June 8, 2000
Vol. 19 No. 18

current issue
archive / search

    2000 Graduate Teaching Awards

    Don Coursey and Annamaria Lusardi
    The Irving B. Harris Graduate School of Public Policy Studies

    By Peter Schuler
    News Office

    The Public Policy Student Association of the Irving B. Harris Graduate School of Public Policy Studies has named two outstanding teachers as Professors of the Year. The student group chose Don Coursey, the Ameritech Professor in Public Policy Studies, for the second consecutive year for his teaching of the core course, Principles of Microeconomics and Public Policy, and Annamaria Lusardi, Visiting Scholar in the Harris School, for her Macroeconomics course, an elective.

    In addition, Doug Noonan, who assists Coursey in the microeconomics course as well as in much of his current research, was named Best Teaching Assistant.

    Coursey has been a member of the Harris School faculty since 1993 and served as its Dean from 1996 to 1998.

    [coursey]A Coursey class requires fastened seat belts: the pace is fast and the energy is high. He compares his class to “a 100-meter dash in which you need to develop polite ways to stop tangents. And you need to remember to lean into the tape at the end.”

    Coursey is an experimental economist whose research is concerned largely with finding reliable measures of preferences and monetary values for public goods, such as environmental quality. His research has focused on comparisons of demand for international environmental quality, environmental legislation in the United States and public preferences for environmental outcomes relative to other social and economic goals.

    Coursey said that he tries to make students feel excited about the subject matter and frequently uses simulations to provide real-world connections with the problem-solving skills he instills in class. In his microeconomics class last quarter, he shared with students his study of the Orland-Palos communities in far Southwest Cook County. Contrary to general belief, Coursey and Noonan found that environmental preservation policies had a direct and positive impact on home values in the area.

    Coursey has won numerous teaching awards over the years, both at the University and also in earlier teaching positions at the University of Wyoming and Washington University in St. Louis.

    Over the years of his teaching career, Coursey has developed a number of guidelines he has found successful in his classroom.

    • “You can start hard and go soft, but cannot start soft and go hard. This applies to the difficulty of the class and the ambiance of the classroom. Take the high ground early both in terms of expectation about subject matter and in terms of classroom etiquette.”

    • “Like a good speech, tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them. An outline on the board before class often helps.”n “Try to start class with a policy treat from today’s papers, especially before technical or difficult classes where the relevance of subject matter may be hard to discern.”

    • “Try to wean yourself off lecture notes. Often, the use of notes makes material that is nonlinear in difficulty seem linear.”

    • “Assemble a strategic portfolio of teaching assistants: Masters of Public Policy, Ph.D.s, foreign, elementary and hard. Then advertise the differences in the teaching assistants to students.”

    • “Provide personal attention with a filter. Let the teaching assistant have the first chance with questions and problems to reserve your time for more difficult and important issues.”

    • “Pictures say a lot. There will always be times when you are boring people. Everyone should have something to look at and think about during those times. Students should always have something to think about.”

    • “Calculus and even lower forms of mathematics will always elude some of the students. Use mathematics only as a condiment.”

    • “Interesting class discussions require a critical minimum of outgoing students with the following characteristics: one socialist/Communist; one right-wing, Rush Limbaugh-listening libertarian; one class humorist, but not a clown; and one student who is not afraid to ask simple questions. In a random group of 25 or more students, you can statistically discover all of these types, and you will need them all. Find them and use them. If lacking, supply the missing elements.”

    [lusardi]Lusardi received her award for the Macroeconomics elective course she taught in Autumn Quarter.

    Lusardi has pursued an interest in consumption and saving behavior since her graduate work at Princeton University. Her Princeton teachers included President Sonnenschein, then on the Princeton economics faculty, and economist Angus Deaton. Lusardi earned a Ph.D. at Princeton and then joined the economics faculty at Dartmouth.

    Lusardi joined the Harris School faculty in 1998 as a Visiting Scholar and spent her first year as a researcher at the Joint Center for Poverty Research, continuing to focus on the question of why so many U.S. households do not save money. Lusardi has done comparative studies between savings patterns in the United States and Italy as well as in the Netherlands. Asked to comment on her award, Lusardi said, “My students were impressive. The graduate students came from a wide range of intellectual backgrounds, which added to the energy in class.”

    Lusardi said she encourages vigorous class discussion and tries to have close interaction with students. She guides her class, composed of candidates for the Master of Public Policy degree, through complex issues of growth and economic development, social security reform, currency crises, and unemployment and inflation.

    Lusardi noted, “All my students here and the undergraduates I taught at Dartmouth have been highly talented. If there’s a difference, it’s in their career goals. At Dartmouth, they were heading to Wall Street, and at Harris, they are strongly committed to careers in public service.”

