Citation for the 2007 Thomas Jefferson Award to Stephen Fredrick Weiss
The Thomas Jefferson Award is presented to Stephen Fredrick Weiss for his exceptional leadership in teaching and developing teachers, and his remarkable 35-year record of quiet, wise, unself-serving, and effective service to Carolina, without seeking recognition.
Weiss has dedicated his whole professional career primarily to the mastery of teaching and to the promotion of excellent teaching at Carolina. Prof. Weiss promotes excellent teaching first by his own personal example. As a result of his exceptional native gift, honed by continual efforts at self-improvement, he himself is a phenomenal teacher. The liveliness, smoothness, and instructional effectiveness of his classes is not accidental. He prepares meticulously, with each example, each question, each joke carefully planned. His exercises, quizzes, and examinations are just as carefully crafted to be learning experiences. This preparation is repeated annually, even though he has taught our introductory courses many times. An alumnus, now a professor at Carnegie-Mellon, says,
"I [now] understand how difficult it is to …teach at the level that I remember so vividly of Prof. Weiss. I hope that someday I can give to students the same educational experiences he gave to me."
This superlative teaching has been recognized by the Tanner Award, the Board of Governors Award for Teaching Excellence—i.e., the best teacher in the UNC system—and the North Carolina Professor of the Year Award from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching—i.e., the best professor in the state. Distinguished visitors, such as UNC President Molly Broad, have visited our department to observe his teaching.
Secondly, Steve is a fiercely committed mentor of teachers. As Associate Department Chair, he gave special effort to coaching new faculty— attending classes, preparing helpful critiques, etc. He annually does a no-credit instructional sequence for department's teaching assistants, and he co-teaches COMP 915, the course in teaching required for our Ph.D. students.
As Chairman, he established a faculty-student Teaching Tune-Up Committee to visit classes and make helpful critiques. He made it unmistakably clear that teaching is as valued as research as a criterion for promotion, tenure, and salary raises.
This Jefferson award proclaims that Carolina expects, values, and rewards excellence in teaching.
Weiss's long record of service to the intellectual life of UNC-CH is truly exceptional. His calm wisdom and unusual sense of fairness has been sought for many tasks: search committees, Administrative Boards, advisory committees almost without number, culminating in his six-year service on the Executive Committee of the Faculty Council, and as Associate Dean.
For 12 years, Weiss rendered exceedingly valuable and thankless service on the Committee on Student Conduct, playing a key role in maintaining Carolina's honor system with justice and fairness. Steve listened to many complex cases and made clear decisions based on basic principles. He led in procedural reforms for the better handling of technical subjects.
His service on this Committee was recognized by the 2003 Robert Bird Award for Support of Academic Integrity.
For three terms, Weiss was the effective and beloved chair of the Department of Computer Science, giving even-keeled and scrupulously fair leadership. These years have seen the department's fastest growth and greatest success. During his leadership, its graphics research group attained the number one national ranking by U.S. News and World Report. He led the establishment of major new research groups in geometric computing, simulation, networking, and distributed systems. He also led the development of the undergraduate major in Computer Science. Deans under whom he served emphasize his balance:
"In all of my dealings with Steve, he never once raised … his voice, and never once failed to make clear the purpose of our interaction or his resolve in achieving the goals of his Department."
"[The core group defining and designing the Science Complex] has often involved sacrifices of pet projects of the several programs. Steve has helped everyone feel that everyone's sacrifices have been shared and that, in looking to the future, everyone's efforts will be rewarded. He has been an effective advocate for both his own department and for the greater good of the whole."
"Steve managed in a remarkable way to represent his department aggressively and enthusiastically while at the same time caring deeply about the University, the College, and the academic profession. He sees the overall picture unerringly, understands the interests of all parties, and acts honorably and fairly in consideration of all."
Of his faculty council service, an Executive Committee Chair says:
"During difficult times, I always counted on Steve to be a source of reason, alternatives, and doing the right thing for the community. What I conjure in my mind's eye is Steve's easy smile, his ability to listen to sometimes heated discussion with openness, and his unfailing capacity to help create common ground—sometimes out of thin air."
In his most recent service assignment, Weiss became Associate Dean for the First Year Seminar program, a new program whose success was critical for Carolina education. He devoted considerable energy to maintaining is very high standards. "We speak very well and very fondly of him in the Dean's office for that role."
This nomination has enjoyed exceptionally wide support, with letters from thirteen people from seven departments.
Jefferson was passionate for liberal education, for liberty, and for democracy based on recognizing the worth of each person and the wisdom of the common man. Steve Weiss demonstrates daily his valuing of each person, treating each as a peer. His ethics are the highest, his motives always honorable. He has consistently fought to keep our curricula from becoming narrow and over-specialized—he believes in education, not just training. Stephen Fredrick Weiss nobly represents the elite servants of the University.