Enabling Teachable Moments

Matt JacobsonIn academia, the adage “publish or perish” is often the standard rubric for defining an illustrious career. Not for the late Norman Jacobson (1922–2007), whose 54-year career as a political science professor was devoted almost exclusively to teaching — creatively and across disciplines. He inspired generations of students by incorporating the arts and humanities into his lessons and activities — from musical composition to documentary filmmaking — and won high honors for his passionate advocacy of old-school instruction (his lectures, written in longhand, are held in the Bancroft Library). “He didn’t do research, he didn’t write. He taught,” says his son Matt Jacobson ’79. “He was a humanist in a social science arena.”

To honor his father’s legacy, Jacobson and his older brother, Ken ’73, established The Professor Norman Jacobson Memorial Teaching Award in 2010 to support the teaching activities of promising graduate students from the Townsend Center. It was so successful, Matt and his wife, Margaret, recently endowed The Dean’s Faculty Fellowship in Appreciation of the Humanities, which meets a challenge grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. “My father believed in the value of the humanities to the well-being of our society,” says Matt. “But our culture is increasingly geared toward short-term economic gains rather than creating intelligent growth and ideas. Our hope is to help swing the pendulum back.”