Armed with a pizza joke and a big announcement, MU Chancellor Richard Wallace interrupted four classes Tuesday to present professors with William T. Kemper Fellowships for Teaching Excellence.
The Kemper Fellowships award $10,000 to each educator in recognition of their teaching skills, no strings attached. Six more teachers will be surprised with the honor by April 16. The fellowship winners are not announced in advance.
Jim Schatz, chairman of Commerce Bank in central Missouri, accompanied Wallace on the awards spree. Commerce Bank serves as a trustee for the William T. Kemper Foundation, which since 1991 has doled out the award money.
About 9 a.m. Tuesday, Wallace and Schatz, as well as a media entourage, walked from Jesse Hall to Lefevre Hall, where an unsuspecting Robin Hurst-March, an assistant professor of biological sciences, was delivering a lecture. The crowd poured into the lecture hall, Wallace announced the good news, and the students heartily applauded.
Wallace then added: “Jim (Schatz) is here to represent the foundation, and he has a very important part of this announcement.”
Schatz moved to fore. “We are pleased to join you in recognition of excellence in teaching,” he told Hurst-March. “On behalf of the foundation, I am pleased to present you an award of $10,000.”
The class gasped and then went crazy, cheering and applauding.
“How about pizza for the class?” Wallace asked when the din subsided.
“It is an incredible honor to receive the Kemper,” said Hurst-March, clearly choked up. “I am very appreciative of this recognition.”
Wallace, Schatz and the parade of spectators next went to the Fine Arts Building to reward Neil Minturn, associate professor of music. Minturn sat at the piano, playing for his students until he was interrupted as Hurst-March had been. Wallace announced the award — again, there was applause — and Schatz announced the $10,000 reward — this time, with a collective “wow” and louder applause.
“It seems too pleasurable to be recognized in this way for something that I enjoy so much,” said Minturn, delighted but keeping his cool.
“Wonderful comment,” Wallace said, and he repeated his pizza-for-the-class joke.
“We were about to prepare for a quiz, which may or may not get pushed back,” Minturn said.
Then, about 11:30 a.m., Wallace and his crew walked to the General Classroom Building and surprised Suzanne Burgoyne, professor of theater, and her class.
“You’re why I’m here,” Burgoyne said after thanking the students.
Wallace repeated his pizza joke and asked the class, “Did we make a good choice?”
The students responded with a loud and enthusiastic “Yes!” More applause.
The fourth Kemper Fellowship of the day went to Mary Kay Blakely, an associate professor of journalism who was teaching in Lee Hills Hall when Wallace and Schatz entered.
“It’s a tremendous honor,” Blakely said of her award. “This is a wonderful and supportive place for teachers to be.”
“Would you be willing to buy pizza?” the chancellor asked one last time.
Kemper recipients will be honored at an awards ceremony on May 5.
“It is the most fun thing that I do,” Wallace said. “It’s great. I’ve done it for eight years, and I have a ball every year.”