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Maurer wins Balmuth Teaching Award

By Mark Walden on April 19, 2013
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Margaret Maurer

Margaret Maurer, William Henry Crawshaw Professor of literature (Photo by Alice Virden-Speer)

Margaret Maurer, William Henry Crawshaw Professor of literature, has won the 2013 Balmuth Teaching Award. Faculty, former students, and members of the Board of Trustees gathered at the Colgate Inn on April 4 to mark the occasion.

“We are here to celebrate our love of the enterprise of teaching — our core mission at Colgate,” said Provost and Dean of the Faculty Douglas Hicks. “And it’s so wonderful to celebrate that in the embodiment of the great teacher Margaret Maurer.”

Maurer joined the faculty in 1974 after finishing her PhD at Cornell University and spending a year as an instructor of English at the University of New Orleans. Since then, the Shakespeare scholar has urged generations of Colgate undergraduates to study, in her words, “things that resist the coherence that we try to impose on them through interpretation.”

When Mark Siegel ’73 created the Balmuth Award in 2010, he was simultaneously honoring Colgate’s tradition of great teaching and encouraging the vitality that Maurer embodies. President Jeffrey Herbst noted that the award allows the university community, “to acknowledge that we reward excellence above everything else,” he said. “That is a way of continuing to be successful not only now but well past our bicentennial.”

At the podium, Maurer highlighted particularly important moments in her career — a student performance of Love’s Labours Lost that was staged under her direction in 1979, various experiences leading the London Study Group, and teaching Core 151.

“When I found myself teaching Plato’s Dialogues in a class period right before teaching Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, I understood Feste’s catechism and Malvolio for the first time,” she said. “As my first-years in Core 151 struggled with Socrates’s arguments, premised on the Pythagorean understanding of the soul’s immortality, they were a whole class of little Malvolios.”

Maurer’s impact has spanned generations of little Malvolios, with former students now watching their own children register for her courses.

“Margaret’s courses are designed to develop a eureka-like understanding of the uses of language to reveal thought, motive, and action,” said the award’s namesake, Jerry Balmuth, Harry Emerson Fosdick Professor of philosophy and religion emeritus. “These are realized through the imaginative teaching of a master teacher.”

The master teacher, accepting her award, revealed how she spurred her imagination throughout the years: “I remember very vividly the day when I decided to destroy all my notes from the material I teach and start afresh each time,” she said. “I may or may not be an inspirational teacher, but I’m definitely a teacher who has been inspired by the privilege of engaging with young people in the environment of this kind of school.”

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