The Core Curriculum is more than just great books. And on Thursday night, professors and students gathered to celebrate what makes or breaks students’ experience with the Core: the teachers.
This is what guest speaker Roosevelt Montas, associate dean of Columbia College and director of the Core Curriculum, said at this year’s Annual Great Teacher Awards.
The award “acknowledges how important teaching is in the Core,” he said. “The Core is the center of the Columbia undergraduate education. The books are great, the books are wonderful, but you can read them on your own.”
The Society of Columbia Graduates this year chose professor emeritus of Slavic languages Robert Belknap and Henry and Gertrude Rothschild professor of computer science Kathleen McKeown as the 2010 recipients.
Both recipients, presented with awards in Low Library Rotunda, told Spectator they were honored.
“It’s flattering. I love it,” Belknap said of the award. “We pretend the Core Curriculum is for the education of the students, but in our hearts we all know it’s for the education of the faculty.”
The Annual Great Teacher Awards were established in 1949 to honor faculty in Columbia College and the School of Engineering and Applied Science. To date, there have been 121 recipients, all of whose names appear in Butler Library—from Mark Van Doren and Edwin H. Armstrong, the first honorees, to the new names that will be included from 2010.
An important criterion in selecting the professors was their students’ evaluations, which the professors felt increased the award’s significance.
“It’s very special, especially for the recipients. They’re very proud, and they’re proud because it comes from the students,” said Andrew Gaspar, SEAS ’69 and president of the Society of Columbia Graduates. “This is not some outside society giving you an award. This is not your boss giving you an award. These are your students.”
McKeown, the 2010 SEAS recipient, said the input from students made the award more meaningful for her.
“My students—they’re really my family. They’re my life,” McKeown said. “I love them, so that makes it all the more special.”
Belknap has worked at Columbia for over 50 years, teaching courses in Russian, comparative literature, and literary theory, as well as other humanities courses. McKeown was the first woman to receive tenure at SEAS and served as the school’s first computer science department chair.
C. Lowell Harriss, professor emeritus of economics, was also given posthumous recognition at the reception.
“There are lots of teaching recognition awards at Columbia,” Gaspar said. “This is the big one.”