Three professors awarded prestigious distinguished professor rank

Dean Vaglia, Staff Reporter

Three Oakland University professors — David Garfinkle, Zissimos Mourelatos and Barbara Oakley — were appointed to the rank of distinguished professor at the Feb. 15 Board of Trustees (BoT) meeting. 

“[A distinguished professor] is a faculty member who has risen far, far beyond the place of a full professor,” Britt Rios-Ellis, executive vice president of Academic Affairs and provost, said. “These are individuals who really stand out in terms of their work on both a national and international level. They are doing things to really put OU on the map regionally, nationally and sometimes internationally.”

The BoT appointed each of the nominated professors to the rank by unanimous vote. The promotions go into effect on Aug. 15, 2021.

Garfinkle was nominated for his work in the field of theoretical physics, especially relating to black holes and the big bang. Garfinkle teaches undergraduate and graduate level courses on subjects such as astronomy, nuclear physics, quantum mechanics and thermodynamics. The National Science Foundation, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and the Research Corporation have funded Garfinkle’s work.

Mourelatos was nominated for his work in mechanical engineering, particularly regarding designing and decision making under uncertainty — noise, vibration and harshness (NVH)— and reliability, safety and quality. Mourelatos joined OU in 2003, after 18 years at General Motors’ Research and Development Center. His work has been funded by GM, Chrysler, the National Science Foundation, General Dynamics Land Systems and the Army. 

Oakley was nominated for her work regarding STEM pedagogy, neuroscience and social behavior. Oakley is the author of over 10 books such as “Evil Genes: Why Rome Fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed, and My Sister Stole My Mother’s Boyfriend” and “Pathological Altruism.” 

Using her book “A Mind For Numbers” as a basis, Oakley created the massive open online course (MOOC) “Learning How to Learn,” which has become one of the most popular MOOCs with over 3 million students.

“It is a very nice thing [to be a distinguished professor,] but there are actually so many great professors at OU that all I can say is I am not worthy but I am very grateful,” Oakley said.

Distinguished professors are the highest ranking professors at OU. To become a distinguished professor, candidates are nominated by a dean and their academic peers from OU and other universities. Nominees are presented to the office of academic affairs, reviewed by the office and the provost before being sent to the BoT to vote on whether to promote.

The section of professors to be nominated is an annual occurrence, but only a select few have been awarded the rank since the BoT established it in 1988. Along with the title’s prestige, distinguished professors are awarded a one-time stipend of $2,500 and a yearly allocation of $1,500 for supplies and services for up to five years, totaling an extra $10,000 in funding. The additional funding lasts for five years in order to allow for more professors to be promoted.

“[As a distinguished professor,] you are in a class of class,” Rios-Ellis said.