Dr. Edward B. Burger, the Francis Christopher Oakley Third Century Professor of Mathematics from Williams College who has gained a national reputation for educational innovation and leadership, has been named the 15th president of Southwestern University.
Burger will replace Jake B. Schrum, who announced last fall that he would retire from Southwestern July 1.
A native of New York State, Burger graduated summa cum laude with distinction in mathematics from Connecticut College and earned a Ph.D. in mathematics from The University of Texas at Austin. He has been on the faculty and served in several leadership roles at Williams College since 1990.
In 1997, Burger became one of the first individuals to make instructional mathematics videos accessible to a broader audience through mediums such as CD-ROMs and the Internet. Since then, he has created more than 3,000 such videos covering the curriculum from kindergarten through college-level mathematics that are watched by millions of people from around the world.
“Ed is an eloquent spokesperson for the liberal arts. He is a once-in-twenty-years person who is poised to be a visionary leader for Southwestern,” said Dr. Morton Schapiro, president of Northwestern University and former president of Williams College.
In 2010, Burger received the Robert Foster Cherry Award for Great Teaching from Baylor University, one of the most prestigious teaching awards in the world. He spent a year at Baylor serving as the Robert Foster Cherry Professor for Great Teaching, after which the university invited him to stay an additional year and serve as vice provost for strategic educational initiatives. In September 2012 he was invited by the Chronicle of Higher Education to reflect on some of his Baylor initiatives.
“Ed brings his national stature, acclaim and recognition to Southwestern,” said Baylor University President Ken Starr. “I always felt that I was a better person after meeting with him, a little smarter than I was before.”
Burger was among the people the Huffington Post named to its list of “Game Changers” in 2010 – a group of 100 “innovators, mavericks, visionaries, and leaders in 12 categories who are changing the way we look at the world and the way we live in it.” The publication cited Burger as an Education Game Changer and highlighted one of his innovative approaches to teaching: Encouraging and rewarding effective failure as a means toward greater creativity and deeper understanding. Burger was asked to describe the rationale behind his philosophy in an August 2012 piece in Inside Higher Ed.
Burger has received a number of other national awards, including the 2001 Deborah and Franklin Tepper Haimo National Award for Distinguished College or University Teaching of Mathematics and the Chauvenet Prize from the Mathematical Association of America. In January 2013 he was inducted as one of the first Fellows of the American Mathematical Society.
A noted scholar, Burger has authored or co-authored more than 35 research articles (with 15 undergraduate co-authors) as well as 12 books including The Heart of Mathematics: An invitation to effective thinking, co-authored with Dr. Michael Starbird from The University of Texas at Austin, which is now in its fourth edition. His most recent book, The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking, also co-authored with Starbird, has led to speaking invitations from organizations such as Microsoft, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the U.S. Department of the Interior.
Burger has delivered more than 400 lectures worldwide and has appeared on more than 40 radio and TV programs, including an episode of NBC’s “Science of the Winter Olympics” series that was shown throughout the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, which earned him a Telly Award. Burger also served for three years as mathematics advisor for a series of educational programs that were made to accompany the popular CBS television series, “NUMB3RS.”
“Ed is the quintessential teacher-scholar with sterling academic credentials who publishes widely but who also focuses on undergraduate education,” said Dr. Elaine Craddock, a faculty member who served on the search committee. “He understands Southwestern’s vibrant interdisciplinary curriculum and how to nurture deeper creativity and innovation.”
During a two-day visit to campus in January, Burger said he was “excited by the energy and creativity that seems to permeate throughout the Southwestern community,” particularly through the evolution of the university’s signature Paideia program.
“Everyone—faculty, staff, students and alumni—is devoted to the basic mission of the university: engaging minds and transforming lives. In the classroom and beyond, through curricular and co-curricular activities, through formal and informal interactions, through every office and program, members of the community see themselves as committed educators, mentors, guides, friends and colleagues. Southwestern captures the true spirit and delivers the true promise of a liberal arts education,” he said.
Beyond the people of Southwestern, Burger said he also was impressed with the university’s various strategic partnerships with other institutions such as the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education (NITLE), which is headquartered at Southwestern.
As president, Burger said he wishes to inspire broad, wide-reaching and open conversations about Southwestern’s rightful role in the changing landscape of higher education as well as to continue the university’s important work on financial matters, the endowment, and in increasing Southwestern’s visibility.
“Southwestern is a leader in offering profound, life-changing experiences that allow individuals to see themselves and their world in a richer, more focused way,” he said.
During his visit to campus, Burger impressed faculty, students, staff and community members with his energy, enthusiasm and sense of humor.
“Higher education faces many challenges today and requires a leader who can see through these challenges to the opportunities. With Ed, Southwestern will have an impressive entrepreneurial leader who embraces Southwestern’s transformative Paideia experience and effectively communicates its value,” said Dr. Robert W. Karr, chair of Southwestern’s Board of Trustees.
Karr chaired a 15-member search committee that recommended Burger to the Board of Trustees. The Board unanimously approved Burger’s appointment at a special meeting on February 18.
“I know that under his leadership Southwestern will move forward and achieve national recognition as the amazing place we all know and love,” said Brady Kent, a Southwestern senior who served as a student member of the search committee.
Burger looks forward to becoming a member of the Southwestern University community—one that extends across the nation—while also becoming a member of the greater Georgetown community.
“I am deeply humbled and honored by this invitation to serve as president of such a special liberal arts institution—an institution that is able to embrace its noble traditions while reimagining education in this new century with innovation, creativity and wisdom.”
Southwestern University is a selective, nationally recognized undergraduate liberal arts college with an enrollment of 1,400 students. It is affiliated with the United Methodist Church and is the oldest institution of higher learning in Texas. For more information on Southwestern, visit www.southwestern.edu.