Two L&S faculty members land Hilldale Awards

April 1st 2014
Awards, Giving
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Two members of the College of Letters & Science's faculty will receive Hilldale Awards in recognition of their contributions to teaching, research and service.

Donald Downs and Elliott Sober will be honored at the April 7 meeting of UW-Madison's Faculty Senate. The annual awards, given since 1987, are based on the university's four divisions: biological sciences, physical sciences, social studies, and arts and humanities.

The awards are sponsored by the Hilldale Fund, which supports the advancement of scholarly activity at UW-Madison.

Downs, Alexander Meiklejohn Professor of Political Science, Law and Journalism and Glenn B. & Cleone Orr Hawkins Professor of Political Science, will receive the award for the social studies.

Sober, Hans Reichenbach Professor and William F. Vilas Research Professor of Philosophy, will receive the award for the arts and humanities.

Downs' work has been highly interdisciplinary and reviewed in journals focused on law, political science, history, psychology, psychiatry, education, philosophy and public policy, among others. He has also been an influential teacher.

"Donald Downs is a treasure," writes nominator John Coleman, professor and chair of the Department of Political Science. "He is the consummate scholar who educates through his research, teaching and service, and by the remarkable way in which he weaves these threads together. Over his career, students by the dozens, even the hundreds, have lauded him as a life-changer, as the professor who taught them to think, as the professor who taught them how to do leading-edge research, as the professor who taught them how to live a life that meets the ideals they profess, as the professor who got them on the path to their future."

Downs won the 1989 University of Wisconsin Kiekofer Distinguished Teaching Award as well as the University of Wisconsin Pan Hellenic Council Teaching Award more than five times. In 1992, he was on the Wisconsin Students Association List of Top 100 Professors.

He has also become a trusted source for local, state and national media seeking expert commentary on constitutional questions and issues related to civil liberties.

"Downs is a great teacher with a reputation among students to match," Coleman says. "Any course he offers is guaranteed to fill. He regularly teaches very large enrollment courses, and he also offers a number of small enrollment seminars that frequently prove to be for many students, their most significant intellectual experience at Wisconsin. He has been the bedrock of our graduate courses on law and politics and has supervised a large number of Ph.D. dissertations."

Sober has devoted 40 years to UW-Madison, receiving numerous awards for his work. He was recently elected chair of the Section on History and Philosophy of Science at the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

"Elliott Sober is without question the finest philosopher of biology in the world, and he is certainly among a small handful of the finest philosophers of science in the world," writes nominator Russ Shafer-Landau, professor and chair of the Department of Philosophy.

Sober became a Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation named professor at 41 and a Vilas Research Professor just four years later. He has been elected to serve as the president of the Philosophy of Science Association and the President of the International Union of History and Philosophy of Science and Technology.

"Given his truly amazing record of research productivity, one might surmise that Sober has devoted just about the whole of his career to cloistering himself in his office and focusing nearly all of his attention on his publications," Shafer-Landau writes. "Not so. Not only is Elliott a highly sought-after teacher and mentor, but he routinely earns student evaluations that place him in the top ranks of our faculty teachers. Elliott is widely known for his engaging and relaxed teaching style, for the respect he shows his students and for his willingness to meet with them outside of the classroom."

Donata Oertel, professor of neuroscience, will receive the award for the biological sciences, while Thomas F. Kuech, Milton J. & A. Maude Shoemaker and Beckwith-Bascom Professor and chair of the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, will receive the award for the physical sciences. For more information on Oertel and Kuech, read the full story from University Communications.