Ron Levao Wins Susman Teaching Award
by Dara Courtney Evans
Professor Ron Levao’s Shakespeare lectures may be notable for their size, but they are legendary in their reputation for quality. By the middle of the first day of registration Professor Levao’s course – with a maximum enrollment of 400 – is filled. Professor Levao, who attended Rutgers as an undergraduate, has not only returned to his alma mater but also taken an English Department tradition (the large Shakespeare lecture) and made it his own. So it seems entirely fitting, and perhaps overdue, that he should receive the university’s highest teaching award, the Warren I. Susman Award for Excellence in Teaching, for 2004.
Students and colleagues alike mention Professor Levao’s skill at making a large classroom seem small, proving his ability to connect with hundreds of students at once. Although he describes a time when he would “do the Donahue thing” and walk around the auditorium with a portable microphone to solicit student comments, his current style involves merely sitting at a desk at the front of the room with the text assigned for discussion close at hand, talking as though each moment in the play happened that morning and the characters are his close friends. Professor Levao’s ability to discuss Shakespeare’s work with a casual but thorough familiarity is yet another of his talents.
The enthusiasm Professor Levao has for the material is infectious, and students see how his deep knowledge of the texts and of the period itself leads to a greater appreciation and enjoyment of Shakespeare’s genius. Nearly all of his students report that their interest in the topic rose greatly during the semester, no matter how much they liked the Bard before taking this course. Again and again, student evaluations call his lectures “fantastic” or “amazing,” and describe Professor Levao himself as “the reason I want to continue studying literature” or simply “the best teacher I ever had.”
This high praise is partly because Professor Levao is more than a gifted intellectual performer; he also manages to make personal connections with his students, who seek him out to discuss and develop ideas with him. He is extremely generous with his time and energy in mentoring students, defying the usual assumptions about lecture courses. His sincere support of students’ work helps them learn to take great delight in the intellectual labors of studying literature. The proof: Professor Levao gets the same phenomenal evaluations from graduate seminars on a variety of topics in Renaissance studies, where the classroom is literally small and lecturing would not be tolerated, that he gets from his large lecture courses.
Professor Levao began his career at Rutgers as an undergraduate, and fondly remembers feeling excited by the possibility of making a career out of working with literature and ideas. He says he was especially inspired by classes with Professors David Kalstone and Maurice Charney, and by the large lectures given by Professor Richard Poirier. After graduating from Rutgers in 1970, Professor Levao got his Ph.D. at U.C. Berkeley, and taught at Princeton, U.C.L.A., and C.U.N.Y. before returning to Rutgers in 1989.
Previous Susman winners in English