10 Professors Who Are Institutions At Their Schools

Tim Handorf

Hi Thomas,

We at Bestcollegesonline.com recently came across your blog and were excited to share with you an article “10 Professors Who Are Institutions At Their Schools” that was published on our blog at Best Colleges Online Blog , and we hoped that you would be interested in featuring or mentioning it in one of your posts.

Either way, I hope you continue putting out great content through your blog. It has been a sincere pleasure to read.

Thanks for your time,
Tim Handorf


Hi Tim,

Thanks for your recommendation. I agree with you that many of the readers will find your article interesting. Thanks for sharing it!



Celebrity teachers are a dime a dozen. Oprah Winfrey or Wyclef Jean may breeze through a campus one semester, or high-profile politicians or businesspeople may take a few months off to teach a course or two. But only a handful of students get to experience those classes, and their lasting impact is questionable. There is, however, another class of celebrity professors on college campuses: the men and women who have been teaching so long they’ve become a part of the university experience for scores of young people. They become institutions at their schools, virtually synonymous with their respective colleges. These 10 legendary people are such professors.


When Denzel Washington needed an advisor for his movie The Great Debaters, he turned to “the best debate coach in the world,” Dr. Thomas Freeman. The 93-year-old Freeman has been teaching psychology and philosophy at Texas Southern since 1943, an incredible 69 years. In 1949 he became the coach of the school’s famous debate team and has since groomed hundreds of young orators, including the famous debater U.S. Rep. Barbara Jordan. The recently opened Dr. Thomas F. Freeman Honors College will ensure the legendary name lives on at the school. And as for retirement? Freeman says, “As long as God gives me strength and good health and there is a need for my services, I will be available.”


Being a famously conservative voice in the overwhelmingly liberal Ivy League has probably only heightened Donald Kagan’s visibility at Yale. He is noted for a distaste for multiculturalism and for being a prominent figure in neoconservatism. But despite his personal views, the man is a legend at Yale. His is usually the first name mentioned by Elis when asked to name the most recognizable profs on campus. He first began teaching history at the school in 1960 as an assistant professor and worked his way up to Sterling Professor of Classics and History, serving briefly as dean of Yale College and winning a slew of awards along the way. His “Introduction to Ancient Greek History” remains one of the most popular courses at Yale.


Speaking of conservatives, this is another right-wing professor who has been mixing it up with Ivy League liberals for half a century. Government professor Harvey Mansfield first came to Harvard as a student in 1949 and, as his Harvard bio puts it, he’s hardly left since. This year marks his 50th year teaching Crimson. And while he feels his political leanings have hindered his academic recognition at the school, such notable people as George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush have valued his ideas enough to seek his input while they were president. Mansfield is taking a sabbatical this school year, but he’s not ready to talk retirement just yet.


With “only” 22 years of teaching at Cornell under his belt, Charles Williamson is a relative rookie compared to most of the profs on this list. But poll any sample of Big Red students on their favorite teacher, and you’ll invariably hear the name “Skipper,” as the faculty advisor for sailing is affectionately known. The school’s magazine has referred to Williamson as having “all the attributes of a beloved mentor,” citing his being chosen 12 times by the Merrill Presidential Scholars as their favorite teacher and mentor. Since taking a job at Cornell teaching mechanical and aerospace engineering, Williamson has established himself for both his groundbreaking research in fluid dynamics and his lighthearted teaching philosophy: “I can have fun with anything.”


Here on campus in Iowa City, this professor has been teaching printmaking to Hawkeyes semester after semester, every Tuesday and Thursday, every year since 1962. Because she is so humble, many students outside the School of Art and Art History may not even realize they have a professor who has been teaching since John F. Kennedy was president. But the students that do go through her course have received the benefit of both her vast knowledge of intaglio printmaking and foil imaging, and her “mother-like” teaching style. Myers is an institution in the art form, having presented more than 100 shows and collections at museums across the country.


Way back in 1974, this anthropology professor began his teaching career at UC Boulder. He’s been described (as a compliment) by a student as “Donald Duck on crack.” He has won a handful of teaching awards at the school, including the Excellence in Education Outstanding Professor Award, the Boulder Faculty Assembly Teaching Award (twice), the SOAR teaching award (three times), and the Carnegie Foundation Colorado Teacher of the Year award. As a first-generation college student himself once, Van Gerven always had a soft spot for such students. He inspired a fellow professor to create the Claudia and Dennis Van Gerven First Generation Merit Scholarships in honor of van Gerven and his wife that will keep him present on campus in spirit after he retires this year.


Coker College in South Carolina is just over 100 years old; Deane Shaffer has been teaching there for half of its existence. The small liberal arts school has been the teaching home of this religion teacher since 1961, and it recently honored him as its longest-serving faculty member. Although he officially retired in 1999, Shaffer has stayed on as a professor emeritus to impart his wisdom of world religions to 13 more years’ worth of students. He’s served on the school’s board of trustees, won its Master Professor Award twice, and has headed a lecture series committee for years. At his Distinguished Service Award ceremony, he told the crowd that getting to work with inquisitive, eager young people has been the most rewarding part of his career.


In 1985, NC State turned to Dr. Reynolds to launch an astrophysics program at the school. Reynolds rewarded their trust by building one of the most respected high-energy astrophysics groups in the world, while becoming himself a renowned expert in the field. In 2008, he discovered the youngest supernova (just 100 years old) in the Milky Way. He has since been awarded UNCS’ highest teaching honor, the Board of Governors Award for Excellence in Teaching and been named an Alumni Distinguished Undergraduate Professor. Students know him as a mentor whose door is always open, while Reynolds says the unpredictability of what will spark an intellectual breakthrough in a student is what keeps teaching fresh for him.


Staples of campus life at this small liberal arts college in Pennsylvania include “Mountain Day,” when classes are canceled for a day of outdoor activities; a year-end dinner and show known as the Madrigal; and this chemistry professor. For 45 years, the Yale Ph.D. has been teaching students field flow fractionation and gas chromatography, or “providing seeds” as he describes teaching. Students no doubt hope his current sabbatical does not turn into something permanent. As one student said of Schettler, “He is so involved here and such a part of the chemistry department that I really can’t imagine not seeing him here.”


In the realm of social work, UConn is a leader, thanks in large part to Lynne Healy, who has been plugging away in the School of Social Work since 1979. She has certainly earned her recent title of Distinguished Professor. She was a crucial factor in the creation of UConn’s Center for International Social Work. Her 11 books and 50-plus scholarly articles on the field have proven her an authority on the subject, especially her important International Social Work: Professional Action in an Interdependent World. Any graduate student to come through the social work program in the last 30 years has been privileged to study under “one of the most outstanding pioneers” in the field.

Source: Best Colleges Online

About profesorbaker

Thomas Baker is the Past-President of TESOL Chile (2010-2011). He enjoys writing about a wide variety of topics. The source and inspiration for his writing comes from his family.
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