Marva A. Barnett, French professor and founding director of the Teaching Resource Center, and R. Jahan Ramazani, Edgar F. Shannon Professor of English, are the recipients of the 2011 Thomas Jefferson Awards at the University of Virginia. The awards were presented today at Fall Convocation, held in the John Paul Jones Arena.
Barnett and Ramazani are the 61st and 62nd recipients of the Thomas Jefferson Award, the highest honor the University community bestows upon its faculty. The convocation included recognition of 360 third-year U.Va. students who earned Intermediate Honors and a keynote address by J. Milton Adams, vice provost for academic programs.
The Thomas Jefferson Award selection committee chose Barnett to receive the award recognizing excellence in service, which has been sponsored since 1955 by the Robert Earll McConnell Foundation. Ramazani was honored with the award recognizing excellence in scholarship, established in 2009 by the Alumni Board of Trustees of the University of Virginia Endowment Fund Inc.
Over more than 20 years, Marva Barnett, founding director of the Teaching Resource Center, has done much to improve the caliber of teaching at the University, according to the dozens of letters supporting her nomination for the Thomas Jefferson Award recognizing excellence in service to the University.
Her contributions "have been nothing short of transformative for the academic mission of this institution," biology professor Claire Cronmiller wrote in her nominating letter.
Barnett stepped forward with her idea for the Teaching Resource Center, or TRC as it is known, "at a time when the University needed to reaffirm its commitment to the educational experience of its students," Cronmiller wrote. "During the last 21 years, she has easily inspired, excited, guided and helped hundreds to become more effective and happier instructors and University contributors."
Barnett holds a master's in French from the University of Maine at Orono and a B.A. from Westminster College in Salt Lake City. She received her Ph.D. in Romance languages and literatures from Harvard University, where she studied at the Harvard-Danforth Center for Teaching and Learning.
When applying for faculty positions, she envisioned a university with a center that would provide opportunities for both faculty and graduate teaching assistants to develop and hone their teaching expertise. Although U.Va. did not have such a center, Barnett accepted a position as an assistant professor of French in 1983 and soon began working to design a five-day teaching assistant orientation workshop in the French Department.
In 1990, she got the Teaching Resource Center off the ground, which has since sprouted several ancillary programs, such as Excellence in Diversity Fellows, University Teaching Fellowship and Tomorrow's Professors Today. The newest addition, the University Academy of Teaching, brings together master teachers who have already helped others reach a higher level of excellence and who are interested in offering their expertise to colleagues across Grounds.
Letters supporting her nomination came from all corners of U.Va., as well as from former faculty and students. Her ability to identify a need and then find a way to meet it is legendary. One writer commented, "She has a bias for action."
"There was a time when, in certain circles, putting effort into one's teaching was considered less important than research accomplishments," wrote one of the many faculty members who have worked with the TRC. "Moreover, in its first years, some assumed the TRC served merely a remedial function for poor teachers who required 'fixing.'
"From the beginning, however, Marva demonstrated that the most outstanding teachers are those willing to examine their pedagogy with the same rigor they apply to their research."
She introduced TAP – the Teaching Analysis Poll – in which a member of the Teaching Resource Center staff meets separately with a professor's students to ascertain what's working in the classroom and what's not.
One professor said he asked for a TAP assessment out of desperation because of dismal student evaluations early in his U.Va. career. "I expected to be raked over the coals, but I came away from the experience enthused. The scores that second semester came up," said the faculty member, who went on to receive a University Teaching Fellowship. "The center threw a life ring to a drowning new teacher who arrived with precious little instruction on how to swim in the classroom."
Barnett also recognized early on the importance of building a diverse faculty, wrote a former faculty member. "Marva actively developed strategies to ensure that minority faculty members became productive scholars and thus were fully engaged," he wrote.
The TRC offers workshops each August and January on topics ranging from the multicultural classroom to course development. Many of the letters said Barnett also helped them in informal ways, listening as they described a problem and then suggesting practical steps to take. "Marva is a mentor's mentor and a teacher's teacher," one supporter wrote.