    David Strauss, the Harry N. Wyatt Professor of Law
    The Law School

    By Peter Schuler
    News Office

    The Law Student Association awarded its Graduating Students’ Award for Teaching Excellence to David Strauss, the Harry N. Wyatt Professor of Law. Strauss, a constitutional law scholar known for his writings on race discrimination and constitutional theory, teaches Elements of the Law and Federal Jurisdiction as well as courses on constitutional law.

    The course Elements of the Law analyzes the philosophical bases of issues that arise across many areas of the law. It is one of the cornerstones of the Law School curriculum and was taught in earlier years by such legendary Law School professors as Karl Llewellyn and Edward Levi.

    While his students commend Strauss’ excellence in teaching, he has only the highest praise for them. “The students are great. They’re smart, engaged and challenging. They make teaching a rewarding experience, something you look forward to in the day.”

    Law School faculty members pride themselves on their active commitment to teaching, including introductory classes for 1Ls, unlike law faculty at schools of similar stature. Strauss noted, “All of us on the faculty talk a lot about teaching. I get a lot of advice in particular from Cass Sunstein (the Karl N. Llewellyn Distinguished Service Professor), who teaches the other section of elements.”

    Strauss graduated summa cum laude from Harvard College, studied on a Marshall Scholarship at Magdalen College, Oxford, where he earned a B.Phil. in politics, and then graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School.

    Asked to describe the challenge in teaching law, he said, “It is to get students to trust their intuitions and their deeply held beliefs while being tough on themselves and critical of themselves. A lot of what students learn in law school, particularly in their first year, is that many issues are more complicated than they seem at first and aren’t susceptible to easy answers. That’s one of the most valuable lessons anyone can learn, but it becomes a destructive lesson if it makes people become cynics who treat everything as a big intellectual game.”

    Before joining the faculty of the Law School, Strauss served in the U.S. Department of Justice and as assistant solicitor general. In 1990, he was special counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee for the confirmation hearings of David Souter as a Supreme Court justice. Strauss, who has argued 16 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, also was one of President Clinton’s principal attorneys before the Supreme Court in the Paula Jones case.

    He is currently one of the editors of the Supreme Court Review.

    Strauss also won the Graduating Students’ Award for Teaching Excellence in the Law School in 1996 and 1998.

    William Borden, Senior Lecturer
    The School of Social Service Administration

    By William Harms
    News Office

    To prepare students for social work, teachers must expose them to a wide range of theories on appropriate approaches to working with people in challenging situations, said William Borden, recipient of this year’s School of Social Service Administration Award for Excellence in Teaching.

    The strength of the SSA program comes from its ability to provide students with a variety of perspectives, because those vantage points help them become critical thinkers and creative and flexible practitioners, said Borden, Senior Lecturer in SSA.

    “Our theories and research are tools for thinking, and every practice has its own domains of concern, purposes, rules, methods, strengths and limits,” he explained. “Within the field of social work, for example, we draw on psychodynamic, cognitive, behavioral, humanistic, family and ecological perspectives, and this comparative approach enlarges ways of seeing, understanding and acting in our efforts to help.”

    Borden teaches the SSA core course Introduction to Social Work, as well as courses on human behavior in the social environment, brief treatment in social work, comparative psychodynamic theory, and a doctoral course on comparative personality and social theory.

    He has published extensively on topics related to contemporary psychoanalysis and empirical work on stress, coping and development through the life course.

    Borden, who received an M.A. in 1983 and a Ph.D. in 1988 from SSA, draws on his experience as a clinician and consultant in mental-health and health-care settings as he teaches. “I continually emphasize the importance of ‘direct observation,’ of concrete, real, lived experience, in our efforts to understand what is the matter and what carries the potential to help,” said Borden.

    As a social worker, Borden discovered people respond in many different ways to their problems, some learning to cope and becoming resilient and others having more difficulties. Practitioners need broad experiences in order to understand the struggles their clients face, he said.

    “Our psychological theory and social research carries the potential to help us in many ways, but much of it inevitably reduces human experience in an attempt to label, categorize and classify our ways of being, limiting our appreciation of the particularity of individual persons and lives,” he said. “This is why I draw on the humanities, especially novels and poetry and film, trying to deepen, enlarge and more fully represent aspects of the human condition and problems in living.”

    He recently used in a class a film about documentary photographer Walker Evans, whose work chronicled the suffering of people during the Depression era.

    As Borden teaches, he is inspired by the work of his teachers. “It has been my good fortune to work with some extraordinary teachers who had a certain kind of grace, passion and moral energy, who could take ideas and bring them to life and show how we might put them to use in the world.” He said he also is inspired by his students, “who bring heart and mind and spirit to learning, who have read widely and think deeply and critically.”

    Borden continued, “The novelist Walker Percy writes that people ‘hand one another along’ through life, and this is how I like to think of our work as students and teachers÷bringing what others have given us, doing our very best to see and understand and make sense of things, moving from idea to experience, trying to figure out how we can connect thought and action, intellect and life.”