By Jade Mardirosian
The first of three finalists for the Robert Foster Cherry Award, which honors outstanding professors, presented a lecture on Monday downplaying President Ronald Reagan’s role in the Cold War.
Dr. Allen Matusow, the W.G. Twyman professor of history and associate director for academic programs at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University, presented “Did Ronald Reagan Win the Cold War?”
Matusow concluded it was Mikhail Gorbachev, then General Secretary of the Soviet Union, who was the real hero of the Cold War.
Matusow began his lecture, presented in the Kayser Auditorium of Baylor’s Hankamer School of Business, by outlining Reagan’s image after he left office, in which he was often regarded as second-rate, including being a second-rate actor and having a second-rate intellect as the president.
At the end of his lecture, Matusow concluded that Gorbachev was the indispensable man who made all the concessions in the end.
“All [Gorbachev] had to do really in the end was pick up Reagan and carry him kicking and screaming across the finish line to Reagan’s victory. The significance of Ronald Reagan was that he agreed to be carried. So in the end, you can give to Reagan best supporting actor,” Matusow said, prompting laughter, then applause from the audience.
Los Angeles freshman Rachel Gerlach enjoyed the humor most evident in the closing statement of the lecture Matusow injected throughout the presentation.
“I enjoyed his lecture. I especially liked how he added the bits of humor into it,” Gerlach said. “I think he gave an interesting perspective on the whole thing whereas a lot of people would say Ronald Reagan had more of a role than Gorbachev, so I thought that was very interesting.”
Before Matusow began his lecture, Dr. Michael Thompson, chair of the Robert Foster Cherry Award Committee spoke about the award and then presented Matusow with a $15,000 check, which each finalist receives.
The academic department of each finalist’s home university also receives $10,000.
Dr. Jeffrey Hamilton, professor and chair of history at Baylor, introduced Matusow, saying he is well known for his scholarly publications.
“His scholarship will no doubt inform his presentation today and it is his ability to translate this scholarship into the classroom that brings him to us here today,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton said Matusow “has won a staggering eight different awards for outstanding teaching at Rice, in an altogether distinguished career.”
Matusow said he was stunned to learn he had been named a finalist and that he has never had an honor he appreciated more.
“I think the real significance of the award is not the honor it bestows on the people who receive it, but on the message Baylor is sending to its own community and to universities nationwide,” Matusow said. “That statement is: the very first responsibility of faculty members is to teach. That may sound like a cliché, but in fact that conception of a professor is under considerable assault. To me, it is a great credit to the university to make the statement it is making.”
The two other finalists for the award are Dr. Heather Macdonald, chancellor professor of geology at the College of William and Mary, and Dr. Brian Coppola, Arthur F. Thurnau professor of chemistry at the University of Michigan, who will present lectures at Baylor on Oct. 24 and Nov. 2, respectively.
The winner of the Cherry Award will teach in residence at Baylor during the 2012 fall or 2013 spring semester and will receive a prize of $250,000, the largest monetary award for teaching.
Their academic department at their home university will also receive $25,000.