Karl Fields selected as Professor of the year

As one of Puget Sound’s seven state professors of the year, Karl Fields has faced wave after wave of consideration from both students and colleagues in order to earn the title.

Having taught Politics and Government classes at Puget Sound for the past 22 years, Fields has earned respect on-campus and now nationally.

Each university can nominate a professor each year, so when the decision came to Academic Vice President Kris Bartanen, she recognized Fields as the primary nominee from Puget Sound.

Fields’ nomination was dependent on how his application was received by Washington D.C.’s Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and Support of Education office, which selected four national winners from junior colleges, liberal arts colleges, state colleges and Ivy leagues.

The packet was compiled with the help of a couple of committed students and promptly sent off to the nation’s capital, including an extensive resumé pertaining to Fields’ entire academic and career history as well as a personal statement to support his qualification for the position.

Additionally, the packet included several recommendation letters, namely from faculty and administrators such as Bartanen and President Ronald Thomas, along with those of former students and alumni.

Among the other three awarded professors of Washington State, Fields was notified during September and traveled to Washington, D.C. to receive the award in the Foundation’s national ceremony on Nov. 15.

Last week, I met up with Fields in his office for a brief interview detailing his feelings about the award, his cluttered books and Asian tapestries reminding me of the in-depth thesis critiques he offered me during a past course together.

Among his current and former students, Fields seems to have made a reputation for being a remarkably humble but impacting professor, committed to the fulfillment of their aspired education.

As a professor teaching on campus and abroad during the Pacific Rim trip, Fields propagates the importance of maintaining enthusiasm, an infectious love of learning and a grounded understanding of personal academic responsibility.

First off, I asked him how he felt about receiving the award, to which he replied, “I may not feel qualified, really rather sheepish, but I do feel honored to be so singled out among such great professors who are just as adequate to receive this award.”

He said that although many things inform the passion he feels for his life’s work, his students are certainly the most influential, in that he is able to expand his own knowledge by “living vicariously through their unique perspectives.”

This fascination with unique perspectives blossomed during Fields’ first experience of Asia when he visited China as a Mormon missionary at 19 and again in his twenties, when Taiwan was faltering under the U.S. embargo of trade relations.

This is what inspired Fields’ infatuation with political relations, especially between the U.S. and Asia, as he went on to pursue his degree in Political Science and Chinese.

“It was a very interesting time politically,” Fields reflected. “The experience helped me to understand that I really appreciated the academic environment as a means to make sense of those lapses in international political relations. I love the rhythms and the challenges faced—the intense rush at the end of the semester and wiping the slate clean at the beginning of another.”

As the semester comes to a close, as “the intense rush” becomes the natural rhythm of our academic lives, it’s important to remember what sort of school we attend with committed, passionate professors in our classrooms such as Fields’.

As Fields said himself, “This award says more about than the institution than it does about myself. Rather than hiring professors who spend the majority of their time writing academic papers, this school values commitment to students’ learning above all else and hires professors based on that principle.”

It seems that although the tuition is high, Puget Sound’s academic quality is seldom rivaled among the Northwest’s liberal arts colleges.