LAS faculty members named University Scholars

Professors recognized for teaching, scholarship, and service
Christopher Freeburg, Ned O'Gorman, and Rachel Jane Whitaker
Three University of Illinois professors have been named University Scholars. From left: Christopher Freeburg, English; Ned O’Gorman, communication; and Rachel Whitaker, microbiology. (Photo illustration by L. Brian Stauffer.)

Three College of LAS professors at the Urbana-Champaign campus have been named University Scholars in recognition of their excellence in teaching, scholarship and service. In consideration of COVID-19 precautions, all 12 of the 2020 University Scholars will be honored during the spring semester, in a format to be determined. Two other faculty members on campus were also honored.

Begun in 1985, the scholars program recognizes faculty excellence on the three University of Illinois campuses and provides $15,000 to each scholar for each of three years to enhance his or her academic career. The money may be used for travel, equipment, research assistants, books, or other purposes.

“Talented, dedicated faculty are at the very core of the University of Illinois’ standing as a global leader in higher education,” said Barbara Wilson, the executive vice president and vice president for academic affairs for the U of I System. “The University Scholars program honors the best of the best, showcasing the phenomenal scholarship and teaching that these select scholars are known for and that help attract students and drive progress for our state and nation.”

The recipients:

Christopher Freeburg, a professor of English, is well-known for his scholarship regarding African American literature, Black culture, the American novel after 1850 and media aesthetics. He has published several books, including "Black Aesthetics and the Interior Life" (University of Virginia Press, 2017). Freeburg won the Melville Society's 2012 Cohen Prize for his book "Melville and the Idea of Blackness" (Cambridge University Press, 2012). His current book project, "Black Culture as a Form of Life," examines the shared traumatic experiences and memories of enslaved Africans and their descendants. Freeburg works with underrepresented undergraduates in the Summer Research Opportunities Program, an intensive experience designed to encourage the pursuit of graduate study.

Ned O'Gorman, a professor of communication, is a rhetorical scholar whose work focuses on political theory, media studies and the history of the Cold War. In addition to his most recent book, "Politics for Everybody: Reading Hannah Arendt in Uncertain Times" (University of Chicago Press, 2020), he wrote the award-winning books "Lookout America! The Secret Hollywood Studio at the Heart of the Cold War" (written with Kevin Hamilton, Dartmouth University Press, 2019) and "The Iconoclastic Imagination: Image, Catastrophe, and Economy in America from the Kennedy Assassination to September 11" (University of Chicago Press, 2016). He is the editor of the Journal for the History of Rhetoric and is known for helping students develop critical-reasoning skills.

Rachel Jane Whitaker, a professor of microbiology, researches the dynamics of microbes and their viruses and how they evolve in clinical and natural environments. She is leading a revolution in the microbiology field by bringing in genomics, experimental evolution and modeling, demonstrating that microbes are subject to ecological and environmental constraints. More recently, she has applied her discoveries to health care, using genetic information in viruses to understand when they were present and what treatment should be used. In 2017, she received the Allen Distinguished Investigator Award, which comes with $7.5 million in funding. She is an elected fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology.

The university also honored Meghan Burke, a professor of special education, whose work focuses on disability policies, access to services for families of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and family-school partnerships around disability support, and Ryan Dilger, a professor of animal sciences, who researches animal nutrition and animal agriculture using an interdisciplinary approach involving immunology and neuroscience.

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Illinois News Bureau