Foundation names James Brown a Piper Professor

Economics Professor James Brown, who last month received Rice’s George R. Brown Certificate of Highest Merit in recognition of unsurpassed teaching, has also been honored for superior teaching by the Minnie Stevens Piper Foundation, which named him one of 10 Piper Professors for 2018.

The Piper Foundation, a nonprofit charitable corporation, honors outstanding professors nominated by colleges and universities in Texas.

James Brown

James Brown

“Although I’ve always felt that teaching is its own reward, this news came as a most welcome surprise,” Brown said. “Considering the quality of instruction at Rice, I felt very much honored to have been nominated by our university. Considering the number and quality of nominees statewide, I deeply appreciate this recognition. I’m delighted that I could represent Rice University successfully.”

Brown, who joined the Rice faculty in 1992, currently teaches courses in microeconomics. He has won Rice’s George R. Brown Award for Superior Teaching four times and the George R. Brown Prize for Excellence in Teaching — Rice’s highest teaching award — twice. These teaching awards are based on votes of alumni two, three and five years after receiving their undergraduate degrees. Brown has also won the Sarah A. Burnett Teaching Prize in the Social Sciences.

The Piper Professor honor and other teaching awards that Brown has received reflect his success in the classroom.

“Aside from conveying course subject matter, I hope that I can help students learn how to ask questions that will take them one step closer to understanding,” Brown said. “I hope they will come to know what it feels like to understand something so completely that it can never be forgotten, so that they will never settle for anything less in other areas of study. I want them to develop their love for the process of learning and discovery, for social science as an area of study and for economics as an indispensable tool in that study.”

Brown said he feels his teaching has been most effective “when, at the end of each semester, my students are more interested in pursuing deeper questions in economics than in preparing for upcoming exams. Each semester many of my students volunteer to serve as teaching assistants in subsequent offerings of my courses. Although I cannot take credit for their enthusiasm, generosity of spirit and commitment to those they help, these volunteers’ excitement in passing along what they have learned in my courses helps me know that I’ve done some things right. Many of these volunteers discover their own love of teaching through their interaction with the students they assist in my courses. These instances are particularly satisfying for me.”

Brown, who has a B.A. from the University of Redlands and an M.A. and a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, has been teaching for more than four decades, and he continues to seek ways to improve.

“Each class poses its own challenges that derive from differences among students in the content and instructional methods that would best suit them,” he said. “Each semester I try to improve in individualizing instruction in my courses, primarily through extra time spent with students outside of class. In the future, I hope to find better ways to foster students’ course-related interaction with each other and with course teaching assistants.”

Other Rice faculty who have been named a Piper Professor include Michael Gustin, Mikki Hebl, Dennis Huston, John Hutchinson, Frank Jones, Elizabeth Long, Stephen Klineberg, Allen Matusow, Ronald Sass, Richard Smith and John Zammito.

Other Piper Professors of 2018 are Steven Beebe from Texas State University, Murray Fortner from Tarrant County College District Northeast Campus, Eileen Gregory from the University of Dallas, Lori Holleran Steiker from the University of Texas at Austin, David Hullender from the University of Texas at Arlington, Saleha Khumawala from the University of Houston, Yui Wing Francis Lam from UT Health San Antonio, Reuben Buford May from Texas A&M University and Theresa Towner from the University of Texas at Dallas.

About B.J. Almond

B.J. Almond is senior director of news and media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.