Bulging College bookshelves feature faculty authors
World religions, gun control, poetry, and Ugandan politics - those are just a few of the topics tackled in books written recently by Roanoke College professors.
Eight of the College's academic departments have been represented in the publishing world over the last couple of years. Roanoke's most prolific have been the departments of public affairs, religion/philosophy and English - each of which produced four books. Others have come from sociology, chemistry, business administration and math-computer science-physics. Even biology has been in there since January, when the 1994 classic Freshwater Fishes Of Virginia by recently retired professor Dr. Robert Jenkins '61 and Noel Burkhead '72 was reprinted.
Dr. Harry Wilson, who wrote Guns, Gun Control, and Elections: The Politics and Policy of Firearms, says Roanoke College expects its professors to do scholarly work, but he sees a crucial difference between Roanoke and larger, research institutions. Here, the faculty remains concentrated on teaching, and their students have direct access to them and even benefit from their instructors being published. The learning process that the professors go through translates to the classroom in terms of research techniques and knowledge of subjects.
"It keeps us intellectually engaged as professors, so the students aren't getting the same thing they did when I started teaching 20 years ago," Wilson says. In the spring of 2007, for example, Wilson taught a May term course on gun control, which was another benefit from his four years of research and writing.
Dr. Mike Heller in the English department describes his writing and his work with students as a "dance we're doing together." He has all of his students keep journals, something that he does with them, and his recent publishing has grown out of his journal writing. "I show them that journals are a rich possibility. I don't read their journals, but I have built into the class a private-to-public process, where every three weeks or so they have to turn in a project. I do this with them, and so I've found a lot of stimulation from my own life and writing."
Dr. Todd Peppers, a professor in Public Affairs, also has gained from working with students. In fact, the research he did with several of them on Supreme Court law clerks resulted in his book Courtiers of the Marble Palace: The Rise and Influence of the Supreme Court Law Clerk, published in April 2006. Among the students who helped are Carrie Harris '05, now at the College of William & Mary Law School; Jessica Swanson '06, in graduate school now at Virginia Tech, Kelli Goad Hylton '04, working now as a paralegal in North Pole, Alaska, and Andrew Crowder '04.
But that's not the only way Peppers gets his students involved. Bridget Tainer-Parkins '06, for example, helped research Justice Horace Gray and his law clerks for an article that will appear in the upcoming issue of the Journal of Supreme Court History, and she is co-author of another article the two are still working on. Pretty good for a graduate now attending law school at Washington and Lee University. Similarly, Beth See '09 is in her third year of working with Peppers through the College's Undergraduate Research Assistant Program, known as URAP. It pairs students with professors over a four-year period and gives them graduate-level experience in being a scholar. See, now a junior, has been assisting Peppers in researching the death penalty in Virginia and the hiring of law clerks at the federal level - a spin-off of his book.
Tainer-Parkins says students gain tremendously from such experiences. "The small size of [Roanoke College] is conducive to great and unique opportunities for undergraduates to do this kind of work with professors," she says. "The administration is also a key player in providing opportunities through summer scholars, the URAP program and funding for research in general."
The organized partnerships between students and faculty provide a wonderful opportunity for students to have one-on-one contact with active scholars, says Dr. John Day, vice president and dean of the College. "Among juniors and seniors, it can lead to genuine collaboration," he says. "We have faculty who publish articles, especially in the sciences, where undergraduate students are named as coauthors of the publications. There is a higher proportion of Roanoke College students who get these opportunities than is true at a large university."
Dr. Melanie Almeder of the English department produced a well-received book of poetry while benefiting from the administration's willingness to help its professors find the time to work. Recognizing that it is difficult to teach a full load while producing publishable pieces, Day says the College believes "the three elements - teaching, professional development and service - feed each other and are a part of the successful and satisfying career." He points out that many of the recently published professors, such as Almeder, have been "Faculty Scholars." Identified by the Faculty Development Committee, they are released from one course per year for three years to give them more time for research and scholarly activity. Likewise, endowed professorships - such as the one that English professor Dr. Robert Schultz has - help faculty adjust their teaching load to give more time to their writing.
It's a fine balance between the two. Schultz, who is the John P. Fishwick Professor of English, had a critically acclaimed novel, The Madhouse Nudes, published in October 2006. He says teaching and writing go hand-in-hand.
"If a college is a place of learning, then the teachers have to keep learning too, and one of the best ways to do that is to research and write," he says. If the teaching load is too heavy, that will hinder faculty's professional development or "make it a very costly thing to shoehorn into their lives." Schultz has received professional activity grants for an upcoming book as well as funding from his endowed professorship.
The administration encourages faculty to keep a working balance. "Colleges like Roanoke put high demands on their faculty to be good at a variety of things - including both teaching and keeping up a passion for their intellectual interests. We feel there is an interconnection between them," explains Day. "Our focus provides the best possible education for our students at an undergraduate liberal arts college, and that can be sustained over time if members of the faculty have an ongoing intellectual interest that they are passionate about."
Almeder says her teaching and writing feed each other. Her book of poetry, On Dream Street, published in May, was a finalist for several awards and won the Tupelo Press Editor's Prize. What she does when she sits down to write is no different from what her students do. "What I hope to bring to the classroom is simply my experience of having written for longer than they have and my research into literary crafts," she observes. Almeder draws additional inspiration for the classroom from her experiences in the summer, as a Faculty Scholar and at writers' residencies, which she has held in New York, France, Ireland and Alaska.
"It's simple: the more I write, the more I learn about writing. The more I learn about writing, the more useful I am to my students as they engage the process," she says.
Peppers is constantly learning through his research, and then, he says, "I bring that into the classroom. Because of my research, I am able to give students a more nuanced understanding of how courts operate." On the other hand, his student Tainer-Parkins actually helped him by bringing a fresh perspective and new questions when researching the book about Supreme Court law clerks. "It's not a one-way street, intellectually speaking," he says.
The Jordan-Trexler Professor of Religion, Emeritus, Dr. Robert Benne, says his decision to come to Roanoke College was propelled by the ability to both teach and publish without detracting from either. The third section of his 2005 book Reasonable Ethics: A Christian Approach to Social, Economic, and Political Concerns, is comprised of columns he has written, some of which have worked their way into his class. His writing relates to his teaching because there are times when one develops a book specifically for teaching purposes. "My next book will be on religion and politics, and I plan to offer the course in the spring. I will be writing that book as I teach it, and students can read my chapters, respond and criticize them." He finds the duality of teaching and writing "a wholesome activity that keeps one alive in the field." However, he adds, Roanoke College is not a "publish or perish" institution, although one of the great differences he has noticed since he came to Roanoke in 1982 is that many more faculty now want to write and publish.
The resulting books, the emphasis on professional development, the interaction with students ... all of that not only has helped put the College on the national front, but has attracted teachers as well as students.
"It is an ideal that colleges in general aspire to," Schultz says. "It enhances the learning community by making learning possible among faculty."
For more on some of these recently published books, please visit www.roanoke.edu/facultybooks.