Professor Luther Ivory Wins Clarence Day Award for Outstanding Teaching
Publication Date: 4/30/2012
Religious Studies Professor Dr. Luther Ivory is the recipient of Rhodes College’s highest faculty honor for outstanding teaching presented April 27 at the college’s annual Awards Convocation.
Dr. Shadrack Nasong’o of the International Studies Department was announced the winner of the Clarence Day Award for Outstanding Research and/or Creative Activity. He currently is out of the country and will be honored in the fall. The awards, first given in 1981, were established by businessman and Rhodes alumnus Clarence Day and now are provided by the Day Foundation.
The Clarence Day Award for Outstanding Teaching is given to a member of the faculty who has demonstrated excellence in teaching over the previous three years as determined by the assessments of students and colleagues, the effective use of imaginative and creative pedagogy, and motivating students to embrace a life of continuing study.
Since joining Rhodes in 1997, Ivory has taught courses on theological tradition, contemporary theology, the texts and context of the Bible, religion and racism, African American religions, liberation theologies, and Dr. Martin Luther King and civil rights.
In presenting the award, Dean Michael Drompp said, “If one were to seek a single word to describe Professor Ivory’s manner of teaching, it would be ‘exuberant.’ Whether he is talking about Aquinas’ proofs for the existence of God, Martin Luther King Jr.’s practice of non-violent social change, the Afro-Brazilian religion of Candomblé, or even one of his inexplicably favorite theologians—John Calvin—Professor Ivory’s classroom reverberates with his passion for communicating the material.”
Ivory’s courses are in high demand, and often students start early in their careers at Rhodes aiming at taking just one course from him before graduation. He frequently begins classroom discussions with the phrase, “Talk to me,” and works deliberately at structuring the classroom so that it resonates with different voices, and he ensures that even in the heated discussions that may develop from sensitive topics, scholars respect the voices of others as they learn to develop their own voices.
“When his office door is open, and he is not in his frequent consultations with students, you can hear the intensity of his keyboard as he sends messages of encouragement, prompts for discussion, and evaluations of papers and presentations,” said Drompp. “With his students, Professor Ivory is sensitive to the fact that what is happening at home or in the residence halls has as much impact on the life of the whole student as what is happening in the classroom. On occasion, he has practiced ‘tough love’ for students who wanted to give up or give less than their best.”
The numerous student nominations for Ivory speak to these qualities. One wrote, “His courses are never about memorizing X, Y, and Z, but about … challenging us to think in a way that we did not know was possible.” Another stated, “Professor Ivory helped me grow in my oration skills (learning to better articulate what I truly need to say), as well as in my listening skills (learning when to shut up and listen…). He broke down the walls that too often separate students and professors.” A third wrote, “He pushed our comfort levels and our brains…. Professor Ivory brought us face-to-face with [difficult] questions and armed us with the tools to answer them.” Finally, this comment: “I cannot explain in words how amazing Professor Ivory is…. I wish he could teach all my classes.”
Ivory received his B.S. degree from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and his doctorates from Union Theological Seminary and Emory University. In addition to teaching, he serves as director of Rhodes’ African American Studies Program and is a frequent speaker in the community.