Oberlin News Center

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Oberlin News Center

A professor at Oberlin since 1996, Brian Alegant has employed innovative teaching techniques that have inspired students and fellow colleagues on both sides of campus. 
(Photo by Tanya Rosen-Jones '97)

Brian Alegant, the Oberlin Conservatory of Music’s Barker Professor of Music Theory, has been named the 2015 U.S. Professor of the Year for undergraduate institutions by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, or CASE.

Alegant’s honor follows a 2011 Professor of the Year award won by Oberlin College Professor of History Steven Volk, making Oberlin one of only a select few institutions in America to claim two U.S. Professors of the Year. Alegant is the first music professor to be so honored in the 35-year history of the award.

Winners were announced in advance of a banquet held by CASE in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, November 19.

“Brian is a brilliantly creative teacher and pedagogue who consistently inspires his students and colleagues,” says Oberlin College President Marvin Krislov. “He is also an outstanding scholar and mentor, as well as an engaged citizen of Oberlin College and Conservatory. Brian has strengthened this institution in so many ways through his generous and selfless service. We are all thrilled that he has received this great honor.”

Alegant is a highly respected theoretician whose research interests include performance and analysis, pedagogy, and twelve-tone music. His study has been supported by numerous fellowships, and he is widely published in peer-reviewed journals. His book on the twelve-tone music of Luigi Dallapiccola (published by the University of Rochester Press) was met with widespread acclaim.

Tireless in his quest to become more effective in every facet of his work, Alegant has cultivated an unusual phenomenon in higher education: music theory classes that are notoriously challenging—and students who endure wait lists to take part in them. Student assessments routinely cite Alegant for his brilliance, passion, fairness, and wit.

“The whole idea for me,” he has said, “is to put the student in charge of his or her own learning.”

"Brian reflects the great dedication of Oberlin faculty to teaching at the highest level,” says Dean of the Conservatory Andrea Kalyn. “In a myriad of highly creative ways, he has facilitated the connection between performance and analysis for countless students, deepening their musicianship and advancing them on the path to artistry. We are absolutely delighted that his extraordinary work has been recognized with this award.”

Central to Alegant’s methods are three practices he has developed over many years: "road maps," "scuba diving," and self-assessment. Road maps are written representations of how one hears a piece of music unfold in time, intended to enhance understanding; scuba diving is the practice of exploring a relatively small amount of content in great detail; and self-assessment refers to a system by which students are asked to reflect deeply on their own learning and assign their own letter grades. Years ago, Alegant nixed conventional midterms and final exams in favor of other, more innovative means of learning assessment. He has shared nuances of his methods at numerous presentations and articles throughout his career, as well as with colleagues in Oberlin’s college and conservatory.

A professor at Oberlin since 1996, Alegant also serves as chair of the conservatory’s Division of Music Theory, a position that makes him a mentor to Oberlin’s one-year post-doctoral instructors, each of whom has gone on to full-time work in higher education. In this capacity, Alegant has played a pivotal role in developing a generation of music theory educators.

He has been similarly influential on his fellow colleagues on campus.

“What distinguishes Brian from other master teachers is his willingness to share his insights and talents generously,” says Barbara Sawhill, a faculty member in Oberlin College’s Hispanic studies department and director of Oberlin’s Cooper International Learning Center. “He is not selfish with his own teaching gifts, and when asked he will volunteer his time and talent to observe classes, give support, and offer advice to fellow teachers—be they in the college or the conservatory.” Sawhill and Alegant have collaborated on numerous projects over the past decade, including a 2013 study on self-assessment that appeared in the journal Engaging Students.

“Words cannot express how gratifying it is to be recognized for the decades I’ve spent perfecting my craft: learning how to help my students learn more deeply, speak music more fluently, take greater intellectual and interpretive risks, and embrace fully and unapologetically their artistic voices,” Alegant says of the honor.

Alegant is a graduate of the Philadelphia College of the Performing Arts (BM in piano performance), Temple University (MAs in music theory and music history), and the Eastman School of Music (PhD in music theory). He has been awarded the Oberlin College Excellence in Teaching Award (2005), the Northeast Ohio Council of Higher Education Award for Excellence in Teaching (2005), the Eastman School of Music Teaching Assistant Prize (1985), and the Temple University Teaching Prize (1982).

Alegant is one of four U.S. Professors of the Year selected for 2015, one each representing undergraduate, master’s, doctoral, and community college institutions. This year's field included nearly 400 nominees; all entries were judged by top U.S. instructors and other leaders in education.

ABOUT CASE: The Council for Advancement and Support of Education is a professional association representing 3,670 educational institutions worldwide and the 81,000 advancement professionals who uphold their mission. Awarded annually since 1981, the U.S. Professor of the Year honors the most outstanding educators and mentors in the country. Sponsored by CASE and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, it is the only program of its kind in America.