In the academic word, professorships are frequently referred to as essential elements in recruiting and retaining talented faculty members.
Consequently, they are sometimes viewed as perks primarily benefiting faculty. However, a close examination of just one UNF professorship illustrates how students are major beneficiaries and explains why their establishment remains a major part of The Power of Transformation campaign.
The Delaney Presidential Professorship was established in 2003 when Joan Wellhouse Newton and her sons, Martin E. Stein Jr., Richard W. Stein and Robert l. Stein made a $500,000 gift to UNF. It is one of two dozen professorships offered at UNF.
Since its establishment, three faculty members have been awarded the professorship, allowing them three years each to undertake innovative projects that have directly benefited hundreds of UNF students.
David Courtwright, a history professor, was awarded the first Delaney Professorship in 2005. He was followed by biology professor Greg Ahearn in 2008. Most recently, philosophy professor Andrew Buchwalter was awarded the professorship in 2011.
Courtwright, who has authored or co-authored a half-dozen historical books, took the opportunity offered by the Delaney Presidential Professorship to research and write “No Right Turn: Conservative Politics in a Liberal America.” Courtwright had been gathering material for this particular book for more than 20 years. He admits the three-year tenure of the professorship gave him the motivation to complete the project.
“It’s like a runner training for the [Gate] River Run,” he said. “After you sign up and pay your entry fee, you become much more serious about training.”
Even the process of preparing his proposal for the professorship served to sharpen his focus, he said.
“I needed to explain exactly what I wanted to do and how I was going to do it.”
However, the political history project dovetailed with his teaching.
“It turned out that a lot of the research that went into the book provided new material for my classes, ‘The United States since World War I’ and ‘The 1960s and Vietnam,’” he said.
Courtwright said he even asked some of his graduate students to read a draft copy of the manuscript as the starting point for class discussions.
The professorship’s research support of $7,500 a year for three years paid for Courtwright’s travel to presidential and national archives. The release time from his normal class load provided time to conduct the research and write the results. Even though he has spent his money and published his book, Courtwright said he will continue to benefit.
“I anticipate that the sources I have discovered and the contacts I have made during the three-year professorship will yield several additional research projects,” he said.
One of those connections led to him serving as guest editor for a special issue of The Journal of Policy History devoted to morality and politics.
Ahearn, who benefitted from the professorship from 2008 to 2011, tells a similar story.
He said the biggest benefit of the professorship for him was it allowed for more time in the lab with his students. Ahearn used some of the funds provided in the professorship to purchase chemicals and other critical supplies needed to run research programs in the lab. The funds, coupled with the reduced class load, made it possible to work more closely with students, he said.
“I was able to help them to more rapidly complete their own research projects and graduate a bit faster than they might otherwise have done,” Ahearn said.
As for Ahearn, the professorship made possible his research into nutrient physiology in aquaculture species of crustaceans. He researched aquaculture activities in the U.S. and abroad and the role the industry plays in providing protein to meet the demands of a growing world population.
During the professorship’s three years, Ahearn and his students were able to attend a number of scientific conferences and make presentations of the results of their work.
Both undergraduate and graduate students participated in the research and are in many cases listed as co-authors in several scientific publications.
“It was a great experience for me and my students, and I think it really adds a wonderful dimension to this University that was not available before its introduction,” he said.
Buchwalter, the newest recipient of the Delaney Professorship, said it will enable him to explore core themes in the field of “practical philosophy.” This field is central to the department’s master’s program in Practical Philosophy and Applied Ethics and several of the major and minor concentrations in the department’s undergraduate curriculum, he said.
“During my tenure, I will employ the tools of practical philosophy to consider two issues of central importance both to contemporary political theory and current social life — the place of religion in the public sphere and the idea of global justice,” he said.
Buchwalter added his research will be a great boon to his teaching at UNF by allowing him to update his current offerings and create new courses, while involving students in cutting-edge scholarship.
“Central to the project is the question of what it means to be a citizen, both in liberal democratic societies and as members of a global community,” he said. “It is my expectation that the resources made available by the professorship will assist me in fostering student thought and action on the meaning of citizenship in the world today.”
Buchwalter’s work thus adds to the work of Courtwright and Ahearn in benefitting UNF students and creating a challenging academic atmosphere that makes transformational experiences possible.
To date, The Power of Transformation Campaign has raised more than $15 million for professorships throughout the University, guaranteeing many more faculty and their students will benefit in future generations.