Willamette University Professor Named Oregon Professor of the Year

Suresht Renjen BaldSuresht Renjen Bald, a Willamette University politics professor for 21 years, is the Oregon Professor of the Year. Selected by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, Bald is one of 43 professors honored nationally from a pool of 400 nominees.

In the last 13 years, the Carnegie Foundation and CASE have named seven Willamette University faculty members Oregon Professor of the Year.

"Professor Bald is widely regarded as a master teacher, virtually a legend on the Willamette campus," said Willamette University President M. Lee Pelton. "She is recognized for her early use and development of the case-method approach to teaching American foreign policy and for her pioneering efforts in adapting collaborative learning to small-group settings.

"The best teachers have the most crammed address books, filled with students' names and address changes over many years of acquaintance, and not just during the four years of their undergraduate education." He added, "Professor Bald stands firmly in this fine tradition."

Born in India, Bald was drawn to teaching at a very young age. "I would come home from my school and promptly gather all the children of the immediate neighborhood and run a 'school,' she said. "In hindsight, I think I became a better learner by 'teaching.' While this experience planted in me a vague desire to teach, ironically, it was my pompous and ineffective professors at Delhi University who fed and gave shape to that wish."

With a bachelor's and a master's degree in history from Delhi University, Bald came to the United States to earn a Ph.D. in government at Harvard University. She taught at the University of California, Riverside and Santa Cruz, before joining the Willamette University faculty in 1982.

In 1985, Bald received the Burlington Northern Foundation Faculty Achievement Award in teaching and subsequent awards for teaching and scholarship. In 1990, she was awarded the Pew Fellowship in International Affairs. The Willamette faculty selected her as their mentor for 1993-97, an honor that for Bald is especially meaningful.

In 1998, she was invited by the president of Josai International University in Chiba-ken, Japan, to help design a program in women's studies. She returns to Japan every summer to teach the core courses for the program.

"I consider teaching a political act," Bald said, "How we teach can either empower or disenfranchise out students: we can either encourage them to think independently, read and write critically, and accept diversity of ideas and cultures as enriching rather than threatening, or, we can crush their spirit of inquiry in insisting on conformity, acceptance and deference.

"Having had first-hand experience with the latter, I have consciously chosen to follow the former route in my teaching. To me, the most rewarding moment is when I see a student's crinkled eyebrows straighten, her eyes acquire a clarity and twinkle for she has figured out a particular complex point in the text. In that moment, she has come closer to being an independent learner for she has discovered the joy of working something out for herself."

She added, "I believe that while we are engaged in the intellectual development of our students, we would be remiss as educators if we neglected to foster in them a sense of ethical responsibility as citizens of an increasingly complex and diverse global community. I am deeply aware that one day my students will be in positions of power, as scholars engaged in the production of knowledge, or as decision-makers in government or private organizations. I hope at that time if they make decisions that impact other human beings or the environment, they will remember some of the heated discussions in my classroom and act in a socially responsible way. I believe in my students' sound judgment and sense of decency. I feel privileged to have the opportunity to learn with a new group of bright, eager students every semester."

Among the pile of enthusiastic nomination letters from colleagues and former students, is a letter from Erin Dougherty, Sitka, Alaska, Willamette University Class of 2000. She writes, "I was recently awarded a Fulbright grant to study in Norway for the 2003-04 academic year. Professor Bald was instrumental in helping me define my Fulbright proposal. With the Fulbright, I will study the Sami, the indigenous people of northern Scandinavia, and their development as a political force within the Norwegian state. I decided to pursue a project like the Fulbright because of an increased interest in international politics and its effect on women and indigenous minority groups. This interest first began in class with Professor Bald and I credit her for opening a new world of research for me."

Stephen Kirk, a 1993 Willamette graduate, is now a Ph.D. candidate in political science at the University of Chicago. He said, "Professor Bald has had a major impact on my life. I decided to pursue an academic career largely because of her influence. She strengthened my passion for politics and served as a role model for the kind of career I would like to have. I have focused on public policy analysis, using the tools of political science to address issues of public concern. I hope my dissertation is true to her philosophy."

Professor Bald will retire from Willamette University next spring.