Wednesday, November 15, 2000

Local teacher best in state

She was named Professor of the Year

By Ben L. Kaufman
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        “This place is what allowed me to win the award,” Dr. Elizabeth “Buffy” Bookser Barkley said, using her arms to embrace the entire College of Mount St. Joseph from her tiny basement office.

        Tuesday, she was named Ohio's Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for the Advancement of Education.

        The award is the only national program recognizing college and university faculty for their teaching.

    • Born: Sept. 1, 1947.
    • Graduated: Bachelor's degree in English, College of Mount St. Joseph, 1970; master's degree in American Studies, Saint Louis University, 1976; and doctorate in English, University of Cincinnati, 1998.
    • Residence: Anderson Township.
    • Taught: College of Mount St. Joseph as adjunct since 1977; full-time faculty member since 1990.
    • Family: Three daughters, Katie, 19; Liz, 16; and Annie, 14. Her husband, WLWT videographer Scott Barkley, died in 1999.
    • Books written: Loving the Everyday: Meditations for Moms and Woman to Woman: Seeing God in Daily Life, both honored by the Catholic Press Association.
    • Awards: 1997 Sister Adele Clifford Excellence in Teaching Award, the college's top honor; 1998 Faculty Appreciation Award from alumni; 2000 Matrix Award from Women in Communications; and 1998 Salesian Guild Distinguished Communicator Award.
        “People are excited that I got this award. They're not jealous. It speaks well of them,” she said.

        Dr. Barkley, 53, of Anderson Township, is an associate professor of English. She was nominated after a colleague said he'd rather support her than compete.

        In addition to teaching English and interdisciplinary courses, she participates in efforts to improve faculty, teaching and curriculum.

        “At each step ... I heard the same refrain,” she told contest judges. “We're a teaching institution, and we all know what good teaching is, so let's spend our time clearing up all the other facets of the faculty role.”

        To complement those reforms, Dr. Barkley launched the now-popular Faculty Fridays: informal conversations on the art and craft of teaching.

        Dr. Barkley has won top college and alumni teaching awards, and when she learned the new honor brought another plaque but no cash, her father, Wallace Bookser, of Springfield, Ohio, responded as he always had: “It looks good on the resume.”

        Her walls are covered with honors; the hardest part of her entry in this year's Carnegie judging was to reduce her resume to a single page.

        Taught by the Sisters of Charity, she was a member of the order that has run Mount St. Joseph for more than 11 years. Even then she was Buffy. “I was named for my mother's Girl Scout leader.”

        She met WLWT videographer Scott Barkley when he was on assignment and she was doing public relations for the order. They married, and she completed her doctorate in English at the University of Cincinnati with Mr. Barkley's enthusiastic support.

        Dr. Barkley, a 1970 graduate of Mount St. Joseph, also taught there part-time from 1977, going full-time in 1990.

        Mr. Barkley died last year.

        “When Scott was ill and I was having a down day, I'd come here. ... Since Scott died, it has not been a lousy year,” Dr. Barkley said. “It's been a beautiful year of growth ... and a very rich teaching year for me.”

        Colleague John A. Hettinger spoke to that in his nominating letter:

        “That she is courageous is legendary: intellectually courageous in broaching and treating difficult issues, ethically courageous in challenging students to meet the highest standards of academic integrity, personally courageous in teaching with her usual intensity as her beloved husband Scott was being treated for the brain tumor from which he died ... ”

        Dr. Barkley's specialty is 19th century American literature, and Tuesday she was going through students' suggestions for Internet addresses that captured the meaning of Henry David Thoreau's book Walden.

        It was classic Buffy, linking “the deep humanity” of literature and the latest ways of making it vivid to her students.

        So what will she do in the coming year? Finish turning her dissertation on “ordinary women's letters” from mid-19th century New England into a book.

        Her initial doctoral topic involved the Catholicism of major writers in the 19th century American Renaissance, but someone brought out a book on that topic just as she started.

        Then another scholar published an article on her fallback topic, narratives of people who were captives on the frontier or during the Civil War.

        “Nothing was left. I literally cried.”

        Then she found letters someone donated to the University of Cincinnati. No one had studied them. They became her dissertation. It was a perfect match.

        “Holding those letters and being able to touch their penmanship, I felt very connected with these women,” she said.

        The writers were Adventists who convened annually at a camp meeting in New York, and “the richness of women's friendships” reached out to the Cincinnati scholar.

        “This always has been a theme in my own life,” she said.

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