English Professor Robert H. Bell recently received the Robert Foster Cherry Award for Great Teachers from Baylor University. He was chosen on the basis of his “extraordinary teaching abilities, record of positive, inspiring and long lasting effects on students, and national and international achievements.” Bell, who is currently on sabbatical, will use the $12,500 awarded to continue his sabbatical for another year.
He plans to spend his time away from the classroom working on several projects which include: Shakespeare and Humor, Mentors and an essay on the lyrics of Bob Dylan. Although, he will not be teaching, Bell will remain at Williams during his sabbatical. The Makepeace Center for Humanities will serve as his base of operations, where along with other Williams’s Division I and II professors he will do work, research and meet once a week with his colleagues to discuss their projects.
On receiving the award Bell said, “I am very happy, and looking forward to working on several projects. This is a great opportunity for me.”
According to countless students and professors Bell well deserves recognition as a great teacher. “He is widely regarded,” remarked Stephen Fix, Chair of the English Department, “by faculty, students and alumni, as one of the most distinguished teachers Williams has had in modern times.”
Lawrence Graver, John Hawley Roberts Professor of English, Emeritus, echoed those words. “Perhaps the most compelling evidence of Bob’s success as a teacher has been the loyalty of his former students.”
One such former student, Robert W. Fisher ‘80, described Bell as “not a teacher in the standard sense, but someone who lives teaching in the effortless way of those who are both gifted and able to do what they love to do.”
Current students as well have no trouble singing Professor Bell’s praise. Rob Alcala ‘98 said, “On top of all of his other commitments — he had classes to teach, book deadlines to meet, and a radio show to host (tune in, everyone, to the Book Show on WAMC!) — Professor Bell generously agreed to advise me on my thesis. I admire, and have benefited tremendously from, his dedication to his students. Professor Bell is engaging, attentive â€” simply masterful â€” in the classroom, he is a brilliant scholar, and he is an inspiring role model.”
Judd Greenstein ‘01 almost transferred out of Bell’s English 101 poetry section, but never did because Bell was just too good of a teacher. “I came out of the class,” Greenstein said, “with an appreciation of poetry and a desire to learn more–this after having no interest in poetry! What more can you ask of a professor than that?” He went on to remark, “I have already had a number of outstanding professors at Williams College, but my first choice for receiving this award would be Professor Bell.”
Elizabeth Baker ‘00, a two time veteran of Professor Bell’s classes, shared the same sentiments. “He has a relaxed manner, yet he’s always on the ball. He skillfully handles class discussion and student comments. Plainly spoken, he’s my favorite teacher at Williams.”
Bell was nominated for the Robert Foster Cherry Award for Great Teachers by Williams. The College sent, as Bell described it, “a dossier of his work and teaching, which included various recommendations from both students and colleagues.”
No stranger to awards, Bell has previously received the American Association of Higher Education’s Exemplary Teacher recognition award and twice a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship for College Teachers. He used his NEH fellowship in 1990 to help support a sabbatical during which he wrote Jocoserious Joyce: The Fate of Folly in Ulysses. Besides authoring a book, Bell has written extensively for many academic journals, including Philosophical Quarterly, English Literary History and American Scholar.