Named after Central College’s 18th president, who served from 1970-90, the Kenneth J. Weller Distinguished Professorship of the Liberal Arts is a significant honor for the faculty member chosen for the chair. The three-year endowed chair recognizes distinguished faculty and provides support for teaching, research and scholarship. As the eighth recipient, Professor of computer science Robert Franks was awarded the Weller Chair at the 2013 commencement ceremony on May 11.
“Ken Weller was president when I came to Central,” Franks says. “So to be named to the professorship that bears his name is an incredible honor.”
Established and fully funded in 1993, the Weller Chair celebrates the achievements and supports future research by the endowed chair. Previous recipients include John Miller, 1991-94; Donna Van Bodegraven, 1994-97; Mary Stark, 1997-2000; Mark Johnson, 2001-04; Terry Kleven, 2004-07; Peggy Fitch, 2007-10; and most recently, Jon Witt, 2010-13.
To be named to the Weller Chair, the faculty member must be an acknowledged competent professional, have attained tenure and be recognized among students and professors as one of Central’s outstanding teachers. They must also have an invitational approach to teaching that inspires in students an unusual level of intellectual curiosity and enthusiasm for learning. In addition, they must demonstrate excellence in performance and a sense of fulfillment in teaching courses that enroll students from a wide diversity of departments.
Franks’ enthusiasm for teaching and learning comes from his extensive educational background. He earned his bachelor’s degree in computer science and applied mathematics from Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville and his Master of Science and Ph.D. in professional studies in computer science from Iowa State University in Ames. After teaching at Central for 25 years, Franks is ready to pursue the new challenges that come his way.
“The description of the position includes advocacy of innovative teaching, academic excellence, the honors programs, cross-cultural emphases and interdisciplinary courses,” Franks explains. “Initially, I’ll focus on the advocacy of innovative teaching, because my discipline aims at finding examples in which the use of technology has augmented learning. Computing cuts across all disciplines, so creating a senior capstone course seems like a natural thing to do, as well.”
During his career, Franks has won numerous awards, including the Hutch Bearce Community-Building and Faculty Leadership Award honoring his efforts in community building, mentorship and leadership in 2010. In 1997 and 2006, he received the John Wesselink Award for Outstanding Performance in Institutional Service. He served as the interim vice president for academic affairs and dean of the faculty from 2009-11. He will also fill the role of faculty representative to the Central board of trustees beginning July 1.
Previous Weller Chairs have gone on to do great things—earning grants, researching in Egypt, studying manuscripts, publishing papers and articles in journals, writing books, traveling the world in pursuit of knowledge and leading student trips abroad. Many of the recipients highlighted how grateful they were to be named to the Weller Chair, especially since the chair was named after a respected colleague.
“Ken Weller was a friend whom I admired greatly for his leadership and service,” says John Miller, the first Weller Chair. “He has always been, for me, the best example of a leader who could work well with all sorts of people. I felt greatly honored to have the name of Weller attached to mine.”
Jon Witt, professor of sociology, hands over the chair to Franks. During his tenure, Witt worked on the three editions of his sociology textbook. He, too, was immensely appreciative of the honor.
“I know Ken personally and greatly respect and admire the contributions he made to Central,” Witt says. “As the recipient of the Weller Chair, I have tried hard to live up to the standards and commitments he represents by sharing my passion for learning in ways that I hope will rub off on students long after they have forgotten the particular facts and figures they may learn in any class they have with me.”
In his dedication to quality teaching, Franks is living up to the ideals in which the endowed chair was named. And his future endeavors seem just as bright in the next three years, giving him the opportunity to grow and learn within the liberal arts context.
“Robert’s commitment to being a force within the faculty for promotion of the college’s general objectives, including advocacy of innovative teaching, academic excellence, the honors programs, cross-cultural emphases, interdisciplinary courses and co-curricular activities, is a true match to the purpose of the chair,” says Mark Putnam, president. “It is recognition of Robert’s energy and innovation, his dedication to students and faculty and his commitment to teaching and advancing the mission of the liberal arts at Central College.”