by Sonja Puzic
Ryerson may soon be boasting about its own reality TV star who doesn’t sing, dance or eat cockroaches for $50,000 — but delivers a great history lecture.
TVOntario is set to launch its Best Lecturer Competition this fall and one of Ryerson’s most popular professors has made the short list.
Arne Kislenko, an associate history professor, has received awards for his teaching and has made the Maclean’s magazine list of most popular professors several times. Every semester his Cold War and History of Espionage classes draw hundreds of students from various programs of study. Now he must battle it out with other academics to win over viewers who will be voting for a different kind of idol.
Call it good-for-you reality TV.
Almost a year ago, TVO asked college and university students to identify who they thought were the best lecturers in their schools. Nominations poured in and eventually 258 professors were entered in the Best Lecturer Competition.
TVO’s judges then shortlisted 30 semifinalists who demonstrated passion about their topic, energy, clarity and confidence. Kislenko says he was very surprised to learn that he was one of them.
“It was obviously very flattering,” he says. “(Recognition from students) is the highest honour you can get in my profession.”
The judging panel — columnist Robert Fulford, playwright Andrew Moodie and Literary Review of Canada editor Bronwyn Drainie — agreed with the students and selected Kislenko as one of the 30 semifinalists featured on TVO’s Web site. On Sept. 6, 10 finalists will be announced and their taped lectures will air on TVO’s Big Ideas, hosted by best-selling author and television producer Irshad Manji. Throughout a five-week period, viewers will be able to vote for their favourite lecturer online or by phone.
“I think the series will draw a number of viewers because there has been a lot of interest in the competition from colleges and universities, as well as the mainstream media,” says TVO’s Alexandra Stewart. “From what I understand, there will be 10 fantastic lectures to watch.”
Kislenko says his passion for teaching and history is what makes him a good lecturer, but stresses that the students’ response ultimately affects his performance in front of a chalkboard.
“The students at Ryerson are particularly entertaining, patient, understanding and good-natured,” Kislenko says. “They also have high expectations and that’s a unique Ryerson thing. I get really charged up when I teach because it’s such a comfortable environment.”
Kislenko says one of the reasons he agreed to participate in TVO’s competition is the opportunity it provides for Ryerson to shine. “Anything that highlights the quality of Ryerson is great,” says History Department Chair Ron Stagg, adding that Kislenko’s recognition is well deserved.
Kislenko says it’s an honour just to be nominated (“It’s like the Oscars,” he jokes), but he would be thrilled to win the competition. “I’d like to say I would take all my students to dinner, but that would be too expensive.”
The finalists’ lectures will air on Big Ideas between Oct. 8 and Nov. 5. The winning lecturer’s university or college will receive a $10,000 grant. Kislenko is the only Ryerson instructor among the top 30 candidates.