Rhona Campbell Free - Acceptance Speech

Outstanding Master's Universities and Colleges Professor of the Year
Rhona Campbell Free
Professor of Economics
Eastern Connecticut State University

I can think of only three times in my life when my heart just leapt—the first was when I was told, "It's a girl." The second was when I was told, "It's a boy." And the third was when Mr. Lippincott told me that I am a national winner in the U.S. Professors of the Year Program. I'm really honored and very grateful to the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

A few years ago I traveled with Eastern students to Scotland for a class about how power is distributed in labor markets. What I hope students learn in this class is that the healthiest and most stable economies have pretty equal distributions of power and income, and that this is most likely to happen in countries with well-educated populations. In Scotland we traveled to Dunfermline to visit the birthplace of Andrew Carnegie who held this view more than 100 years ago. He said, "Only in popular education can man erect the structure of an enduring civilization."

I think we're very lucky in the U.S. that almost 64 percent of 2003 high school graduates enrolled in college. When I hear arguments that colleges should admit only the best and brightest I'm reminded of two things—first, that when I come to Washington, D.C. I can get into the most wonderful art museums without first taking a test of my art aptitude or achievement. There's an assumption that I'll be better off from the experience regardless of my prior understanding or appreciation of painting and sculpture. Second, I've seen some pretty average college freshmen—not ones who would be identified as the best and brightest using conventional measures, turn into outstanding students after a couple of years. I'm sure Andrew Carnegie would have agreed that civilization is better off when these students attend college.

One feature of higher education in the U.S. that seems critical to making the college experience worthwhile for these students, as well as for the very capable and well-prepared ones that they're mixed with in our classrooms, is that most professors here share a basic teaching philosophy. This was pointed out to me by Viktar Fedaseyeu, an Eastern student from Belarus who was surprised to find that American professors are more interested in helping students learn than in screening out the ones who have not learned enough. We care about value added. The most important teacher I ever had was Frank Roosevelt, an economics professor at Sarah Lawrence who perfectly embodies this view. He's much more interested in teaching than in testing and in encouraging than in evaluating. As a result, in his classes, and probably in most university classes in the U.S., even average students like I was, can learn to think critically, express their thoughts carefully, and view the world with an open mind.

I've been lucky at Eastern to have wonderful students. I also have terrific colleagues on the faculty and in the administration who share one goal—providing the best education possible for our students. Being a good college teacher is easier when it's clear that you'll be rewarded and appreciated for that work as much as for your research. So thank you to my colleagues who are here from Eastern, especially Dimtrios Pachis and Pat Kleine, who nominated me for this award.

Thank you again to CASE and to the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching for honoring undergraduate teachers. Sarah, thanks for the kind introduction. If anybody is looking to hire a young Student Affairs Professional, she'll be graduating in May and you couldn't make a better hire. Thank you to Viktar and Mark for what must have been compelling letters of support. Finally, to my family—my parents, my uncle, my husband and my children—thank you for always being supportive. Thank you.