May 23, 1996
Vol. 15, No. 18

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    Amoco Award: Donald Levine

    Peter B. Ritzma Professor in Sociology Donald Levine, the Peter B. Ritzma Professor in Sociology, has been making contributions to the teaching of undergraduates nearly all of the 35 years he has been a University faculty member.

    As chairman of the staff of the Social Sciences 121-122-123 sequence in the 1960s, Levine reorganized the yearlong course into its current form as Self, Culture & Society. As founding Master of the Social Sciences Collegiate Division from 1965 to 1968, he introduced several new programs, including the African Civilization sequence and the Public Policy concentration program, which remain vital to this day.

    As Dean of the College in the 1980s, he led an examination of the College curriculum. That review resulted in enriched research opportunities for students, a strengthening of the teaching of writing and an expansion of the Common Core into two years.

    Levine has also come up with several new courses of his own, including Conflict Theory & Aikido. The course helps students to understand and control social conflict by combining texts from a number of disciplines with regular training in the aggression-neutralizing art of aikido, in which he holds a second-degree black belt.

    In all levels of his teaching activity, Levine has been guided by a constant concern.

    "I always ask, 'What is the educational purpose of any curricular requirement?' The answer depends in part on what stage students have reached in their intellectual development.

    "They may be at the point where they need to learn how to read a text closely. They may need to learn precise methods of analysis, or to let their imagination fly, or to empathize with remote views. I try to be mindful of the curricular context of every assignment, class or course," he said.

    To engage the students, Levine relies on techniques of class discussion long practiced in the College. One point he stresses in discussions is critical reading. "We need to question the authors we are reading, but first we need to know how to question our immediate take on any text. This is often the harder part of 'critical reading.' " "Since I'm not patient by nature, I must work to be patient in the classroom. Learning is a slow process. If students get one major insight in each class period, I'm happy," he said. Levine said he is especially happy when his teaching and research enrich one another. His recent book, Visions of the Sociological Tradition, resulted from 30 years of teaching the history of social theory. He also has taught courses based on his earlier research on Ethiopian society. Before joining the Chicago faculty in 1962, he taught at Ethiopia's University College of Addis Ababa. He received his A.B. in 1950 and his Ph.D. in 1957, both from Chicago. In addition to writing Visions of the Sociological Tradition, he is the author of The Flight From Ambiguity: Essays in Social and Cultural Theory (1985), Simmel and Parsons: Two Approaches to the Study of Society (1980), Greater Ethiopia: The Evolution of a Multiethnic Society (1974), Georg Simmel on Individuality and Social Forms (1971) and Wax and Gold: Tradition and Innovation in Ethiopian Culture.

    -- William Harms