Undergraduate Teaching Award Named in Honor of Tifft

Duke University’s Sanford Institute of Public Policy has established the Susan Tifft Undergraduate Teaching/Mentoring Award in honor of the longtime Eugene C. Patterson Professor of the Practice of Journalism and Public Policy, who will step down in July.

Beginning next year, the award will be presented during the annual commencement ceremony to an outstanding professor teaching an undergraduate public policy course.

“Susan is an inspiration to teachers,” said Jay Hamilton, director of the DeWitt Wallace Center for Media and Democracy. “She successfully challenges her students to be both educated readers and active citizens. The long-term connections she forges with students are a reminder of how a Duke education can be part of a lifetime love of learning.”

Since 1998, Tifft has taught “Reporting Public Policy Issues,” “Who Owns the Press,” “Watchdogs and Muckrakers,” and “News as Moral Battleground,” a course focusing on ethical dilemmas in media.

In announcing the award, Sanford Institute Director Bruce Kuniholm said students appreciate Tifft for challenging them with heavy workloads, asking probing questions, providing detailed writing feedback and, for many, serving as a lifelong mentor.

“She empowered her students to approach their assignments as professionals, with the confidence that they were valued as adults and trusted to get on with the work,” Kuniholm said. “Her courses helped them acquire a more sophisticated and nuanced understanding of how news decisions get made, and of the links between public policy and journalism.”

Kuniholm noted that students consistently give Tifft’s teaching high ratings. On three occasions in three separate seminars, she received perfect scores.  One student praised Tifft as “the most outstanding professor I’ve had in my four years at Duke. She’s the most insightful, bright, wise and engaged woman at Sanford.”

Tifft graduated from Duke in 1973 with a degree in English, worked for the Sanford Institute’s first director, Joel Fleishman, and became a Young Trustee.

“There is nothing Duke or the Sanford Institute could have done that would have pleased or honored me more,” Tifft said. “I have loved being a journalist and author, and still get a kick out of seeing my byline, but I have come to treasure teaching more. Nothing compares to the thrill of one mind meeting another, or the light bulb going off in a student's head.”

Tifft’s contributions to students were recognized at a March 23 dinner in her honor attended by many former and current students, as well as by her mentor, Eugene C. Patterson, former editor-in-chief of the St. Petersburg Times.

Tifft co-authored, with Alex Jones, The Trust: The Private and Powerful Family Behind The New York Times (Little Brown, 1999), which won the A.M. Sperber Award for Exceptional Achievement in Writing and Research and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in biography. Previously, she and Jones co-authored The Patriarch: The Rise and Fall of the Bingham Dynasty, an acclaimed biography of the family behind the Louisville, Ky., newspapers (Summit Books, 1991). She is currently working on a book about the longevity revolution and women’s unique place in it.

From 1982 to 1991, Tifft was a national writer and associate editor for TIME Magazine, where she wrote major articles on politics, economics, foreign affairs and education. She divides her time between Durham, and her home in Cambridge, Mass.