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By Jamie L. Freedman

They spend only three or four days a year in Foggy Bottom, nevertheless, GW’s Welling Professors are making their presence felt throughout the University community. The innovative program, named after 19th-century George Washington University President James Clark Welling, brings distinguished scholars from around the globe to campus for “occasional” professorships. Their teachings spark insightful conversations between the GW community and the academic world. Ideas about scholarly interests, practical applications of research, and best pedagogical practices are shared between these scholars and the GW faculty.

Established by GW President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg in 1995, the Welling Professorships are modeled after a similar program at Cornell University. “One day, I was reading through the accomplishments of our University Professor of Islamic Studies Seyyed Hossein Nasr and noticed that he had an appointment at Cornell,” Trachtenberg recalls. “When I asked him about it, he explained that it only involved a commitment of a couple of days a year. I thought ‘what a great idea,’ so we borrowed the concept for GW, or should I say adopted it, since we’re not planning to give it back!”

Trachtenberg, who crafted the program along with then-Vice President for Academic Affairs Roderick French, chose its name as a tribute to Welling, who guided GW through the era in which it acquired many of the attributes of a modern research university. “By naming the program after Welling, we tried to underscore that moment in our institutional history when GW transformed from a liberal arts college into a research university,” Trachtenberg says. “The Welling Professorships bring interesting, renowned academic scholars from other prestigious institutions around the world into the GW conversation and contribute to the intellectual life of the University.”

Welling Professors are appointed for two years, with an option for a third year. During their annual visits to campus, they spend several days sharing their expertise with faculty members and students within the GW community via colloquiums, guest lectures, faculty seminars, small group discussions, office hours, and other forums. They also give public lectures in their field of specialty. Each Welling Professor is nominated and sponsored by a particular GW school, which handles his or her logistics, itinerary, and publicity.

“The Welling Professors are scholars of the top class in their respective fields, which is, of course, why they are selected,” says Donald R. Lehman, executive vice president for academic affairs, who oversees the selection process.

“We’ve had an interesting run of distinguished people, beginning with our first Welling Professor, Abba Eban, the former Israeli foreign minister, and continuing through to the present,” says Trachtenberg. “They all bring extremely valuable perspectives to GW and add spice to the academic year.”

A case in point is Alan H. Schoenfeld, the Elizabeth and Edward Conner Professor of Education at the University of California, Berkeley, who was a Welling Professor in 2001 and 2002. An expert on the psychology of mathematical thinking and problem solving, as well as on how to teach math to diverse student populations in urban centers, Schoenfeld is past president of the American Educational Research Association and vice president of the National Academy of Education.

“It’s a perfect position for someone like me, because I’m a born troublemaker,” says Schoenfeld of his GW appointment. “The Welling Professorship offered me the opportunity to come to GW’s school of education and serve as a consultant on all levels—from the dean on policies supporting faculty to the minutiae of the internal business office to working with beginning assistant professors about issues on their minds.”

Abba Eban, former Israeli foreign minister, was GW’s first Welling Professor.Professor.

During his two visits to GW, Schoenfeld served as the keynote speaker at a faculty-wide education department retreat; spoke at several brown bag lunches for students, faculty, and alumni; and worked directly with some of the school’s centers and institutes on effective strategies for enhancing student learning and faculty research.

“It’s very challenging to do good work in schools of education, since they have two missions to satisfy—a research role and a community service role,” says Schoenfeld. “Since GW has a serious educational mission to help improve the D.C. schools and one of my interests is diversity, I focused my high-profile talk on ways to ensure that all kids, including minorities and children from low socioeconomic backgrounds, are well served by the educational system.”

The lecture attracted attention on Capitol Hill. “Senator James Jeffords’ staff attended, and since they, too, are seriously concerned about issues of diversity, they invited me back to the senator’s office to talk about possible legislation that could have an impact on issues of diversity,” says Schoenfeld. “A Welling Professorship, therefore, is a nice platform for getting a message out to people who count and who can make a difference.”

Mary H. Futrell, dean of GW’s Graduate School of Education and Human Development, says Schoenfeld made substantial contributions during his visits to the University. “Because of our location in Washington and the diverse student populations that we serve, his insights were extremely helpful,” she says. “He taught our faculty strategies for enhancing the pedagogical skills of our graduates in teaching and in working with students from varied backgrounds, and we were absolutely delighted with his presentations. Our faculty members found his visit enlightening and enjoyed the opportunity to work with him.”

Schoenfeld is quick to state that the Welling Professorships are a “win-win situation” for everyone. “I really like the program. It is fun for the visitors, of course, but it serves some very good institutional needs, as well,” he says. “Welling Professors come to campus, help the University think about important issues, do some troubleshooting, and then go home and represent the GW department to the outside world—all in the most supportive, friendly way possible.”

“GW is one of those universities that is on an upward trajectory, and it’s a pleasure to be a small part of it”

—Robert Stevens, of counsel at Covington and Burling in London and senior research fellow at the Constitution Unit, University College, London

While Schoenfeld was hosted solely by GSEHD, the school also recently partnered with GW Law School to co-host current Welling Professor Robert Stevens. Stevens, of counsel at Covington and Burling in London and a senior research fellow at the Constitution Unit, University College, London, flew in from England in October to spend a week at GW.

Highlights of Stevens’ academic career include teaching law for 17 years at Yale University, and serving as provost of Tulane University, president of Haverford College, chancellor of the University of California, Santa Cruz, and master of Pembroke College Oxford. He is the author of numerous articles and 10 books, including Legal Education in America from the 1850s to the 1980s and, most recently, The English Judges.

