Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Dr. Nicholas Barron: recipient of the Oustanding Teaching by Adjunct Faculty Award
An Evansville native, Barron has taught at USI for three years. He has a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Purdue University, a theological studies degree from Saint Meinrad School of Theology, and a master’s degree and Ph.D. in philosophy from Southern Illinois University.
According to Dr. Julie Evey-Johnson, assistant dean of the College of Liberal Arts and acting chair of the Department of Philosophy, Political Science and Public Administration, Barron typically teaches several sections of Introduction to Ethics, a class in the University Core Curriculum. “Thus he teaches exclusively in the Core. It is rare then that he teaches students majoring in philosophy. Given this, I am overwhelmed by the support his students gave when I told them I was nominating Dr. Barron for this award.”
One student said, “Dr. Barron is by far the best professor I have had during my two years at USI. He truly cares about each of his students and wants each one to excel and learn.” Others cited his “passion for the material,” “willingness to help,” and fairness.
Evey-Johnson said, “Over and over different students use the words passionate, knowledgeable, and fair to describe Dr. Barron, and they always add how much they have learned. Dr. Barron’s students admire him for the right reasons. They leave a required class wanting more.”
Humility is crucial to the philosophy and theology of St. Augustine, about whom Barron wrote his dissertation. It also is a significant idea in Barron’s life. “You have to recognize that you can be wrong, that you are not the Alpha and the Omega when it comes to the truth. Humility is good in life, but it’s good in the classroom as well. You can be wrong, so why instill in students ideas that are fallacious or may be mistaken?”
Barron believes his students should leave his class in command of a set of facts. “To be an educated person presumes a few things. From my class, and from my field, it presumes you know about Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, Homer, St. Augustine…when they get a bachelor’s degree they ought to be quote ‘educated’ and there are important things that will allow them to enter the cultural conversation of educated people. My exams are designed to make sure that minimally, they grasp a certain set of important facts when they are done with the course.”
He is determined that his students should leave his class better able to present ideas in a clear, coherent, and organized way. He encourages them to bring their papers to him in advance so he can read and criticize them in draft form. “I’m mainly interested in the structure, the form, the organization, and getting them to present me with an organized, fairly articulate, and clear thesis statement. And as they do that hard work, they become better and more proficient at it. Practically speaking, that’s what my papers aim for and I hope they take that away from the class.”
Barron describes his teaching style as “down to earth.” “It sounds naïve and simplistic, but I’m concerned with being just and fair as much as I can in the classroom. If they work and give me a decent effort, I try to structure the class so their grade will reflect that. If they make an effort, they learn something, and when they learn something then usually their grade reflects that. They’re happy and I’m happy because they’ve learned something.”
He said he also tries to treat students like what they are “whether they realize it or not”: adults. “They have decisions to make in life and in my classroom. Decisions have consequences. If they don’t come to class or don’t take notes, there are consequences.”
This is the second time the University has recognized Barron for excellence in teaching. He also is a recipient of the Dean’s Golden Apple Award of Excellence, presented annually by Dr. David Glassman, dean of the College of Liberal Arts.
Wendy Knipe Bredhold
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