Distinguished Teaching Awards honor the best of UW

When a group of faculty, students and alumni met in 1970 to award the first UW Distinguished Teaching Awards, they planted a seed that has grown into a mighty tree of learning.

On the silver anniversary of the award program, we are taking a long look at that tree and the fruit it bears. Columns has tried to contact all 85 winners. For those who are deceased, we have asked colleagues for their remembrances. In our cover story, you will find the first installment of a two-part retrospective on what these professors have been up to, as well as their thoughts on teaching.

We’ve even prodded them to tell us about some memorable students—one award winner had both serial killer Ted Bundy and Seattle Mayor Norm Rice in his classes—or share some unforgettable students’ excuses—the classic, “My dog ate it,” is being replaced by a new classic, “My computer ate it.”

A symbol of the University’s commitment to teaching is the fact that one of the original 1970 winners, Fred Campbell, is now dean of undergraduate education at the UW. One of his many tasks in that position is guiding the selection of the current teaching award winners.

“It is very difficult,” he says of the process. “At any given time there are a number of faculty who are very deserving. Many, many faculty are nominated over and over again before they are finally selected.”

Looking at his profession, Campbell says that teaching is an extraordinarily consuming activity. “It becomes not just a job but a way of life. Only a few people get this award, but many of our faculty live that life,” he says.

“The teaching award is not just honoring those who have been chosen. It really honors all the faculty who commit themselves to that kind of a life.” In a similar way, this issue not only honors the Costigans, the Konicks and the Buechels who have touched so many students, but all the teaching faculty at the University who have committed their lives to the tree of learning.