Professor John Higgins – English Literature

12 December 2012

Recently, at the annual DTA dinner, the university celebrated the teaching of three academics: Professor John Higgins of the Department of English Literature, Dr Jeremy Wanderer of the Department of Philosophy, and Dr Zenda Woodman of the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology.

Each of the recipients brought something special to the lecture and tutorial room, it was pointed out.

Higgins has been hailed as everything from "humorous" and "systematic" to "brilliant" by his students.

We asked the three lecturers just what drives and inspires their teaching. Below are selected excerpts from their responses.

It's been said that teaching is often considered something of an add-on for academics, research taking centre stage. How have you managed to maintain your interest in the teaching part of the job at an institution that places such stock in research?

John Higgins: There is a central paradox here in much global research policy, as well as in the South African system. The current received idea is that applied research which results in commercial application, though sometimes with significant social benefits. is what universities should support, and this comes through in the calls for research to have discernible 'impact'. 'Discernible' is a key qualifier here, as it tends to narrow down to the economic rather than the social. The real impact of university research should in fact at least in part be assessed in terms of the constitutive relations between teaching and research, since what specifies university teaching is that it is as up-to-date as possible, and this means an ineradicable connection to well-supported research.

What is your teaching philosophy?

JH: It's summed up by the British poet Tom Raworth, who visited here several years ago, in a short poem called University Days. It's just two lines: 'You have to learn/You cannot teach'. Here, what counts is the question of just who that 'you' is, in a view of teaching as process and not transmission.

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Distinguished Teacher Award


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