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Posted at 03:27 PM ET, 04/09/2012

The nation’s 300 best undergraduate professors?

A new book profiles 300 professors it deems the nation’s best undergraduate instructors, including a few dozen in Washington, Maryland and Virginia.

James Madison University, home to 11 of the nation’s 300 best professors, according to a new book. ((Photo by Ben Schumin via Wikipedia))
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, 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

By  |  03:27 PM ET, 04/09/2012

Categories:  Pedagogy, Rankings, Students | Tags:  college professors, college rankings

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