Fine Arts dean honours two professors for teaching excellence

Two faculty members in the Faculty of Fine Arts were recognized for excellence in teaching with the presentation of the Dean’s Teaching Awards at a reception on Sept. 23.

Theatre Professor Erika Batdorf and film Professor Howard Wiseman were presented with a plaque and applauded for their dedication to their students and colleagues and their contributions in and out of the classroom.

“I’m so pleased to present these teaching awards to two very deserving professors,” said Dean Barbara Sellers-Young. “Their enormous contributions as teachers and the very meaningful connections they have forged with their students and faculty colleagues is evidenced in the many wonderful letters of support accompanying their nominations that I’ve had the pleasure of reading. In addition, these artist-educators make remarkable research contributions in and across their disciplines. Thank you both for everything that you do, and the impact you have through your teaching and your art.”

Above: Film Professor Howard Wiseman, Faculty of Fine Arts Dean Barbara Sellers-Young and theatre Professor Erika Batdorf

Batdorf, who has earned acclaim in her many roles as playwright, choreographer, director, performer and dramaturge, received the Faculty of Fine Arts Dean’s Senior Teaching Award, which recognizes tenured professors.

“Erika supports all of her students wonderfully,” said Professor Elizabeth Asselstine, chair of the Department of Theatre. “She has a huge sense of responsibility for each of them to find their way – whatever that way is. And she involves many alumni in her research – continuing that support and education.”

“As chair, I too have found great support from Erika as we work through changes in curriculum, new directions in the department and day-to-day problem-solving,” said Asselstine. “She’s a terrific team player, and the whole department is delighted that she’s been awarded this well-deserved accolade.”

In letters supporting her nomination, Batdorf’s students described her as attentive, respectful, open-minded, devoted and wise, commending her “heart of gold” and her “untiring sense of feeling and responsibility.” One student enthused: “I’m still astounded at how much I’ve grown as an actor over the course of the year, and I owe most of that to the guidance of Erika Batdorf.”

“It’s an honour when you receive an award, but in the context of working in a team, sometimes it feels awkward,” said Batdorf. “Without the collaborative efforts of my colleagues in the Theatre Department, my teaching would not be what it is today. I am truly grateful for the camaraderie, collaboration, support and skills of my colleagues in the Theatre Department. None of us could serve our students as well if we worked alone.”

Wiseman, an award-winning screenwriter who joined the Faculty of Fine Arts in 2008, received the Dean’s Junior Teaching Award.

“It’s been a great experience and a privilege to teach with Howard,” said Amnon Buchbinder, chair of the Department of Film. “I’ve been in a thesis defence with him, witnessing what could have been the beginning of a downward spiral from the defender. Howard asked what seemed to be a simple question – a question that allowed the student to connect with himself despite the pressure of the situation. In this instance and many more, Howard exemplifies that respect is really at the core of what we do. Our students offer us the opportunity and the responsibility to view them with respect as artists. It’s a reciprocal gift that gets passed between us.”

This sentiment was echoed in many ways by Wiseman’s students. They said: “He treated me like an equal” and that the structure of the class “made us feel like a team with Howard as our coach.” His students appreciated his pedagogical delivery: “It’s impossible not to be swept up in what he teaches” and one noted that Wiseman “transformed me as a writer.” A student commented eloquently: “I may have gone into class looking for answers, but Howard provided me questions and illustrated how life, like screenwriting, is not about where you end up but how you get there.”

“It’s very humbling to be presented with this honour in the midst of so many great teachers,” said Wiseman. “I owe big thanks to my students, and also to my colleagues who have always been supportive and generous with their advice on teaching, and who are constantly engaged in trying to reach and affect our students. I’ll single out Professor emeritus Evan Cameron who first took me under his wing, for making me feel that what I had to offer was special.”

The Faculty of Fine Arts Dean’s Teaching Awards were established to recognize excellence in teaching by full-time faculty members. Anyone can initiate a nomination, including a student, peer or department chair. Members of the Faculty of Fine Arts Research, Grants & Awards Committee adjudicate the submissions, taking into consideration class polls, supervision, new teaching initiatives undertaken, new courses taught, research related to teaching and curriculum development, and contributions to life and vibrancy in the Faculty of Fine Arts.

In addition to the recognition awarded through their personal plaques, Batdorf’s and Wiseman’s names will be engraved on a Faculty of Fine Arts plaque mounted permanently at the north entrance to the Centre for Film & Theatre, recording their outstanding achievement – and that of previous award-winners –  for permanent, public recognition.