Professor Friedman's Chad Oliver Teaching Award Acceptance, 2003
The Plan II Chad Oliver Award is presented each year, at the Plan II Graduation Convocation, to a Plan II professor for excellence in teaching. The recipient is chosen entirely by a committee of students on the basis of student nominations. Formerly known as the Plan II Teaching Award, the prize was first awarded in 1990 to Chad Oliver, who was a graduate of Plan II in the Harry Ransom years and later, for many years, a much-loved professor in Social Science 301. On his retirement, students voted to name the award for him.
The 2003 Chad Oliver Award recipient is Alan Friedman, Arthur J. Thaman and Wilhelmina Doré Thaman Endowed Professor in English Professor Friedman served as chair of UT's Faculty Senate and architect of the University Council; was the creator and Director of the English Department's Oxford Summer Program; and coordinator of the residency program, Actors from the London Stage. He specializes in twentieth-century British and American literature, although he teaches Shakespeare at every opportunity. In addition to UT, he has taught at universities in England, Ireland, and France. His four authored books include, most recently, Fictional Death and the Modernist Enterprise, which concerns cultural and literary attitudes toward death in the twentieth century. His six edited books include, most recently, Samuel Beckett in Black and Red and Situating College English: Pedagogy and Politics at a Contemporary American University, about hot cultural and higher educational issues, with UT's English Department serving as exemplum. His book in progress is Party Pieces: Joyce, Beckett and Performance.
This year, Professor Friedman teaches the year-long Reading and Composition in World Literature course which is required of all Plan II first-year students. In past years, Dr. Friedman has often taught Plan II Freshman Tutorials and Junior Seminars (many on Shakespeare's works), which have provided him with many of his happiest and most memorable academic experiences. He has a long, devoted relationship with Plan II, including serving as Director from 1972 to 1976. He is particularly fond of his current 603 class and the students who have provided him with his first directorial experience by volunteering to stage scenes from Measure for Measure, the play that Actors from the London Stage will perform at UT during the first week of October.
Shortly after being notified of the Chad Oliver award, Professor Friedman also received the Outstanding Professor Award given by Alpha Lambda Delta and Phi Eta Sigma, two honors societies.
Professor Alan Friedman Accepting the Chad Oliver Teaching Award
Among the consequences of my receiving this award two particularly pleasant ones stand out: first, memories of Plan II highlights through the years have come flooding in. And second, you get a captive audience that has to hear about them – an audience that includes my wife, my three sons, and my daughter-in-law.
I was made Plan II Director only 3 years after receiving tenure, and though I certainly didn’t think so at the time, it now occurs to me that this fact may say as much about the sad state into which the Program had fallen in the early 1970s as it does about my administrative genius. Just after dismemberment of Arts & Sciences & the creation of 4 units: Humanities, Natural Sciences, Social Sciences, & the Division of General & Comparative Studies, commonly known as the “grab bag” division because into it were crammed some 22 programs, everything from Religious Studies to ROTC.
Two staff people, housed in a tiny office on the 2nd floor of West Mall Office Building; no budget & little recognition by the University of the Program’s value. It was not even listed with all other departments and programs on the back page of Course Schedule – spent several years getting it listed: one of my biggest accomplishments. No scholarship money (& not allowed to raise any); could not contact parents (so formed an alumni group that included members of the first Plan II graduating class). No faculty support system; read all applications myself; went hat in hand to departments and colleges for best possible faculty -- and did receive very positive responses. Established joint arrangements with Honors programs around the campus, including one with the Business School through working with an administrator named Bill Cunningham. Created a study abroad option. No student organization, but began to get students involved in social events and other extra-curricular activities; even got one student to write a history of Plan II as a senior thesis.
As a Plan II teacher I have memories of some very special classes, including two that I team-taught. The first, in the days when junior seminars were year-long (which I still think they should be), was a course on death and dying with Betty Sue Flowers. It was an extraordinarily bright and articulate class that contained, among others, Sam Hurt (the cartoonist who created Hank the Hallucination, who ran for Student Government President and won, thereby becoming the first truly visionary student leader on this campus), Bryan Garner (now a foremost expert on legal English), and Louise Epstein (later elected to the Austin City Council).
A few years later I had an English 603 that was unique in its energy, motivation, and sheer delightfulness: the kind of class from which teachers go home happy. For some reason I had to forego teaching the second half of the course and urged my wife, Liz Cullingford, the great teacher in our family, to take it on. She did so but, to my amazement, she often came home complaining about them – until one day she said, with the force of a revelation, “this is your class, and they resent me as they would anyone in your place.” My reaction was, of course, dismay (though I think one part of me was a little glad); but I was not really surprised when, shortly thereafter, she said, “You’re right; they are wonderful.” The next year, that entire group not only insisted that we had to team-teach a special extra course just for them, but they worked out all the administrative details; arranged for the meetings to take place at our house (they would walk in saying “Hi Mom, Hi Dad, we’re home”); and stuck with us throughout their college careers and beyond: we directed most of their senior theses and held their defenses around our dining table while my wife breast fed our son Daniel who, as a result, has grown up thinking Plan II is as natural as mother’s milk.
And then there’s this year. I taught my first English 603 in a dozen years because I always say yes when Plan II calls; but with some trepidation because you never know what you’ll get with 603. But it proved a genuine pleasure to work with these particularly hard-working, articulate, and agreeable freshmen. And one more: my incomparable Plan II Shakespeare seminar last fall, a class that practically ran itself, and at times felt chaotic, like trying to herd ferrets, but that was actually both deeply focused and intellectually exciting. I found it impossible to plan or predict each class, but always felt we had somehow accomplished an enormous amount. And this group also refused to let go: about half of them insisted that we find a way to keep working together. So I set them a challenge: to perform scenes from one of Shakespeare’s most difficult plays, Measure for Measure, the play that Actors from the London Stage will perform on campus this fall. And they, supplemented by several others (mostly Shakespeare at Winedalers), rose to the occasion magnificently, performing on several occasions to unanimous acclaim and making me look very good in my directorial debut. And they insist they want to repeat the experience next year. Such can be the rewards of teaching in Plan II.
One final word about this award and the man for whom it is named. From its founding days in the 1930s, Plan II has always been sustained by superb and unselfish teachers like Chad Oliver. A brilliant, humane, and delightful person, Chad was a mainstay of the Program and the only teacher of the required Social Science 301 course for many years, including those when I was Director. Generations of Plan II students (including my sister and my daughter) were fortunate to know and learn from him: unusually perhaps, he was beloved and honored in his own time. I feel privileged to have my name permanently linked with his – and I wish especially to thank all of you who made that happen.