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Two U of T Scarborough professors named best lecturer finalists

TOP TEN FINALISTS: Psychology professors Gerald Cupchik (top) and Marc Fournier are the only U of T professors named in the top ten list of finalists for TVO's Best Lecturer. (Photos by Ken Jones.)

by Mary Ann Gratton

Two faculty members from U of T Scarborough -- both in the psychology department -- are among the top 10 finalists from across the province in TVO’s Best Lecturer Competition.

Professors Gerald Cupchik and Marc Fournier are the only University of Toronto faculty members on this year’s top ten list, which was announced this week by TVOntario.

“We congratulate Professors Cupchik and Fournier for this recognition of their excellence as lecturers,” said Ragnar-Olaf Buchweitz, vice-principal (academic) and dean at U of T Scarborough. “Once again we are absolutely delighted with the success of our professors and with this acknowledgement of the teaching quality on our campus. We are particularly impressed by and grateful for the student and community engagement among those who put together all of those nominations in the first place.”

Buchweitz added, “We are also proud of all of our faculty members who were named as semi-finalists, and whose quality teaching is well known to the campus community.”

The final lectures will be broadcast in March, and everyone is encouraged to watch and vote, he said. Other finalists this year are: Nick Bontis, (McMaster University); Finney Cherian, (University of Windsor); Tim Conley, (Brock University); Ken Cramer, (University of Windsor); Christopher diCarlo, (University of Ontario Institute of Technology); John Mitterer, (Brock University); John Schneeberger, (Loyalist College); and Robert Jan van Pelt, (University of Waterloo).

“There are so many terrific lecturers at U of T, so I was happy to be named to the list, but I don’t believe there is really one best lecturer,” said Cupchik. “The most important thing about teaching is to establish a relationship with your audience. I see a lecture as a kind of dance -- a relationship between the lecturer and the students. So that being said, I’m not sure how my lecture will come across on television.”

Cupchik said his goal as a teacher is always “to help the students to find what is unique to themselves. That is different from the grade they get in class – it’s caring about the person. I want them to be motivated, and to see the relationship between the course and themselves. I always invite my students to find what it is that is unique inside of them and to develop that.”

Aesthetic experience and emotional processes are the focus of Cupchik’s research. His televised lecture, titled “Two Faces of Emotion,” is scheduled to be broadcast on TVO on March 29 and March 30 at 4 p.m.

Fournier said he was also delighted to learn he had been named to the top ten list. His research focuses on the psychology of personality, dominance hierarchies, and vulnerability to depression. He said the lessons he has learned from his mentors and role models have given him three goals in creating his lectures: organizational clarity, intrinsic interest, and awe.

Organizational clarity involves paying attention to the way the material is structured and organized, he said. This includes making lecture slides available the night before class and arranging the lecture into sections, with each section beginning with an overview and ending with a summary.

Intrinsic interest refers to “effectively portraying the topic of the class each day in real-life, human terms.” For instance, Fournier said he usually begins his Personality Psychology class “with a personal anecdote – always self-disclosing, usually self-deprecating – that illustrates the topic to be covered that day.”

“When I lecture on attachment, I begin with stories from my childhood days at summer camp, my horrible recollections of separation anxiety and loneliness, and how these anxieties curtailed my exploratory behavior and the joy I took from the camp experience. I even read letters that I sent home, which I believe effectively highlighted my misery. I’ve found that stories such as these help students to situate the abstract concepts that I’m attempting to teach into the context of everyday experience.”

His third goal, to convey a sense of awe about his subject matter, involves going beyond the first two goals, Fournier said. “Through attention to organizational clarity and appeals to students’ intrinsic interest, I hope to impart a reasonable amount of material,” he said. “However, another goal that I have is to somehow explain why the guy standing in front of these students would dedicate his entire life to the study of this one topic. As a lifelong student of personality psychology, I can think of nothing more interesting to people than the scientific study of the whole person. To me, this is the most fascinating stuff in the world, and part of my job, as I see it, is to elicit in students the same sense of awe that this subject elicits in me.”

Fournier’s televised lecture, titled “Dominance and Depression,” is scheduled to air on TVO on March 15 and 16 at 4 p.m. Both Cupchik and Fournier were semi-finalists last year, and Fournier also went on to the finals.

All of the finalists' lectures will be televised on Big Ideas (TVO) on Saturdays and Sundays at 4:00 p.m. beginning March 1. A $10,000 scholarship from Meloche Monnex will be awarded to the university where the winning professor teaches.

Contestants were initially nominated by students across the province, and the names of 38 semi-finalists were announced in December. They included 16 faculty members from the University of Toronto in total, including six from U of T Scarborough, four from U of T Mississauga, and six from St. George campus.

Besides Cupchik and Fournier, the semi-finalists from U of T Scarborough were: Daniel Bender, humanities; Joan Forder, biology; Raymond Grinnell, mathematics, and Mark Schmuckler, psychology.

The top ten finalists were chosen for their ability to present complex ideas with clarity, energy and authority by a distinguished panel of independent judges. They are: former teacher, school principal and politician Zanana Akande; poet and award-winning journalist Barry Callaghan; and actor/writer/producer Tony Nardi. The judges reviewed video submissions of lectures.

The audience of Big Ideas will be able to rate each of the top 10, and ultimately determine the Best Lecturer in Ontario. Each finalist will deliver a lecture, and television viewers can vote for their favorite lecturer online. For more information and the complete lecture schedule, visit

© University of Toronto Scarborough