Yale Bulletin and Calendar

March 7, 2008|Volume 36, Number 21|Two-Week Issue















Akhil Reed Amar

Amar and Crothers cited for
teaching and scholarship

A Yale Law School professor whose course in “Constitutional Law” has inspired hundreds of undergraduates and a retired chemistry professor who directed 60 Ph.D. dissertations and brought life to the teaching of general and physical chemistry were honored with this year’s William Clyde DeVane Award for Distinguished Scholarship and Teaching.

Akhil Reed Amar, the Southmayd Professor of Law and Political Science, and Donald Crothers, Sterling Professor Emeritus of Chemistry and professor emeritus of molecular biophysics and biochemistry, were presented with DeVane Awards at the annual banquet of the Yale Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa on Feb. 25.

Conferred since 1966, the DeVane Award (formerly known as the DeVane Medal) is a prestigious tribute to excellence in scholarship and teaching. It is the oldest and highest-ranking award for undergraduate teaching at Yale. The award is named for William Clyde DeVane, who was dean of Yale College 1938-1963 and served as president both of the Yale and United Chapters of Phi Beta Kappa. DeVane was also a member of the Phi Beta Kappa Senate.

Graduate members of Phi Beta Kappa select a retired faculty member for one of the awards, and Yale College seniors who are members of the society choose an honoree from among active faculty members who have been teaching at Yale for at least five years. Crothers was chosen by the alumni and Amar by the undergraduates.

One tradition of the Phi Beta Kappa banquet is to have a Yale poet present an original, unpublished poem. This year Dolores Hayden, professor of architecture and American studies, read “Time Is Looking In To Space,” a poem about doing research in the British Museum. Anthony Kronman, Sterling Professor of Law and former dean of the Yale Law School, was the keynote speaker at the dinner. He was introduced by Joshua Sweren ’08, undergraduate president of the Yale chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.

Akhil Reed Amar

Jessica Bialecki ’08, treasurer of the chapter, introduced Amar by reading excerpts from last semester’s online course evaluations of his teaching.

One student urged, “For God’s sake and for America’s sake, take this class. It changed my life. For people who might want to be lawyers, for Americans, for anyone who thinks. Take it.” Another wrote, “Akhil Amar is the most brilliant lecturer I have ever heard. I originally shopped the class just to hear one lecture, not intending to enroll. During that first lecture, his eloquence actually moved me to tears, and I immediately signed up.” And a third wrote, “Akhil Amar is among the most intelligent and inspiring people in the world (no exaggeration) and makes a concerted effort to get to know his undergraduate students on a personal level.”

Bialecki concluded by praising Amar in her own words. “Professor Amar has risen to celebrity status among undergrads here at Yale, and for good reason. His brilliance and mastery of constitutional law alone are staggering, but what really makes Professor Amar stand out from the crowd of outstanding professors here at Yale is his genuine commitment to undergraduate education. … His enthusiasm is palpable each time he takes the stage of the Law School lecture hall, and his passion is contagious, even continuing over to the weekly lunches he holds in the Law School cafeteria with interested students.

“When I look back on my Yale College career years down the road from now,” she continued, “I’m not certain I’ll remember the names and dates of the many, many, many Supreme Court cases we covered in class, but I know that I will never forget the inspiring teaching of Professor Akhil Amar.”

Amar teaches and writes about constitutional law in both Yale College and Yale Law School. He received his B.A, summa cum laude, in 1980 from Yale College, and his J.D. in 1984 from Yale Law School, where he served as an editor of The Yale Law Journal. After clerking for Judge Stephen Breyer, U.S. Court of Appeals, 1st Circuit, Amar joined the Yale faculty in 1985. He is a co-editor of a leading constitutional law casebook, “Processes of Constitutional Decisionmaking,” and the author of several books, including “The Constitution and Criminal Procedure: First Principles,” “The Bill of Rights: Creation and Reconstruction” and, most recently, “America’s Constitution: A Biography.”

Donald Crothers

Donald Crothers

Assistant Professor Anne Valentine, graduate vice president of the chapter, and William Segraves, a member of the Executive Committee of Graduate Advisers, jointly introduced Crothers.

Valentine said, “I have personal testimony of the importance of teaching to Don. When I was being recruited to Yale, the senior faculty in my department told me that, as a department, they strive for good teaching, and divide teaching responsibilities evenly among the faculty from the greatest to the lowliest, and that that ethic was instilled by Don Crothers when he was chair.”

Segraves cited Crother’s Yale Classbook of 50 years ago, in which he had written, “If Yale is to draw the best minds of the future, she must not let her position in science slip, for that is the area towards which more and more of the minds of genius class will be pointing in the future. To leave science out of Yale would leave the University in the backwash of modern civilization, a relic of the century in which it was founded.”

Valentine concluded by saying, “On this night when we honor excellence in all fields of knowledge … we also honor you, Don Crothers, for your scientific accomplishment and for your devoted teaching, and with proud hearts offer you a big Bulldog Bow Wow.”

Crothers graduated summa cum laude from Yale with a B.S. in 1958 and earned a B.A. from the University of Cambridge two years later. He went on to earn a Ph.D. from University of California-San Diego in 1963 and to hold a postdoctoral fellowship at the Max Planck Institute in Germany before joining the Yale faculty in 1964. In addition to his outstanding teaching, he headed a lab doing research in biophysical chemistry, specifically studying how the structure, dynamics and protein-binding properties of nucleic acids contribute to their function. An outstanding research scientist, he won the Alexander von Humbolt Senior Scientist Award, was named a fellow of the National Academy of Arts and Sciences and elected to the National Academy of Sciences. Crothers and David S. Eisenberg of the University of California-Los Angeles, co-authors of the widely used textbook “Physical Chemistry with Applications to the Life Sciences,” recently received the Emily M. Gray Award of the Biophysical Society for “significant contributions to education through creating rigorous, groundbreaking texts enriching generations of biophysicists.”

Phi Beta Kappa, the nation’s oldest undergraduate honors organization, was founded in 1776 at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. Four years later, the original Phi Beta Kappa Society was abruptly forced to cease operations as the British army under Cornwalis advanced on the city. The year before, however, the society had already granted charters to Yale and Harvard, making them the second and third chapters of the organization, respectively.

Last year, the Yale Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa presented DeVane Awards to Marvin Chun, a professor of psychology, and John Hollander, the Sterling Professor Emeritus of English. Previous winners of the award have included economist Benjamin Polak; art historian Jules D. Prown; historians Edmund S. Morgan, Howard R. Lamar, Jonathan Spence and John Gaddis; literary scholars Cleanth Brooks, Maynard Mack and Marie Borroff; political scientist Robert A. Dahl; economist James Tobin; and sociologist Kai Erickson.


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