Puttin’ on the Fritz: Two named Chester Fritz Distinguished Professors at UND 

Presidents Wynne and Armacost popped up during Zoom meetings to surprise Michelle M. Sauer and Sean Valentine with the news

Michelle Sauer and Sean Valentine are 2020’s Chester Fritz Distinguished Professors.

“I definitely feel like I should have dressed up more,” said Michelle M. Sauer, UND’s newest Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor, and the crowd on the Zoom videoconference call with her laughed.

Among those boasting the broadest smiles on Wednesday were UND Interim President Joshua Wynne and Incoming President Andy Armacost. They, along with the University’s provost, senior vice provost, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences and Sauer’s colleagues in the English department, had surprised Sauer by showing up in the Zoom meeting to name her a Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor, an honor that lasts for all time.

During a separate Zoom videoconference call a half-hour earlier, the same honor was bestowed upon an equally astonished Sean Valentine, professor of management in the Nistler College of Business & Public Administration at UND.

“I’m ecstatic and very excited,” the now-Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor Valentine said. And surprised, especially when the Zoom squares for the supposedly routine meeting started popping up with the likes of Wynne, Armacost and Senior Vice Provost Debbie Storrs: “I have to admit, I was not aware that this was going to happen at all.,” Valentine said.

“They kept the secret very, very well.”

Highest academic honor 

The Chester Fritz Distinguished Professorship is UND’s highest academic honor. The award was established with an endowment gift from the late University benefactor Chester Fritz (1892-1983).

Revenue from that endowment provides for a $2,000 stipend to full-time faculty recipients, who thereafter may use the title “Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor.”

Chester Fritz

And traditionally, the honoree is surprised in the classroom or a departmental meeting by the president, provost and other leaders stepping through the door, ready to make the announcement. It wasn’t possible to pay such a visit on campus this year, but surprising this year’s honorees in Zoom conference call meetings worked just as well.

“We are so thrilled to be here to publicly honor you and to remind you that this honor carries with it the responsibility to continue to lead, serve and contribute to One UND,” Wynne said in presenting the awards.

“And although we are unable to present the honor to you in person at this time, we would like to take a moment to thank you for your extraordinary contributions and commitment to UND. … Now, more than ever, we need our Chester Fritz Distinguished Professors to help lead the university into the future.”

As soon as UND reconvenes on campus and students start returning to traditional classrooms, the University will honor Sauer and Valentine in person at an appropriate ceremony, Wynne said.

The following video was captured from Valentine’s surprise meeting:

‘Research record is second to none’ 

A Purdue, Loyola University Chicago and Washington State University grad, Sauer came to the UND Department of English in 2008. Since then, “her career provides evidence that education can change one’s life and change the world,” Storrs said during Wednesday’s Zoom meeting.

Storrs quoted a passage from a nomination form that had been submitted by a student: “I cannot overstate what Dr. Sauer brings to the classroom, both in terms of learning and environment,” the student wrote.

Michelle Sauer

“Her teaching stands out as the best I’ve experienced, the quality of which is attested to by the teaching honors she’s been awarded. … Each assignment and task in her courses is designed to maximize student learning and prepare us to join the academic community as colleagues fully prepared to meet the expectations and challenges of our profession.”

Sauer’s teaching and extensive research focus on classical, medieval and modern literature, as well as linguistics and gender and women’s studies.

“Prof. Sauer’s research record is second to none,” wrote Brad Rundquist, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, in a letter supporting Sauer’s nomination for the Chester Fritz award.

“The accomplishments detailed in her curriculum vitae are awe-inspiring. Her distinguished publishing record, which includes numerous peer-reviewed monographs, edited volumes, book chapters, and journal articles, is made all the more impressive by the number of those publications that have received special recognition and awards from her disciplinary peers.

“Dr. Sauer has a consistent track record of producing groundbreaking research, the kind to which others working in her field aspire toward. … Clearly she is held in the highest regard by leading scholars, educators, and students working in her academic discipline. UND is fortunate to have a scholar of her caliber.”

Said Sauer after the meeting, “I’m thrilled to have been selected for this honor. It means a great deal that my colleagues and students — the UND community — would support my nomination, and that all the administrators would band together to announce it. I was genuinely surprised!

“I appreciate the acknowledgement of my hard work to bring international recognition to the importance of the Humanities and to publicize the significant research being done at UND,” she added.

“I’m particularly happy that the administration chose to highlight my accomplishments as a woman of color, especially in light of today’s commitment to celebrating diversity.”

The following video features Sauer’s award announcement:

A triple threat 

“Dr. Valentine is a triple threat,” Storrs said in making the award, which is only the second Chester Fritz professorship to be awarded to a College of Business & Public Administration faculty member.

“He’s an accomplished researcher. He’s an outstanding teacher, and he has incredible service to the university.

Sean Valentine

“In terms of his scholarship, it has been cited over 6,000 times,” Storrs continued. “He’s produced research of the highest quality, really adding to his discipline. And in addition to the many articles and other forms of scholarship, I want to point to his textbook, ‘Human Resource Management.’ It’s one of the leading textbooks in its field, and it’s in its 16th edition.”

Valentine holds a doctoral degree from Louisiana Tech, an MBA from Texas State University and two bachelor’s degrees. He was a tenured professor at the University of Wyoming before coming to UND in 2008.

“Dr. Valentine is constantly interacting with his class by involving them in the conversation and tying in their personal experiences as well,” wrote Lindsey Lillehaugen, a UND senior and president of the University’s chapter of Alpha Kappa Psi, the professional co-ed business fraternity.

“I have never found myself watching the clock in his classroom, waiting to leave. Rather, I have enjoyed his classes so much that I decided to take an additional course he was instructing simply because I wanted to continue learning from him.”

Amy Henley, dean of the Nistler College of Business & Public Administration, agreed. And besides Valentine’s standout success as a teacher and researcher, “I further appreciate his collegiality in his approach to working with coauthors and mentoring junior faculty,” Henley wrote in her nominating letter.

“Dr. Valentine has authored projects with individuals within, and outside of, his academic department. I find this degree of collaboration to be especially representative of spirit of the Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor.”

Said Valentine after receiving the award, “I am truly honored to receive the Chester Fritz Distinguished Professorship. … I especially appreciate the feedback I received from students, colleagues, and UND administrators. I would like to thank all the people at UND who have provided me with inspiration and support over the years.”