February 15, 2005

From the Core to Watergate, Graham promotes scholarship

Four Chicago academics have just become the first set of Katharine Graham Fellows. Julia Kindt, Abraham Stone, Holly Swyers, and Hylton White have been selected to join the University's Society of Fellows under a new program sponsored by a $4 million bequeathment from the estate of Katharine Graham, former publisher of The Washington Post. The grant was part of a larger, $5.5 million donation given in support of liberal arts education at the University.

The Fellows, two of whom are former University students, will be granted four-year teaching positions at the University under the Society of Fellows, rather than in individual departments. The Society of Fellows is an elite group of assistant professors culled from the nation's best doctoral students. Rather than signing on as members of individual departments, the chosen join the Society with the purpose of being molded into extraordinary liberal arts teachers.

"When you're department faculty you have other responsibilities, you run colloquia, you participate in the hiring committees," said Michael Jones, associate dean in the College. Fellows, conversely, are free to concentrate solely on their teaching.

Because the Fellows are not aligned with specific department, the program relies on cultivating relationships between them and senior faculty. Through this interaction, administrators hope the quality of teaching will improve. "Combine the engagement and fresh outlook of the Fellows with the wisdom and experience of senior faculty," said Dean of the College John Boyer in a statement Thursday.

Swyers and White have been teaching the Social Science Core for several years, while Kindt and Stone have taught Humanities. Stone and White have taught several other upper-level classes in the College as well. Their course evaluations are impeccable, and students in their core classes rave about them.

"Hylton has an amazing ability to bring [texts] to life," said Tucker Eads, a first-year in White's Self, Culture and Society Class. "He is able to elucidate difficult concepts from the reading not by just interpreting the reading for us as a class, but by helping us to be able to engage with the texts on a much deeper level than I would be able to otherwise. His is the only class in which I am frequently disappointed when it ends."

Brett Colasacco, a second-year in Swyer's Self, Culture and Society class said that in class, she achieves "an ideal balance between rigorously analyzing texts, addressing student questions, and stimulating excellent discussion. Really, it's by far the most well organized course I've taken."

David Bevington, one of the society's co-directors, said in a statement last Thursday that the courses these four teach "are at the very heart of the College program…They are the basis of our College's continuing and growing commitment to liberal education."

The newly appointed Graham Fellows are praised by both students and faculty for upholding the expected caliber of liberal arts education. "Promoting, improving, advancing, paying attention to the quality of teaching—these are things we are always doing.  It's great to have the support of the Graham gift for that purpose," Jones said.