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Alumnus leads fundraising to honor favorite professor



David Levey ’71 was stunned to find his favorite professor still teaching here when he returned to campus for the first time in three decades. Now, Levey is leading an effort to recognize Dr. Neil Browne’s teaching methods by funding a faculty position in his honor.

Dr. Neil Browne, an emeritus distinguished teaching professor of economics, is widely recognized and celebrated for his innovative teaching methods related to building undergraduates’ critical-thinking skills. He is the force behind IMPACT, a nationally-recognized living-learning community for honors students, and coach of the mock trial team, which tied with Harvard and the University of California, Berkeley at national competition last year.

Many of the same methods that earned Dr. Browne such accolades had already emerged in Levey’s fascinating — and intimidating — 25-year-old assistant professor of economics. That’s why when the business executive became the newest member of the BGSU Board of Trustees in 2008, Levey fought nervousness and anxiety as he climbed the stairs to Dr. Browne’s office. After all, as Levey rose to become executive vice president of the $8-billion real estate company, Forest City Enterprises, he had often leaned on Dr. Browne’s consistent lessons: ask questions and carefully analyze the challenge before recommending a solution.

“I wondered, what would happen to Bowling Green when he retired, because, I told him, he’s not going to live forever,” Levey said of their reunion. “And I think that’s the only argument I’ve ever won with him.”

The Dr. Neil Browne Chair of Excellence in Undergraduate Education will supplement the salary of a BGSU professor who is a thought leader and has demonstrated commitment to require undergraduates to achieve the highest academic standards. The chair will work closely with the Honors Program to enhance curriculum for undergraduate students, with a special emphasis on critical thinking.   

Levey has committed a $100,000 leadership gift toward endowing the faculty position. An endowment will perpetually fund a faculty position, scholarship or program through careful management by the BGSU Foundation, Inc. Anyone can contribute in any amount to the Dr. Neil Browne Chair of Excellence in Undergraduate Education.
Dr. Browne attended Levey’s recent fundraising event at the Terminal Tower in Cleveland for the cause, and was touched as many of his former students shared the longtime influence he had in their lives.

“If I couldn’t pick them out of a lineup, they’d start to talk and I’d recognize a smile or the way they held their head,” Dr. Browne said of his students. “As a teacher, you sometimes wonder if you are accomplishing anything. Then people come up after 43 years, and they start telling you their memories of class, what it meant in their lives and how it affected their decisions at work. It was so gratifying to listen.”

Dr. Browne is pleased that the endowed faculty position in his name will focus on undergraduate students.

“Undergraduate education is my passion, because undergraduate school was transformative for me,” Dr. Browne said. “I came to school one person and I left as another. It was because of what a handful of professors did for me. They gave me a set of questions that were completely unimaginable to me when I came to a college campus.”

Now, Dr. Browne allows question-driven discussion to dominate in his classroom.

After earning his bachelor’s in business administration from BGSU, Levey kept in touch with Dr. Browne during the first several years of his career before the two fell out of contact. He was impressed and nostalgic after observing one of Dr. Browne’s recent honors courses in critical thinking. Dr. Browne looked closely into the face of a petite, female student as she answered a question. He interrupted her, with his face very near her face, and reminded her to raise her voice in order to command respect, Levey recalled.

“He respected his students, but he’s demanding of them. You can’t be in his class and not read the assignment. He’ll kick you out,” Levey said.  “He could be anywhere. Stanford or Rhodes. But he really, really likes to get to young people who have a thirst for knowledge. He wants to give water to people who want to drink it out of a fire hose, not a fountain.”

That’s why Levey is encouraging other former students and admirers for Dr. Browne to support the endowed faculty position in his name.

“I don’t want to get too nostalgic, but I’m lucky. I was lucky to go to Bowling Green and I’m lucky to know Neil Browne,” Levey said.

To contribute, visit givetobgsu.com. Or, write your check to the BGSU Foundation, Inc. with “Dr. Neil Browne Chair of Excellence in Undergraduate Education” in the memo line, and mail to: BGSU Foundation, Bowling Green State University, Mileti Alumni Center, Bowling Green, Ohio, 43403.