Loyola University Chicago

Faculty Council

Faculty Convocation 2011



Thank you very much Father Garanzini, Provost Pelissero, Deans, and colleagues and friends from across the university, and a special thank you to Gordon Ramsey, for your very kind words, which mean a lot to me.

As many of you know, I recently celebrated my 20th year as a faculty member at Loyola University Chicago.  I cannot think of a better way to celebrate this milestone in my academic career than to be the recipient of the Faculty Member of the Year Award.  It is an honor that I will always cherish.

I was asked to say a few words about what it means to me personally to be this year’s Faculty Member of the Year.  It struck me when going through the list of previous winners of this award that, although we as individuals are the recipients of this award, we are lucky to be part of a larger Jesuit-inspired culture of learning at Loyola, in which we benefit from a spirit of Ignatian community and cooperation among students, faculty, staff and administrators.  In my own case, my teaching and research during the last twenty years has benefited from at least four aspects of this Jesuit-inspired culture of learning.  I would like to touch briefly on each of them, or why I consider myself so fortunate to be a faculty member at Loyola.

First and foremost, I am fortunate to be part of a department – the Department of Political Science – that places a high value on excellence in teaching.  At the undergraduate level, this is demonstrated by the fact that all of our faculty members, from assistant professors to full professors, regularly teach one of our introductory freshman courses.  We consider this extremely important, in that our introductory courses are the gateways for inspiring students to pursue careers in the field we love.  Our commitment to teaching is also demonstrated by the large number of Political Science faculty who have received teaching awards over the years.  John Frendreis was our department’s first recipient of the Graduate Faculty Member of the Year Award, and numerous colleagues have received one of the Sujack Awards for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching in the College of Arts and Sciences, including Patrick Boyle, Alan Gitelson, Alexandru Grigorescu, Robert Mayer, Peter Sanchez, and John Allen Williams.  In short, I am very fortunate to be part of a department that is deeply committed to the Ignation value of excellence in teaching.

Second, I am also fortunate to be part of a larger College of Arts and Sciences and Graduate School that together place a high value on interdisciplinary learning.  As some of you know, I am the product of an interdisciplinary Ph.D. program in International Studies at the University of South Carolina, and as such have always sought to make interdisciplinary a core element of my classes.  One of my favorite courses in this regard is a course I teach for the interdisciplinary Honors Program, “Encountering Africa: African Politics and Literature” (HONR 210), which combines classic Political Science materials with the reading of six African novels and guest lectures by six African scholars.  The two-week module on the politics of religion and gender, for example, began with a Political Science-inspired discussion of the politics of women wearing the veil in North Africa, was followed by the reading of a novel, Fantasia: An Algerian Cavalcade, by the acclaimed Algerian novelist Assia Djebar, and was wrapped up through a guest lecture by Khadija Bounou, an Assistant Professor in Loyola’s Department of Modern Languages and Literatures, who provided a beautiful personal account of what Djebar’s novel means to her, as a female Moroccan scholar living and working in the United States.  The key here is that this Honors class, like all interdisciplinary classes, was incredibly fulfilling to teach, in that students from a variety of majors raised amazing connections between the disciplines of Modern Literature and Political Science, in a way that would have been impossible had the course focused on either of these disciplines in isolation.

I am also fortunate to be part of a larger university setting that greatly values experiential learning, including in an overseas environment.  My contribution to this university goal involves leading a 22-day summer course, “Arab World, Islam, and U.S. Foreign Policy: Summer Study Course to Tunisia” (PLSC 300), to Tunisia, North Africa.  The beauty of this experiential learning course is that it is one thing to read in books about the Arab world, Islam, and U.S. foreign policy toward the Middle East.  It is quite another for students to experience these topics personally in the field.  For example, what better way to experience the relationship between Islam and some of the other great religions in the world, than to visit Tunisia’s Great Mosque of Kairouan, which is one of the holiest sites of Islam and one of the oldest Mosques in North Africa?  Or to visit Tunisia’s el-Ghriba Synagogue on the Island of Jerba, which is the oldest functioning Synagogue in North Africa, and remains an international pilgrimage site for Jews during the Passover season?  Or to visit Tunisia’s St. Louis Cathedral, which is one of the oldest Catholic Churches in North Africa?  The key point is that these and other visits throughout Tunisia, such as this year’s visit to a Libyan refugee camp on Tunisia’s border with Libya, serve as the basis for amazing student discussions that often continue long into the night and that simply would not be possible in a traditional classroom setting.

A fourth and final reason I consider myself fortunate is that I have had the opportunity to meet and learn from thousands of outstanding students during my twenty years at Loyola.  Although it would be impossible to cite all of these students by name, let me mention just one who is here for today’s event: Nicholas Kreifels, a double major in Accounting and Finance in the Quinlan School of Business, who graduated in May 2011 with honors.  Nick enrolled in my African politics course, expressed an interest in going to Africa, and so he and I worked together on an application to the Provost Fellowship program that enabled him to take part in my 2010 summer travel course to Tunisia.  Nick was so effective at navigating the Arab/Islamic culture of Tunisia that he was chosen to serve as one of the student trip assistants for this year’s 2011 summer travel course to Tunisia, for which he did an equally amazing job.  He truly personifies the excellence that we as professors see on a daily basis in our classrooms, and even better, at least from the perspective of his parents, he is also gainfully employed in this challenging economy with one of the leading financial firms in Chicago.  Can you please all join me in giving a warm round of applause to Nick?

In closing, I would like to recognize my family, all of whom are here: my wife, Kate, who is the love of my life, and who has shared this journey with me during our 15 glorious years of marriage, and my three amazing kids: Max, who is 12 years old, Marianne, who is 9 years old, and Patrick, who is 6 years old.  They teach me every day . . . . that the best teachers . . . . are also the best listeners!

Having said that, I am happy to return to my role as faithful listener of today’s events.  Thanks for coming out to celebrate the beginning of a new academic year, and thanks again for this amazing honor, which I will always cherish!  Thank you.