|Trustees Approve Promotion to Professor for Four Faculty Members
February 24, 2010
Contact: Bill Giduz
At its recent meeting, Davidson's Board of Trustees approved promotion to the rank of professor for four Davidson faculty members. They are Suzanne Churchill, professor of English, Neil Lerner, professor of music, Dave Robb, professor of philosophy and Durwin Striplin, professor of chemistry.
Professor of English Suzanne Churchill
Teaching and scholarship have always been complementary for Suzanne Churchill, who was recently promoted to professor of English. Now in her 14th year at Davidson, Churchill earned her undergraduate degree from Middlebury College and her Ph.D. from Princeton University.
She said, "I always felt that research would be important to me, and I wanted to make valuable contributions in my field. But it was a love of teaching that motivated my desire to get into this profession. I wanted to work at a place where teaching was valued, and scholarship was seen as a way to fuel it, rather than an end in itself. In a lot of ways, Davidson has been a perfect fit."
Churchill specializes in modern British and American poetry, modernism, little magazines, gender studies, and literature and the visual arts. Her current research interest focuses on modern periodicals, and she has written a book titled The Little Magazine Others and the Renovation of Modern American Poetry. The book analyzes gender construction in the experimental periodical Others, which was published in New York City in the 1910s and featured the early work of T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Wallace Stevens, Marianne Moore, and William Carlos Williams. She also co-edited the collection of essays Little Magazines & Modernism: new approaches.
Research and teaching create a mutually beneficial partnership in her seminar on modern magazines. She said, "There's so much unexplored periodicals material. In the teens and '20s paper was cheap, print reproduction and image reproduction had become faster, easier, and cheaper, and literacy rates were up. So there was an explosion of periodical presses. Anyone with a few dollars and access to a press could generate a magazine-just like today, when anyone with a computer and Internet access can start a blog or a webzine."
With so much information to explore, Churchill has found student collaboration to be highly productive. "It's difficult for any single scholar to mine it all, so the traditional model of literary scholar as lone researcher in the library doesn't work so well. A better model is that of a science lab where you have a group of researchers working on a complicated body of information to try to assess patterns and trends."
Using that model, she and students in her magazine seminar have written an article that will be published in a forthcoming edition of The Journal of Modern Periodical Studies. The Cambridge Handbook of Magazines will also publish an article co-written by Churchill and Ethan Jaffe '09, who spent a summer doing collaborative research funded by a Davidson Research Initiative (DRI) grant.
"I enjoy working in periodical studies because collaboration comes so naturally," she said. "It's quite possible for students not only to do original work, but also to get published."
Professor of Music Neil Lerner
Professor of Music Neil Lerner compares pre-tenure career development to a courtship. So if getting tenure is a marriage, a full professorship is a significant anniversary-a renewed commitment of the college to the professor. "I was pleased," he said. "It was a nice recognition to receive."
Lerner came to Davidson in 1997 after earning his Ph.D. from Duke in musicology with a specialty in the history and analysis of music and cinema. He began teaching at Davidson a few weeks after defending his dissertation, which concerned music in documentary films. "It hasn't slowed down since then," said Lerner.
His research interests include music in cultural history, disability studies, and U.S. film and media, and he has published 30 articles and two books in the fields of musicology and film studies. His books are titled Sounding Off: Theorizing Disability in Music and Music in the Horror Film: Listening to Fear.
"To study film music really means having to study an extremely broad range of music," Lerner explained. His extensive knowledge allows him to teach music history courses from antiquity to the present, humanities classes, and interdisciplinary classes on film and media. He also helped develop Davidson's film and media studies concentration.
Lerner finds teaching at Davidson to be thought provoking and rewarding. He recalled a seminar that he taught on horror films, at a time when he was working on a book about horror films, saying, "When you get 12 Davidson students energized about a topic, you have a room full of sharp thinkers and probing questions. Usually you have to have a graduate program to do that. Although they didn't get to grade my work as I did theirs, their ideas certainly pushed me further along in my own thinking."
