You roll into class with your cup of coffee, grab a seat and open up your laptop. The professor at the front of the room is one of the most well-known and powerful people on campus, the university president.
Do you act differently? Raise your hand more often? Never to skip? Suck up a little more than usual? Or do you act the same as you do in all classes?
Last week I sat in on a sociology class at the University of Virginia that was taught by President Teresa Sullivan. (Here’s my story that ran in today’s paper.) Several of her students said they have quickly gotten to know her, offered their ideas for bettering the university and learned from her life experiences.
“She just has this arsenal of knowledge that’s breathtaking,” said Clay Kerch of, a second-year student from Alabama who is studying urban planning “I think she gets a lot of value from hearing about our experiences as students.”
Sullivan isn’t the only president who has carved out time to teach a class in her field. Doing so requires regularly being on campus, holding office hours and grading papers, so some president opt to team-teach a course or teach a shortened class over winter, summer or spring break.
Here what other presidents are teaching:
* St. Mary's College of Maryland President Joseph Urgo is teaching a two-credit literary seminar that meets on Fridays. The class is focusing on William Faulkner's “Absalom, Absalom!” which Urgo describes in his syllabus as a “great novel of history, memory, and imagination.” Urgo is a Faulkner scholar who has written two books, five edited volumes and numerous articles about the writer.
* Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia has taught a fall seminar during most of his years on the job. DeGioia has two degrees from Georgetown and is a professional lecturer in the Department of Philosophy. This fall, 15 freshmen enrolled in his course called “Living Global” that explored the idea of globalization. Some classes met in DeGioia’s office and included dinner.
* Shenandoah University President Tracy Fitzsimmons taught an undergraduate course this school year called “Development and Disaster Relief: Whether and How to Assist.” She’s not the only one teaching, as all senior administrators are required to teach, as long as they have the proper qualifications.
* American University President Neil Kerwin regularly lectures in the School of Public Affairs during winter and summer sessions. Kerwin, an expert in federal rulemaking and lobbying, gives a lecture titled, “Lobbying and the Regulatory Process.”
* Washington College President Mitchell Reiss is teaching a political science course this semester called, “Special Topic: US Foreign Policy Challenges.” Reiss is a former diplomat and worked as a State Department policy advisor.
* Catholic University President John Garvey is teaching Constitutional Law II (Pol 324) twice a week. Garvey, a former law school dean, allowed me to attend one of his classes last year.
* University of Richmond President Ed Ayers has taught a freshmen history class ever since arriving in 2007. This spring he is team-teaching a class called “Freeing Richmond” that “will explore the ways that people have pictured — and might picture — the patterns, processes, and events of U.S. history” by focusing on the emancipation in Richmond, according to a course description.
What about your university president? Is he or she teaching a class this year? Tell me about it in the comments section below.