“I had a spectacular week at GW and absolutely found the experience to be extremely valuable and educational,” says Stevens. “GW is one of those universities that is on an upward trajectory, and it’s a pleasure to be a small part of it.”

Splitting his time between GW Law School and GSEHD, Stevens lectured on topics ranging from developments in higher education internationally to professional responsibility in the classroom. He also addressed a faculty luncheon about Great Britain’s current efforts to establish a Supreme Court.

“He was very knowledgeable about both the American and British systems of higher education, and we were impressed by his thoughtful responses to questions throughout his seminar,” says Futrell. “We also appreciated his willingness to stay after the presentation to talk to our students of higher education administration, international education, and other interested attendees on an individual basis. There’s such value in having people who are experts in their fields come from around the world to share experiences and thoughts with us.”

GW’s Welling Professors

Frederick Becker, vice president for research and director of the Tumor Institute, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, University of Texas

Allen Brown, director of technology and Xsoft Fellow, Xerox Corp.

Michael Doyle, professor of politics and international affairs, and director, Center of International Studies, Princeton University

Abba Eban, former Israeli foreign minister

Ustun Erguder, director, Istanbul Policy Center, Sabanci University

John Lewis Gaddis, professor of history, Yale University

Robert Holthausen, professor of accounting and finance, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania

John Kingdon, professor emeritus of political science, University of Michigan

Lillian McDermott, professor of physics, University of Washington

Philip Nader, professor of pediatrics and chief, Division of Community Pediatrics, University of California, San Diego

Alan Schoenfeld, professor of education, University of California at Berkeley

Jagdish Sheth, professor of marketing, Goizueta School of Business, Emory University

Elliott Soloway, professor of electrical engineering and computer science, University of Michigan

Robert Stevens, of counsel at Covington and Burlington; senior research fellow, Constitution Unit, University College, London

This type of relationship building across universities is a key element of the program. Relationships forged between Welling Professors and GW faculty and students often continue long after the formal appointment ends. “Some of the PhD students whom I met at GW corresponded with me for a couple of years afterwards, and I’m still in touch with a few faculty members,” says former Welling Professor Robert Holthausen, the Nomura Securities Co. Professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, who was hosted by GW’s School of Business and in the late 1990s.

An expert on the effects of organizational structure on financial performance, management compensation issues, and corporate restructuring and valuation, Holthausen shared his knowledge with the GW business school community in a well-received presentation on the effects of corporate governance structures and compensation practices on performance. “It was a hot topic then and now, which I have done extensive research on,” he says.

During his second visit, Holthausen’s lecture on accounting choice attracted several representatives from the Securities and Exchange Commission, as well as a number of GW accounting professors and students. “My presentation basically debunked a subset of the literature examining whether one accounting standard is better than others,” he says.

Holthausen says he particularly enjoyed getting valuable feedback on his work from the GW community and spending time with people in the field that he ordinarily would not have had a chance to get to know. “The Welling Professorship was much more than just visiting another university to present a paper, which we do all the time,” he says. “It was an opportu-nity to meet with the school’s students and faculty members
and discuss their research, and to spend some time sharing perspectives and developing relationships. I found it to be extremely worthwhile.”

Susan M. Phillips, dean of the School of Business, says the accounting department reaped substantial benefits from Holthausen’s visit. “It’s a small department with active research going on, so it was very helpful for them to have access to an outside scholar who visited with them periodically and developed a real relationship with them,” she says.

Often, a Welling Professor’s area of expertise dovetails with GW’s own goals. Take the case of public policy expert John Kingdon, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Michigan, who served three years as a Welling Professor, beginning in 1998. An authority on American government and politics, the legislative process, public policy making, and elections, Kingdon is the author of four books, including two that are staples of public policy programs around the country: Agendas, Alternatives, and Public Policies and Congressmen’s Voting Decisions.

“At the time that John Kingdon was appointed a Welling Professor, we were thinking about creating a GW institute of public policy,” recalls Lehman. “He and I had many valuable and stimulating conversations about different models that we might use, and we discussed methods for enhancing the University’s recognition in the public policy world.” GW officially opened its School of Public Policy and Public Administration this academic year.

During his three visits to GW, Kingdon delivered public lectures combining topical news with his scholarly work. One of his public lectures, for example, offered a scholar’s perspective on the Clinton impeachment saga. “I also made a couple of appearances in graduate student settings to talk about methodology and social sciences,” says Kingdon. “Those encounters were very successful, as the students and faculty had read my work and wanted to hear my perspectives firsthand.”

GW’s deans and top administrators give high marks to the program, which they say greatly links the University with the global scholarly community.

“I have found all of the Welling Professors to be very accessible, challenging, informative, and willing to work with faculty and students,” says GSEHD Dean Futrell. “The Welling Professors bring a different perspective from experts outside the University, and we learn from their experiences and exposure, which enhances what and how we teach.”

Futrell says one of the program’s most valuable features is that professors sign on for at least two years. “The professors get to know us and our programs, visions, and needs, and we get to know them,” she says. “That instills a much stronger commitment on behalf of both the Welling Professors and the school.”

She also appreciates the candor of the relationships. “The Welling Professors have both formal and informal discussions and conversations with our faculty and are not shy about the way they perceive things, which makes their input very helpful,” she says.

Trachtenberg says that’s exactly what he’d hoped when he set up the program nearly a decade ago. “The program creates a great two-way conversation, and, not incidentally, it’s also fun,” he says. “I’d like to see more similar kinds of activities here at GW, which add spice to the academic year without calling for egregious budgetary commitments. The Welling Professorships keep our people alert, stimulate new friendships, and allow us to show off a little bit in a tasteful way, so it’s all added value.”

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