiastic were they about your course on "Literature and Empire in Russia" that every student in it signed a letter to nominate you for a teaching prize. The letter was headed with the striking, if rather non-Slavic, title, "The First Lady of Russian Literature: Hilary Fink."

Everyone wrote, because everyone felt included in the work of the course. "We got the feeling," they said, "that we were all studying these books together," arriving collaboratively at fresh knowledge. They praised you for daring to let them shape the discussion, all the while subtly hedging this risk by well-timed interventions. When class ended, both you and your students would feel disappointed and eager for the next session. And indeed the exchange of views could be so gripping that once, even though you needed to leave early to get to the airport, you got so engrossed in the discussion that you wound up missing your flight.

Your contributions to the lecture course on modern Russian culture proved equally engaging. Students remarked on the unusual clarity of your presentations and on the astute connections you would draw between historical and literary materials. Whether as instructor or as director of undergraduate studies for your department, you make a special effort to get to know each of your students well. They are struck by your eagerness not just to transact business, but to talk with them about their other classes and extracurricular interests.

In bestowing this award on you, we are proud to honor the memory of Sarai Ribicoff, a remarkable young scholar. You magnificently carry on the dedication to humane learning that she valued and exemplified, which are the hallmarks of education in Yale College.

John Merriman
The Charles Seymour Professor of History

The Harwood F. Byrnes/Richard B. Sewall Teaching Prize

The Harwood F. Byrnes/Richard B. Sewall Teaching Prize was established by a gift from an alumnus in the Class of 1942, to be bestowed upon "a teacher in Yale College who has given the most time, energy, and effective effort to helping undergraduates learn."

The history of France is a glamorous subject to teach if there ever was one. Yet what has drawn crowds of students to your lectures for nearly 30 years is not anything intrinsic to the subject, but rather your spirited explication of the ways in which the upheavals of French society since the 18th century bear upon our own political ambitions and civic life. Indeed your research on the struggles of the powerless in France so clearly informs your own lively championing of inclusiveness in the Yale community that you inspire your students to see the most enduring rewards of studying European history may be found not just in the realization of the past, but in the reformation of the present.

Another of your passions is the study of place: your writing on French cities in the 19th century and your intensive use of maps and city plans in your classes bespeak the joy you take in these masterworks of civilization. As former master of Branford College, you worked for nine years to establish just such a place here in our midst that would offer students, fellows, and staff the cultural richness, tolerance, and openness that so marks the cities you study and love.

Of course you are also known for being a fun guy, with a broad smile and a ready laugh. Life for you is not all guillotines, barricades, and ramparts; it is also often hoops, and you radiate the same intensity whether you are following the fortunes of Robespierre or that of the University of Michigan basketball team. And perhaps you are most yourself when you are playing a game of pick-up basketball at Payne Whitney Gymnasium: a master strategist with a game plan but always willing to improvise; a believer in teamwork unafraid to take charge of the ball;
a careful spotter always on the alert for the rebound.

For the ardor you show in your scholarship and teaching, for your commitment to fair play and for your well-developed sense of just plain play, we are proud to recognize you today for the "time, energy, and effective effort" you have spent "to help undergraduates learn," in the highest tradition of education in Yale College.

Leslie Brisman
Professor of English

The Sidonie Miskimin Clauss Prize for Teaching Excellence in the Humanities

Yale students of a typological bent compare you, inevitably, to the very figures they study with you -- to the prophets of the Hebrew Bible, or the wise men of Spenser's quest-romance, or the eloquent sages of Victorian lyric. All these differing characters are apt representations in their way, for the one thing constant in your wide-ranging and ever-fresh teaching is that you speak the language of inspiration. You bring students to see not just you, but themselves and their world, anew.

Partly you do this by opening to them the vast trove of your knowledge of English poetry. But more importantly you enlist your students as joint-laborers in the work of interpreting literature, making them feel that, however much you enjoy being a teacher, you delight even more in their becoming learners.

Almost every one of your students can contribute a story of special attention or courtesy on your part: the loan of your personal copy of a book that was missing from the library; your availability for evening office hours to see students who were busy at other times; your deeply skeptical but nonetheless encouraging remarks on the draft of an essay; the almost daily calls you made to a chronically ill student. These are, in the words of one of your beloved poets, "little, nameless, [but not] unremembered acts of kindness."

For the soft-spoken but powerfully charged voice of inspiration that echoes through the lives of your students, and for the gift of your attention to great works and ordinary people, we are proud to recognize Leslie Brisman as a dedicated instructor in the highest traditions of education in Yale College.

