For Immediate Release — Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2006


Mary E. McCrank

Media Relations Officer

(585) 245-5516

SUNY Geneseo professor William R. Cook named runner-up for prestigious teaching award

GENESEO, N.Y. — Just hours after the State University of New York at Geneseo's Distinguished Teaching Professor of History William R. Cook received word he was the runner-up for Baylor University's 2006 Robert Foster Cherry Award for Great Teaching, he phoned the recipient to offer his congratulations.

He found Anton E. Armstrong, Tosdal Professor of Music at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn., busily preparing for a performance, which immediately endeared him to Cook. After all, Armstrong was hard at work—precisely the place Cook likes to be

"I asked Anton if I was interrupting his celebration since he had been informed about two hours earlier that he was the winner," said Cook. "He said that he had told no one and that he was hard at work proofreading the program for a concert the next night."

This is quintessential Cook—deflecting his own kudos for being the alternate—and one of only three finalists—for the award out of a field of 86 nominations representing 68 colleges and universities, and 46 disciplines.

Then Cook mentioned how great his achievement is for Geneseo. He is the first professor from a public liberal arts college—as opposed to larger, public universities—to be up for the award.

"I think it speaks well not just for me but for Geneseo," said Cook. "It puts Geneseo in the forefront of public liberal arts colleges. It's another place we got our 'first.'"

The Cherry Award honors outstanding professors in the English-speaking world who are distinguished for their ability to communicate as classroom teachers. Nominees must have proven track records as extraordinary teachers with positive, inspiring and long-lasting effects on students, along with records of distinguished scholarship.

Having a Geneseo faculty member nominated for such a prestigious award will make a big impact on continuing to attract excellent teachers to the college's faculty, said Cook, whose nomination resulted in a personal award of $15,000 and $10,000 for the history department to foster the development of teaching skills.

The other finalist was Robert W. Brown, Institute Professor of Physics at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

It has been a busy year for Cook, who concentrates on medieval history and has focused much of his research on St. Francis of Assisi. Last May, he was named a finalist for the award. In October, he visited Baylor to deliver a lecture. Then, in November, he repeated that lecture for a Geneseo audience.

Aside from the commitments associated with the Cherry Award, Cook has managed to accomplish interesting work in between teaching at Geneseo. After speaking at Baylor, he flew to Italy for a three-day visit and to speak to Friends of Florence, a group who restore works of art in Florence. During the winter break, he spent nine days in Washington, D.C., taping a 24-video course tentatively titled Machiavelli in Context for The Teaching Company. And during spring break, Cook will put his French to use when he travels to Morocco to conduct course research on how democracy has penetrated a traditional Islamic society. While he's there, he'll ride a camel, too.

"I figure as long as you keep moving, they can't catch you," laughed Cook, who joined the Geneseo faculty in 1970 as an assistant professor of history and in 1984, at the age of 40, was named a Distinguished Teaching Professor.

He received his bachelor's degree from Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Ind., and his master's degree and doctorate from Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.

Cook has made an impact on the community in other ways. He is a columnist for the Livingston County News and a member of the board of contributors of the Rochester, N.Y., Democrat and Chronicle. And in 1998, he made an unsuccessful bid for U.S. Congress. The morning after Election Day, he sent his substitute teacher home and returned to the classroom—where he belongs.