Richard Leitch, 2008 Carlson Award Winner, Political Science Department

Posted on October 24th, 2016 by

2008 Carlson Award Winner, Richard Leitch, Political Science Department

Richard Leitch

This year’s Recipient of the Edgar M. Carlson Award has received a large number of nominations, including by student majors and non-majors, first-year students through seniors. One of those students wrote, “This faculty member brings an amazing enthusiasm into the classroom. He becomes more than just your teacher but also your colleague. [He] pushes you to excel and have a real desire to learn.” Another wrote, “He has given me direction in my life and encouraged my own interests and passions, and the fact that he is always there helps… He is like a parent that I would hate to disappoint.” Still another wrote, “As a first-year student back in 2000, I heard a rumor that a professor was sleeping outside the chapel with his students, participating in the annual Hunger and Homeless Awareness week on campus…. From that point on, [he] continued to have a memorable impact on my Gustavus career, and will continue to have an impact long into my post-college years.” This year’s recipient of the Edgar Carlson Award for Distinguished Teaching is Associate Professor of Political Science and Environmental Studies and Faculty Marshal Richard Leitch.

Professor Leitch earned a B.A. in East Asian studies from Colby College in 1985. After a two-year career on Wall Street, he saw the light and returned to academic life, earning an M.A. in Asian studies from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. He went on to earn a Ph.D. there in political science in 1995. While there he received the Harriet and Charles Luckman Award for Distinguished Undergraduate Teaching and the College of Liberal Arts Award for Distinguished Teaching by a Graduate Student. He has been a member of the political science department at Gustavus since 1996, teaching courses in international relations, comparative politics, Asian politics, and environmental politics. In 2000 he received the student-selected Swenson-Bunn Award for Teaching Excellence at Gustavus. Clearly, the Carlson Award continues a tradition of recognizing excellence in Professor Leitch’s teaching.

In addition to the courses just mentioned, Professor Leitch teaches courses in analyzing Japan and in the politics of developing nations. His teaching interests focus closer to home as well; especially noteworthy, judging by the many comments from first-year students, is his First Term Seminar on “The Politics of Homelessness.” The lessons students learn in this class about the effects of poverty both here and abroad are lasting. On student wrote, “After returning from a semester in Uganda, life in America was so difficult that I was about to drop out of school… Instead, [Professor Leitch] adopted me as a member of his family and I lived with his family for six months. Here he constantly helped me make connections between the pain, suffering, and joy I experienced in Uganda, and how I could make a difference while being an American with so many privileges. Living at his house I was constantly fed with the amazing real life teacher that he is.” Few students perhaps need or receive this level of caring from professors, but many, many students attest to the role that caring for his students as individuals plays in Professor Leitch’s approach to teaching. One, no doubt speaking for many, wrote simply that he “inspires true critical thought-best teacher I have ever had!” Reading student comments on Richard Leitch’s teaching is a humbling experience.

I could go on telling you of Professor Leitch’s many activities and accomplishments in the twelve years he has been here – First Term Seminar director, interim Peace Studies director, co-chair of the MAYDAY!
Conference, active in HECUA, adviser to the Gustavus R.O.T.C., just to name a few-but we are recognizing today his excellence as a teacher. Let me close with a revealing anecdote. In the autumn of 1999, mistakenly believing that Professor Leitch was about to be reviewed for tenure, a student wrote, “Please forgive the crude, hand-written letter, as I am writing this letter from rural India where I have no computer or typewriter access.” The student went on for several pages describing the ways Professor Leitch had taught, supported, guided, and encouraged her. In the course of her letter she identified two of the most important things any great teacher does for students: “He never stops encouraging and challenging me.”

President Peterson, members of the Gustavus Board of Trustees, members of the faculty, staff, and administration, and most especially the class of 2008, it is a personal pleasure and a professional honor to present to you the recipient of the 2008 Edgar M. Carlson Award for Distinguished Teaching: Dr. Richard Leitch.

Presented by Claude C. Brew
Professor of English
2007 Recipient of the Edgar M. Carlson Award


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