Eric Worby
Assistant Professor of Anthropology

The Lex Hixon '63 Prize for Teaching Excellence in the Social Sciences

Leader of expeditions of the mind to African cultures, you have quickly become as well a trusted guide for many students through the more familiar but often daunting territory of college life. Your courses in African studies and social anthropology are skillfully designed to help students find their own way into a subject which few had studied, or even imagined studying, before coming to Yale. By sharing with students your enthusiasm for African music and film, and by organizing visits to museums and sampling with your class local offerings of African cuisine, you help students to appreciate the cultural richness of an area of the world that has been historically, often tragically, misapprehended.

Outside of class, students have found you a supportive adviser, equally concerned for their personal well-being as for their academic progress. Several reported that you show the same intelligent interest in the personal crises of those you teach as in the international crises you teach about -- thereby demonstrating, in the words of one, that "the links between the life of the mind and life itself are more powerful and far-reaching" than they are conventionally felt to be.

For challenging students to examine their preconceptions about other cultures, for giving unstinting support to their efforts to develop personally and intellectually, we are proud to recognize you as an instructor and adviser representing the highest traditions of education in Yale College.

James Aspnes
Associate Professor of Computer Science

The Dylan Hixon '88 Prize for Teaching Excellence in the Natural Sciences

Not all the comments we received about your teaching were uniformly positive. There was one student who did report that he had expected that Computer Science 110 would be a gut, and when "it turned out to be rather hard," he at first resented this. But he soon realized you could not only explain to him the fundamentals of computational modeling, you were also willing to help him master the computer game "Doom." And in the end the student found himself happily learning far more about software engineering and programming than he had ever have imagined possible in a single semester.

It is indeed one of your great gifts, attested to over and over again, that you get your students to surprise themselves with their ability to understand unfamiliar concepts and to enjoy working through complex ideas. Comp Sci 365 -- which goes by the innocent-sounding title "Algorithms" -- was described by students as "the most dreaded" and the "most notorious" course in the department, that is until you took it over. With clarity and wit, with patience and responsiveness, you converted the class, in the words of one of its members, from "students with a strong hatred of theoretical computer science into students who would take as many theoretical computer science courses as you are willing to teach."

For reaching out to students at all levels of your subject and encouraging them to exceed their own expectations, we are proud to award you this prize for teaching excellence, acknowledging your dedication to the highest traditions of education in Yale College.

Liselotte Davis
Senior Lector in Slavic Germanic Languages and Literatures

The Yale College Prize for Teaching Excellence by a Lecturer or Lector

It's unusual praise, but perhaps not altogether unexpected when you consider that the student who wrote it is describing a teacher of the language of Grimm's fairy tales and Freud's case histories: "My first impression of Frau Davis when I walked into German 130 my freshman year was that she reminded me of my mother." Whatever else this may mean, it surely suggests that students form a deep and unbreakable bond with you, one that results in many of them enrolling for still more classes with you in later years.

Whether helping wary beginners through "countless pages of seemingly unpunctuated German" or analyzing the works of 20th-century German novelists, you always demonstrate a "perfect balance between guiding and stepping aside in a class discussion." Everyone is firmly encouraged to speak out, and everyone does. You make your students feel not just that no one would dare to come to class unprepared, but that no one would care to.

Students arrive at your office seeking help with everything from case endings to career goals. In this regard your own life story has been as inspirational as the stories you teach. Completing your Ph.D. while working as the administrative assistant for the Comparative Literature and German departments and bringing up your children, you moved from office to classroom as if this had not been a transformation almost as extraordinary as that of one of the heroines in your beloved Märchen.

As you begin your retirement this summer, we are proud to salute you for your remarkable achievements as a scholar and a teacher, all in the highest traditions of education of Yale College. 'Auf Wiedersehen und Vielen Dank'!

C O M M E N C E M E N T2 0 0 0


Baccalaureate Address

Honorary Degrees

Senior Class Day

Teaching Prizes

Scholastic Prizes

Roosevelt L. Thompson Prize

Athletic Awards

David Everett Chantler Prize

Other Student Awards and Honors

Wilbur Cross Medals


Yale celebrates 299th Commencement

Fellowship winners to pursue summer study across the globe

Yale helps the new 'Amistad' set sail on its educational mission

Festival Time: Celebrations of art, music and culture at Yale, city sites

Environmental leaders to join school's faculty

Conservation leaders named McCluskey Fellows

Alumni return to campus to celebrate reunions

Researcher links unexplained car accidents and heart irregularities

Center's family celebration will mark Cancer Survivors Day

Family Festival to celebrate Yale Art Gallery exhibitions

Students will teach in China, Hong Kong

Movie theaters 'pitch in' to raise funds for Yale pediatric programs

Edmund Gordon is honored for his achievements

'Feminist humor maven' will speak at campaign school

Symposium will pay tribute to Dr. Marvin Sears

Fair will highlight continuing education

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