Barnett also teaches courses on reading and writing French texts and on Victor Hugo. Her "Victor Hugo on Things That Matter: A Reader," was published in 2009, and another Hugo text, "Lettres inédites de Juliette Drouet à Victor Hugo," is slated for publication in 2012.
• R. Jahan Ramazani
Edgar F. Shannon Professor of English
College of Arts & Sciences
For his boundary-crossing scholarship in poetry and service to the intellectual life of U.Va., Jahan Ramazani is the recipient of the Thomas Jefferson Award recognizing excellence in scholarship.
In her nominating letter, English Department chair Cynthia Wall said Ramazani is one of the world's leading literary scholars. After reading the dozens of supporting letters, she wrote, "I am even more astonished at the influence he has had and the respect he has inspired in colleagues and students locally, nationally, internationally."
A College of Arts & Sciences colleague expressed admiration for Ramazani's editing in 2003 of the "Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry," which he expanded beyond the traditional canon of English-language poetry. "By rejecting a provincial understanding of English poetry, he has indeed remapped the field," she wrote. "With confidence and conviction, he juxtaposes W.B. Yeats or Nobel laureate Derek Walcott with the Indian poet A.K. Ramanujan, the Jamaican Louise Bennett or the Ugandan Okot p'Bitek."
Ramazani is the author of four books, starting in 1990 with "Yeats and the Poetry of Death: Elegy, Self-Elegy and the Sublime." Wrote a colleague at another institution, "It was greeted by most Yeatsians as one of the few books on Yeats written in the '90s that has really made a difference in Yeats studies in particular and in poetry studies in general."
His second book, "Poetry of Mourning," was a finalist for the National Book Critics Award. With his third book, "The Hybrid Muse: Postcolonial Poetry in English," published in 2001, Ramazani declared "that poetry in English emerging from formerly colonial nations had not yet been sufficiently described," another supporter wrote.
"A Transnational Poetics," published in 2009, won the 2011 Harry Levin Prize as the best book in comparative literary history published between 2008 and 2010. The book "does, in my opinion, indicate a wholly new direction for postcolonial and transnational studies to follow," a faculty member at another university wrote, adding, "At the moment, then, Professor Ramazani really is the field of postcolonial poetry."
A Rhodes scholar and Guggenheim fellow, Ramazani holds master's degrees from Yale and Oxford universities, and a Ph.D. from Yale. An Echols scholar at U.Va., in 1981 he received his B.A. in English literature with highest distinction. During his undergraduate years, he was the jazz director at the University's radio station, WTJU-FM. A recent graduate, whose father had been Ramazani's roommate, was so taken with her father's stories, she enrolled in Ramazani's "Contemporary Poetry" course.
"As an instructor, Professor Ramazani did for his students what I imagine he did for WTJU listeners: open their minds to an art that seemed esoteric, dissonant and inaccessible," she wrote.
A former Ph.D. student said he changed the course of his research because of Ramazani's insights. "It is no overstatement to say that Jahan Ramazani opened up a world for me," he wrote.
His contributions to scholarship as well as the life of the University were detailed in supporting letters from U.Va. colleagues in the English Department and across Grounds. Ramazani was the Mayo National Endowment for the Humanities Distinguished Teaching Professor from 2001 to 2004 and English Department chair from 2006 to 2009.
One English colleague wrote, "The centerpieces of Jahan's tenure as chair were his leadership in revamping the way we fund students in our Ph.D. program, the careful and even-handed way he dealt with the need to cut the department's budget as the financial crisis took its toll on the University's finances, and the excellent hiring he was able to do against the strong economic headwinds."
Another colleague, who served with Ramazani in the Faculty Senate, which Ramazani chaired from 1997 to 1998, noted that Ramazani began the "Intellectual Community" initiative, "a simple, yet powerful, idea to bring U.Va. up to the level of the very best institutions in the world, where … faculty and students and administrators and staff joined together to improve our collective lives."
Ramazani's father, R.K. Ramazani, professor emeritus of government and foreign affairs, received the Thomas Jefferson Award in 1994. They are the first father and son to each have won the award.