Professor Sarojini Nadar.

Professor in the School of Religion, Philosophy & Classics, Professor Sarojini Nadar, will receive the Distinguished Teachers’ Award (DTA) for 2013 during UKZN’s graduation ceremonies later this year.

The award is made every year to a maximum of four academics in the University to recognise and reward outstanding teaching.

‘I am absolutely delighted!’ said Nadar. ‘2013 has been a year of many professional challenges.

‘The DTA award; my promotion to full professorship as well as being listed as a Prolific Researcher in the Annual Research Report are for me vindication of my academic contribution and competence which I began to doubt this year. But these accolades have proven that I am in the right profession – and what I do is indeed a vocation.’

Having faced criticism over the years from academics both within the Humanities and the Sciences about the ‘soft’ nature of the subjects she teaches as well as handling their questions about the place of these subjects in a university; Nadar said the award confirmed the importance of both these disciplines as teaching subjects within a university, particularly a university which aimed to be a ‘Premier University of African Scholarship’.

Asked what the secret was to being a great lecturer/teacher, Nadar said: ‘I began my teaching portfolio statement with a quote that is attributed to the poet William Butler Yeats: “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire”.  This is my philosophy of education. I believe in not just “depositing” knowledge but in inspiring my students to be co-creators and co-producers of knowledge.

‘When a lecturer or teacher is passionate about a discipline, it will show in their teaching. My method of teaching involves participation and my assessments are designed not to trap students but to engage them. Furthermore, I do not believe that research and teaching are mutually exclusive – hence I always strive to infuse my research into my teaching.’

Dr Nyna Amin, the recipient of the 2012 UKZN Distinguished Teachers Award, said:  ‘Working together in the doctoral cohort, it is quite apparent that Prof Nadar listens with intense concentration, irrespective of the discipline or research approach, and is able to provide appropriate critique. I have been impressed by both the depth and breadth of feedback she gives to students. The comments are intellectual, supportive and enabling.’

Reaction from family, friends and work colleagues had been positive for Nadar. ‘An award like this is not only recognition of the individual but of the systems which support them. My husband and children are actually quite patient with my “OCD” with regard to work.

‘With regard to friends – there are so many who have been supportive of me in this very challenging year but I want to single out Dr Saras Reddy who has been such a source of inspiration and assistance.

‘I can honestly say – and I do so sincerely and not as a cliché – that I owe this award to all those who have supported and assisted me. I also owe a special word of thanks to all my students without whom this award would not be possible. I am forever grateful for their inspiration and challenge.’

Nadar was appointed Dean of Research for the College of Humanities in 2012. A prolific researcher, she has researched and published widely in the field of feminist biblical hermeneutics with a special focus on HIV and AIDS, gender-based violence, masculinity and sexuality. She also has a special interest in theories of feminism in Africa, and more recently an interest in gender in higher education.

In 2012, she received the Distinguished Young Women in Science Award (human and social sciences) from the Department of Science and Technology.

She is considered one of UKZN’s top-published researchers and has a C2 rating from the National Research Foundation.

In 2010 she received the Top Published Woman Researcher at UKZN award, and also achieved the position of top published researcher in the Faculty of Humanities, Development and Social Sciences and secured the second position among all UKZN researchers.

‘It was not easy keeping a teaching profile while being a Dean for two years. Fortunately supervision is considered as teaching, and so I was very fortunate to still support my Masters and Phd students to completion. While I am disappointed to leave the deanship in 2014, it is not a decision I took lightly. I am looking forward to returning to what I love best – teaching and research!’