Robert Cottrell Chosen Outstanding Professor

Robert Cottrell, History (photo Jeff Teeter)
Robert Cottrellhas been chosen as the Outstanding Professor for 1998-99, an honor that rewards both scholarship and excellent teaching. A faculty member in the Department of History since 1984, Cottrell is the epitome of the scholar/teacher. He has published two books, completed a third, and is writing a fourth. He has also published twenty-one articles and sixty-three reviews predominantly in his major area of interest, twentieth century U.S. history.

Since coming to Chico, Cottrell has taught over a dozen different history courses and two American studies courses. This alone, according to a colleague, suggests a "staggering amount of preparation and the command of a huge body of scholarship."

Cottrell is described by Dean Don Heinz as a superb teacher, "quietly love with his subject, with getting it across to students, with the classroom, and with the learning process itself." Numerous letters of recommendation from colleagues and students attest to the expanse of his knowledge, his demand for rigor in his students, and his dedication, creativity, and fairness as a teacher.

So, how does one man teach so well and write so prolifically, while maintaining his commitment and devotion to his family? Balance, orgainzation and joy in all he does.

Cottrell often brings his four-year-old daughter, Jordan, to campus and his office, where she has her own desk stocked with colored pens and paper. (When she was even younger, she noticed the absence of women among the president's portraits in Kendall Hall and mentioned it to President Esteban.) Jordan's mother, Sue Cottrell, is the director of budget analysis and research for CSU, Chico; her sister, Adrienne Timmons, is a sophomore at Chico High School.

"At home we talk about how we each have our work: Mommy's is real work, Daddy's is fun work, and Jordan's is play work." That is the first clue to Cottrell's productivity: He enjoys his work. Where other people might do something else for recreation, he reads history and writes. The discovery in his research and the creativity in his writing are exciting and satisfying. He looks forward to writing and plans the next project while still working on the current one.

Another factor in his productivity, is his high degree of organization. "I am very organized," he said. "I set a writing target every day. If you write, say 1000 words, eventually you complete the task."

Cottrell has written a biographical trilogy of on radical American reformers: Izzy: A Biography of I.F. Stone was published in 1992 by Rutgers University Press; The Social Gospel of E. Nicholas Comfort: Founder of the Oklahoma School of Religion was published in 1997 by the University of Oklahoma Press; and a book on ALCU founder Roger Baldwin is with an agent. He is currently working on a book on 1920 as a definitive year in American baseball and U.S. history, and is co-authoring a text on twentieth century world history.

Cottrell wrote of his philosophy of integrating scholarship and teaching, "Perhaps especially for one working at an institution like CSU, Chico, scholarship and teaching are necessarily intertwined. Research endeavors have always recharged my professional batteries, which can only serve to enrich both my scholarship and the quality of my teaching. My research has sharpened my performance at the podium."

Cottrell endeavors to get his students to think and to question, even what he has to say. "I want students to craft their own approaches. I'm not trying to sway them to one viewpoint, even though I have my own strong perspectives. I want them to examine what they have learned heretofore, explore it in more depth, and come to their own determinations."

Dean Heinz notes Cottrell's integrity as a teacher. He describes him as a "public intellectual who has been among those calling for more public intellectuals in the academy who will inaugurate important conversations in public life. He has never, however, worn his politics on his sleeve, grand-standed in class, nor misused his position to score points with a captive audience. He has a point of view, to be sure, but he challenges students honestly to deal with the great moral and intellectual issues in American history."

Cottrell holds a J.D. from the Cal Northern School of Law, a Ph.D. from the University of Oklahoma, an M.A., from the University of Texas, Arlington, and a B.A. with honors from the University of Texas, Austin.

His current research of Babe Ruth, Rube Foster, Buck Weaver, and Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis for his book on American baseball is absorbing much of his time and providing an intellectual challenge as he connects these figures through an exploration of popular culture, issues of class and race, and events of the time.

He is already looking ahead to his next research project. A final clue to Cottrell's productivity may be his attitude toward his workload as a CSU professor . "I do not deny that we have a heavy workload. I just know that compared to what people do in the real world, I am incredibly fortunate."


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