Stearns Center Honors a Teacher and Scholar of the First Rank

At age 81, Peter Stearns shows no sign of slowing down.

The University Professor is teaching three classes in world history and cultural history this semester at George Mason University and will teach two more in the spring. He has two books forthcoming, having written eight since 2014, when he retired as the university’s provost, a job he held for 14 years.

“A lack of imagination on my part,” Stearns said when asked why he isn’t relaxing somewhere with his feet up. “I can’t think of anything else I really want to do on a full-time basis. I just like it.”

An iconic figure at George Mason, one of his signature achievements was the creation of the university’s first faculty support unit, the Center for Teaching Excellence. So when Mason turned the fourth floor of Innovation Hall on the Fairfax Campus into a dedicated faculty support center, it was an easy decision to call it the Stearns Center for Teaching and Learning.

Above: Stearns at the dedication of the new center with his colleagues Michelle Marks, vice president for academic innovation and new ventures, Mason President Ángel Cabrera, and Kim Eby, associate provost for faculty affairs and development (left to right).

“It just makes so much sense,” Mason President Ángel Cabrera said. “As provost, Peter always made sure teaching excellence was a top priority for the university, and he led by example with his own teaching. I am delighted our center for teaching and learning will carry his name. It will be a reminder of why we’re here and why we do what we do.”

“Our commitment to teaching is absolutely central to our future,” said Stearns, who taught every semester as provost and has an extraordinary 137 books to his credit on subjects including history, teaching, and the modern university. “Both symbolically and substantively, this center acknowledges the central place that teaching has at Mason.”

Stearns has also made a remarkable impact at Mason as a philanthropist. He and his wife, Donna Kidd, who retired in 2010 as vice president of budget and planning after 24 years at the university, have together supported many worthy programs at Mason. Their wide-ranging philanthropic interests include the arts, athletics, student initiatives, academic programs, and the libraries. Together they have endowed several permanent scholarships. In 2009 they established the Peter Stearns Provost Scholar-Athlete Award, awarded annually to varsity athletes who have achieved a grade point average of 3.75 or better. Stearns was honored with the George Mason Medal, the university’s highest honor, in 2014.

The Stearns Center for Teaching and Learning opened its doors in August, but the official dedication on October 4 gave his peers a chance to celebrate and thank him in person for his contributions.

“He’s always led by example,” said Kim Eby, Mason’s associate provost for faculty affairs and development. “He has never stopped teaching, he’s never stopped writing. He remains the quintessential faculty member. It’s most impressive.”

“To have my name attached to this center is very meaningful,” Stearns said. “I am deeply, deeply honored and touched by this naming.”

October 9, 2017 / adapted from a story by Damian Cristodero