2018 CAMWS Award for Excellence in College Teaching: Jeanne Marie Neumann
Since her graduation from Union College in 1976 (with Honors, Phi Beta Kappa), Jeanne Neumann has been teaching Latin. She taught in schools for over a decade, until she decided to pursue her doctorate at Harvard. From there she began teaching at Davidson in 1994, where she continues to be a life-changing teacher. “Dr. Neumann is the one professor who has most influenced my life and the reason that I am pursuing my PhD in Classics today,” writes a former student. Another reports that after his first course with her, he decided that he too would write a dissertation on Horace’s Epistles 1, despite the fact that he hadn’t read them.
What kind of teaching leads to responses like these? A colleague describes Jeanne’s contribution to a team-taught course in the western tradition:
She encouraged her audience to consider the possibility of a lifelong relationship with texts such as the Aeneid, and she told how she had been drawn to different parts of the poem at different stages of her life. Finally, Jeanne managed to address her audience as humans concerned with fundamental questions much like those dogging Aeneas, Virgil, and other figures. In contrasting Aeneas and Achilles, Jeanne referred to Aeneas’s deep sense of duty, and she referred to him as “a good man trying to do good”—a description that might separate him from Achilles but that links him to countless students at Davidson. Over the course of fifty minutes, Jeanne cast the Aeneid as essential to the course but also as potentially momentous for individual students in individual ways, long after “The Western Tradition” ends.
Students say that “Dr. Neumann is an excellent teacher in everything she teaches, but she shines most in those subjects that are slightly outside her comfort zone—her love of learning shows her students that learning doesn’t stop when you have your degree in hand.” They value her willingness to tackle new topics and to become a learner along with the rest of the class. That characteristic showed itself in Jeanne’s two Classics Semesters Abroad, where (after making all the travel arrangements) she makes clear to her students that much of what they saw and experienced was new to her, too. Similarly she leads legendary Latin sight-reading groups on Fridays and, like her students, approaches the texts cold.
Her care for students leads her to develop reading lists for their summer months, and even to coach them on dress and comportment. She’s the obvious mentor for new or visiting faculty members in her department.
Many people know Jeanne best as a long-time advocate of living Latin, a Fellow of Academia Latinitati Fovendae in Rome, and a former member of the board of SALVI. To meet her students’ needs and to encourage other instructors in the classroom use of Latin she has developed Companions for Hans Ørberg’s first two volumes, works that in the words of a reviewer, do “everything necessary to adapt to present-day needs” a fifty-year-old textbook. Unexpectedly, they have made her famous in home-schooling communities. She has made presentations on this and similar topics to a host of student and teacher groups.
Her commitment to the good of her department has led this passionate Latinist to reimagine their introductory Greek sequence, and currently she is teaching the second iteration of a double class, covering the work of two semesters in one. Greek enrollments, shrinking everywhere, have begun to grow under her care. While her service to Davidson College and to our profession is significant, I single out her term as President of the North Carolina Classical Association, because that group’s motto is docendo discimus—through teaching, we learn. As her students and colleagues have made clear, Jeanne Neumann lives this truth.