A new book profiles 300 professors it deems the nation’s best undergraduate instructors, including a few dozen in Washington, Maryland and Virginia.
It’s an interesting exercise. The book is certainly not comprehensive; it includes no one from the University of Maryland, the University of Virginia, George Washington or American universities, George Mason University or, for that matter, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, an institution recently profiled in the Post for undergraduate excellence. The book includes 11 professors from Virginia’s James Madison University — but none from Williams College, Johns Hopkins University or Duke.
There are reasons for these omissions, and there, perhaps, lies the value of the book.
The Princeton Review’s Best 300 Professors apparently starts by screening surveys completed by students at thousands of colleges, looking for colleges that consistently rate high for undergraduate teaching.
Students at James Madison apparently rave about their professors, as do their peers at the College of William and Mary (10 citations in the book), the University of Mary Washington (7) and Georgetown University (4).
Does that mean the professors at James Madison are better than those at U-Va. (or at Penn, which is similarly omitted)? Probably not. Many faculty and college presidents mistrust student ratings of their professors. Students are prone to rate a professor high if she or he is an easy grader, or if the subject is fun, or if their own standards are rather low. Harvard University employs many of the nation’s best professors, and serves some of the most critical students. Just two Harvard professors appear in the book.
On the other hand, student ratings offer a valuable consumer tool to fellow students. Professors have a love-hate relationship with RateMyProfessors.com, a site that collects student evaluations from around the nation. “It elevates student voices,” as Carlo DiMarco, a vice president at MTV Networks, told me in a 2010 article about the MTV-produced site and the JMU professor who ranked tops in the nation that year.
The Princeton Review used RateMyProfessors as an initial tool to identify popular professors at the 100-plus schools identified through its own surveys, then collaborated with the colleges to narrow the list to 300.
Here are the Washington-area professors who made the cut:
Beverly McCullough Almond, English, University of Mary Washington
Elizabeth Barnes, English, College of William and Mary
Kenn Barron, psychology, James Madison University
David Bernstein, computer science, JMU
Hector Campos, Spanish, Georgetown University
Matthew Carnes, government, Georgetown
Philip Daileander, history, W&M
David Daniel, psychology, JMU
David Dessler, government, W&M
Kimberly D.R. DuVall, psychology, JMU
Melvin Patrick Ely, history, W&M
Fredrick Frieden, psychology, W&M
Richard Gillin, English, Washington College
Stephen Guerrier, history, JMU
Dan Hubbard, accounting, Mary Washington
Larry Huffman, education, JMU
William Hutton, classics, W&M
David Jaynes, biology, JMU
Scott Lewis, chemistry, JMU
Miriam Liss, psychology, Mary Washington
Rowan Lockwood, geology, W&M
Stephen Long, political science, University of Richmond
Jeffrey McClurken, history, Mary Washington
Sam Potolicchio, American politics, Georgetown
Warren Rochelle, English, Mary Washington
Beverly Sher, biology, W&M
Gregg Stull, theater, Mary Washington
Barrett Tilney, art, Georgetown
Joseph Troncale, Russian, University of Richmond
Peter Vishton, psychology, W&M
Paul Warne, mathematics, JMU
Stephen Wassell, mathematics, Sweet Briar College
Steve Watkins, English, Mary Washington
Jim Whittenburg, history, W&M
William C. Wood, economics, JMU