Princeton Review names three Tufts professors among best in country
Published: Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, October 23, 2012 08:10
Professor of Political Science Robert Devigne, Senior Lecturer of Philosophy David Denby and Senior Lecturer of Mathematics Mary Glaser were listed among the country’s best 300 college professors by the Princeton Review and RateMyProfessors.com earlier this year.
The three are featured in the Princeton Review’s first ever “The Best 300 College Professors” book.
“All of them seem to have such contagious energy and very clearly are getting so many students excited about those different areas of study, first years through seniors,” Princeton Review Senior Vice President-Publisher Robert Franek, the book’s author, told the Daily.
The book profiles professors from 122 colleges across the nation, Franek said.
The Princeton Review is a test-preparation and college consulting company that has released more than 165 publications in print and digital formats. RateMyProfessors.com, a website where students can rate American college professors, has accumulated over 13 million professor ratings.
According to Franek, the Princeton Review sends out annual surveys to hundreds of thousands of college students across the United States asking them to evaluate their professors. This information was combined with ratings from RateMyProfessors.com to create a smaller list of 1,000 professors and then a final list of 300.
“It’s a crossing of both the information, feedback on a professor and feedback on a student’s overall academic experience,” Franek said.
The book aims to provide high school students, their parents and guidance counselors with a guide for choosing a school that fits best, Franek added.
“We wanted to give those college-bound students a resource that can make them more college-savvy,” he said. “We also thought that there wasn’t a great deal of information out there about specific professors who are doing superlative jobs in making their content areas exciting for students. We wanted to highlight those professors.”
Devigne, who has taught in the Department of Political Science for 21 years, exposes students to traditions and political theory in western civilization as well as renowned philosophers. His upper-level courses are very debate-driven, he explained.
“One, I insist that students root their comments and views based on the material that we’ve read,” he said. “Two, I encourage a lot of debate and even conflict among students around what they interpret.”
Devigne noted that part of his teaching style involves questioning students’ interpretations during in-class debates, a technique that he said students have appreciated.
“I find that students actually appreciate civil debate over what is right or wrong and better or worse rather than just assuming everybody’s okay and every opinion is fine,” he said.
Glaser, who has taught in the Department of Mathematics since 1986, said she strives to make her students feel at ease if they need help.
“I like to create the most comfortable atmosphere possible in the classroom because you need to ask questions to understand math,” she said. “Math is a funny thing because it can be scary. You have to take that fear away so people are open to learning.”
She added that she conveys information in ways that appeal to students’ different learning styles, such as displaying Russian nesting dolls or cutting butternut squash to teach concepts visually.
“I’m constantly thinking of ways to present something that will stick in their heads and demonstrate what I’m talking about,” she said. “I try to make it fun too. I could be teaching something very complex and difficult but we’re having fun at the same time.”
Denby has been teaching metaphysics, ethics and philosophy at Tufts since 1996. He explained that he steers the learning towards philosophers’ arguments and theories.
“I mine the works for their arguments and theories without focusing on who influenced who or the context of the society at the time,” he said.
He also described an interactive methodology that he uses in the classroom, which he believes encourages student participation and gives classroom debates staying power.
“I usually put arguments on the board and explain them, making sure that the terms are clear and the rationales to the claims are clear,” he said. “Then the students just kind of launch into them, attacking the arguments, and I defend [the arguments] and see how it goes from there.”
Devigne, Denby and Glaser all remarked that they were honored to receive the award and highlighted the work of their other Tufts colleagues.
“It’s quite nice, and it’s a bit of a surprise. It came completely out of the blue,” Denby said. “It’s nice to get a prize for the department and a prize for Tufts. Tufts deserves it.”