Brown to be honored with George R. Brown Certificate of Highest Merit

At the beginning of each semester, James Brown, a professor of economics, tells his students good news and bad news about his courses.

“The good news is that I’ll do just about anything to see that you learn the material,” he said. “And the bad news is that I’ll do just about anything to see that you learn the material!”

James Brown, professor of economics in Rice's School of Social Sciences.

James Brown, professor of economics in Rice’s School of Social Sciences.

Brown’s commitment to teaching will be recognized April 24 at Rice’s annual teaching awards ceremony from 3 to 5 p.m. in Duncan Hall’s McMurtry Auditorium, when he will receive the George R. Brown Certificate of Highest Merit. Rice professors can receive this prestigious award just once.

“Knowing that this award derives from my students, and knowing others who have received the award, I feel enormously honored,” Brown said. “More than anything, however, I am grateful for the students I have encountered at Rice over the years. Through their love of learning, perseverance and desire to help others, they have both diminished the consequences of my own shortcomings and increased the impact of those things I have managed to get right. This award is definitely the result of their effort and desire to learn as much as my effort and desire to teach.”

A member of Rice’s economics faculty since 1992, Brown won the George R. Brown Award for Superior Teaching in 2004, 2006, 2007 and 2013 and received the George R. Brown Prize for Excellence in Teaching in 2009 and 2017. He was also honored with the Sarah A. Burnett Teaching Prize in the Social Sciences in 2010. George R. Brown teaching awards are based on votes of alumni two, three and five years after receiving their undergraduate degrees. Faculty members who win three George R. Brown Awards for Excellence or the equivalent in total monetary value of a combination of George R. Brown Awards for Excellence and George R. Brown Awards for Superior Teaching become honorary lifetime recipients and are retired from the competition.

“As a student, the best and most enduring gift I received from my teachers was that of learning how to think for myself,” Brown said. “For me, this gift came largely through the tools of economics, which allowed me to study people’s choices and social interaction and draw my own conclusions rather than simply memorizing and relying on others’ opinions. Those tools have been so tremendously helpful for me that even now, after more than 40 years of teaching, I wake up each day eager and excited to pass them along to my students.”

Brown said the moments when understanding and discovery light up a student’s face are as special to him now as when he first experienced such moments at the beginning of his career.

And although he has taught for more than four decades, he said each semester is like his very first – either because he is teaching new students or because he is teaching students material they have never encountered before.

“Because the path to understanding varies so much across students and subjects, each student in each course is always a new experience,” said Brown, who teaches courses in microeconomics.

Brown said his ultimate goal for every course is to change the way his students view the world and think about human behavior.

“The study of human behavior is endlessly fascinating, and mastering even some of the methods economists employ can truly be transformative,” he said. “The learning process itself can also be profoundly liberating for students in teaching them how to think for themselves and teach themselves.

“As instructors, we all hope to have played a positive role in the lives of our students,” Brown concluded. “I hope my students know what a positive role they have played in mine.”

About Amy McCaig

Amy is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.