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University Honors Three for Teaching Excellence

Adair, Kline, Kull receive Metcalf Awards at Sunday’s Commencement

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Roll over the images above to hear this year’s Metcalf winners — (from left) T. Jefferson Kline, Allison Adair, and Andrew Kull — talk about teaching. Photos by Edward A. Brown

When a stack of glowing student evaluations lands on a dean’s desk, it usually means one of two things: the teacher is an easy grader, or the teacher has something special.

But when Allison Adair’s packet landed on her program director’s desk, it was pretty clear which category she fell under.

“She is not satisfied to see an OK piece of work, but rather encourages us to improve our writing beyond our capabilities,” wrote one student about Adair, this year’s recipient of the University’s highest teaching honor — the Metcalf Cup and Prize for Excellence in Teaching — after only five years on the job. It’s the first time a Metcalf award has been given to a lecturer.

“I know I have a reputation for being a rigorous teacher and a hard grader, and I understand the word on the street is that I’m tough to satisfy,” says Adair, a poet and a lecturer in the College of Arts and Sciences Writing Program. “The truth is that I respect my students too much to let them be easily satisfied with writing or thinking that falls short of their abilities.”

The Metcalf Cup and Prize for Excellence in Teaching and the Metcalf Awards, which recognize skilled and engaging faculty members, were presented at Sunday’s 135th Commencement exercises. This year’s Metcalf Award winners were T. Jefferson Kline, a College of Arts and Sciences professor of French literature and cinema, and Andrew Kull, a School of Law professor who is credited with transforming the typically dry first-year contracts course into a highly entertaining course now known as “Kulltracts.”

“One of the things that is very obvious to me now that I didn’t realize when I was a student is that the teacher is trying to put himself in the student’s position and imagine what it’s like to be where you are,” says Kull, who received an average score of 4.925 (on a 5-point scale) from his 80 student evaluations for the contracts course.

“He clearly knows the material cold and could recite it in his sleep,” wrote a student. “Recitation, however, is the last word to use in describing his lectures. Time with Professor Kull is an intellectual odyssey. His class is an unforgettable journey through the history of contract law, with a particular emphasis on the strange creatures that make contracts.”

Similar admiration peppers Kline’s folder. “He is passionate, enthusiastic, incredibly knowledgeable, and hilarious,” wrote one student. “Not only do I learn French literature in a complete and profound way, but my overall culture gains from this class experience,” concluded another.

Kline, who has been teaching at BU for 30 years, says the challenge of making a lasting impact on his students’ lives is as fresh as ever. “I confess I am still nervous before I enter each class,” he says. “But my nerves no longer have anything to do with self-presentation, but rather with the sense of the immense delicacy and importance of the task I have before me. How could one not feel nervous about walking into a class of 30 eager but extremely varied minds with the project of leading them toward a specific goal, while always remaining open to their issues, needs, and ideas?”

Established in 1973 by a gift from the late Arthur G. B. Metcalf (SED’35, Hon.’74), a former faculty member and chairman emeritus of the Board of Trustees, the awards are a ceremonious public expression of gratitude to the teachers students regard as the defining figures of their academic careers. The Metcalf Cup comes with a prize of $10,000, and the Metcalf Awards with $5,000.

A committee selects the winners by weighing factors such as statements of pedagogy from the nominees and observing their teaching by sitting in on their classes. The letters of recommendation from current and former students are key also, drawing readers into the classroom to experience the professors’ energy and enthusiasm.

Edward A. Brown can be reached at ebrown@bu.edu.

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