2018 Faculty Honorees Share Their Passions at Annual Reflections from Distinguished Faculty Lecture

Colleen Locke | Wed Dec 5, 2018

Faculty Members Received Chancellor’s Awards During 2018 Commencement Exercises

The four faculty members honored during this year’s commencement exercises delivered mini lectures on Tuesday in the areas in which they were honored: scholarship, teaching, and service. The human side of economics, best teaching practices, and climate change lessons were all covered.

Professor of Economics Julie Nelson, who received the Chancellor’s Award for Distinguished Scholarship, titled her talk Economics for Humans, the same title of the just-released second edition of her 2006 book. She opened her comments by describing what she sees as characteristics of economists.

“We are rigorous and scientific. We see people as autonomous, independent, and rational. We use precise math. We study markets, and perhaps industry and government,” Nelson said. “We aren’t touchy feely and humanistic. We don’t make that sentimental assumption that people care about each other. We reject the idea that people can be connected, dependent, or emotional.”

Nelson described this as macho economics, and said there is, and should be, room for a softer approach.

“I think that economics should be done for and by human beings,” Nelson said. “I don’t think [math] should be taking over. Instead of walking around with a hammer looking for a nail, we should look at what’s in front of us and then figure out how best we can address those things.”

The winner of the Chancellor’s Award for Distinguished Teaching, Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Shoshanna Ehrlich, talked about what she has found to be central to her teaching: a willingness to meet students halfway, a lack of a required class participation component, and a class structure where the final grade is not reliant on two or three exams or papers – nothing is worth more than 20 percent. She has found all this gives learners with different oral and written communication skillsets the opportunity to excel.

“The other thing for me in my approach in thinking about this is that I try to make it clear over and over and over that you don’t have to be right in the classroom. If your answers are wrong, if they’re partial, if they’re stammering, if they’re halting, it’s fine. It gives us something to work with, and we can work as a learning community with the pieces of knowledge that each person can contribute,” Ehrlich said.

She also acknowledged that a professor’s role supporting students extends beyond making sure they understand a reading assignment.

“I know that some of them are dealing with homelessness, with domestic violence, with immigration issues, and they can’t separate those out and say, ‘Oh, that’s not part of this class that meets from 8 to 8:50.’ Their lives are interwoven, and so to me, being a teacher here means you take your students as you find them,” Ehrlich said.

The first joint winners of the Chancellor’s Award for Distinguished Service, School for the Environment professors Ellen Douglas and Paul Kirshen, shared what they’ve learned with respect to climate change over the course of 12 contracts and grants related to climate change management.

“Sadly, the story never gets better,” said Douglas, a professor of hydrology.

“By as early as 2070, 88,000 people, approximately 15 percent of Boston’s present population, will be exposed to a 100-year flood, particularly the areas of South Boston, downtown, East Boston, and Charlestown. Over half of their land could be flooded,” said Kirshen, a professor of climate adaptation. “These are some of the most socially vulnerable neighborhoods in East Boston, where, in addition, residents

may not be able to get to work or have ready access to food and medical care.”

After thanking their collaborators, Douglas said, “We’ve been very fortune to work at an institution that puts a high value on solving the people’s problems.”

“Our students, our city, and our planet are fortunate to have people doing such important work,” Interim Chancellor Katherine S. Newman said in her closing remarks. “You make a difference for other people every day.”

This is the eighth year that the Chancellor’s Office and the Friends of the Library have held this event.

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