In addition to the caliber of the students, Lerner said, "The great thing about Davidson is the incredible amount of freedom for faculty research." This has allowed Lerner to pursue untraditional topics, such as the intersection of music and disability studies.
Lerner was part of the steering group for the Strategic Planning process's curricular development committee. He has been the faculty adviser for Davidson's chapter of Hillel, and before that, the Jewish Student Union.
He will be on sabbatical next year. His plans include taking over as editor of the journal American Music and serving as secretary of the Society for American Music. He will remain busy researching and writing, deciphering the music behind the culture and the culture behind the music.
Professor of Philosophy Dave Robb
Dave Robb serves as chair of the six-person philosophy department, which in 2007 received the American Philosophical Association's Award for Excellence and Innovation.
Robb earned his bachelor's degree at Stanford University, and his master's and Ph.D. degrees from Cornell, writing a dissertation on "The Metaphysics of Causality." He was a visiting professor at Davidson in 1996-97, then taught for a year each at Bates College and Brooklyn College CUNY before accepting a tenure-track position back at Davidson in 1999.
Robb specializes in the philosophy of mind and metaphysics, especially mental causation, consciousness, and the nature of properties. A fan of Spinoza, Hume and Russell, Robb explained, "I have a deep respect for science, and believe science and metaphysics can inform one another, but I still think that by and large, philosophy should remain an autonomous, a priori discipline."
Outside of metaphysics, his interests include evolutionary psychology and the history of 20th-century philosophy. Courses he has recently taught include "Philosophy of Science," "Philosophy and the Narrative Arts," "Human Beings and the Natural World" and "Philosophy of Mind."
Robb recently wrote a chapter on "Substance" in The Routledge Companion to Metaphysics, and co-wrote a chapter on "Mental Causation" in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Among his other recent publications include an essay on consciousness and one on causal necessity.
Professor of Chemistry Durwin Striplin
Durwin Striplin, a summa cum laude graduate of Eastern New Mexico University who earned his Ph.D. at Washington State University, hopes to discover the "holy grail" of chemistry. For the past 15 years, his research has concerned breaking down water into its component elements of hydrogen and oxygen, a process that would provide an almost limitless supply of fuel for hydrogen-burning engines. The system he and two students a year work on would mimic photosynthesis in leaves. "We keep getting closer and closer," he asserted, "and that provides motivation to keep working on various parts of the puzzle."
Striplin held a postdoctoral fellowship at UNC after completing his studies at Washington State. The Davidson faculty position, which he accepted in 1996, is his first and only teaching job. His wife, Caryn, is also a chemist, and the couple has three children.
While his vocation is chemistry, his passion is music. Striplin has played leading roles in community theatre musicals, sings in the college choir, and performs regularly with fellow faculty members in "The Four Coursemen" barbershop quartet.
Striplin received the Student Government Association's 2006-07 Faculty Award as an asset in the classroom, and for expressing a strong interest in the lives of students outside the classroom. The award cited him as a "beacon of enthusiasm, whose charisma and dedication to teaching inspire all of those around him."
One student wrote, "Dr. Striplin is a great character, and he kept me so engaged learning about chemistry. He has a brilliant way to take boring topics and make them so interesting and applicable. He gives students energy."
Striplin said he's felt tremendous expressions of congratulations from fellow faculty members since the announcement of his promotion, and is grateful for the assurance. "The new title doesn't really change my status," he said, "but it solidifies the fact that Davidson is my home, it's who I am, and it is going to be my permanent community."
Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,800 students located 20 minutes north of Charlotte in Davidson, N.C. Since its establishment in 1837 by Presbyterians, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is consistently regarded as one of the top liberal arts colleges in the country. Through The Davidson Trust, the college became the first liberal arts institution in the nation to replace loans with grants in all financial aid packages, giving all students the opportunity to graduate debt-free. Davidson competes in NCAA athletics at the Division I level, and a longstanding Honor Code is central to student life at the college.