It is nice to see that Tom Garrity has won a teaching award. Colin Adams’ nomination noted that:

Garrity’s classes are notorious for being some of the most difficult on campus. There is a certain cachet in having survived them. And yet students flock to them. Students adore him. They say, ‘He is sooooo smart, such a great teacher and he is hilarious. You will fall in love with him, trust me!’

Tom Garrity’s catchphrase is “Functions Describe the World.” The students have picked up it. It appears chalked on the sidewalk, it appears on posters and it appears in innumerable student talks. Tom stands out as an exceptional teacher, as someone who can take math phobic students and turn them into mathematicians. He draws them into his world, where thinking about mathematics is as natural as breathing, and in the process, he instills in them a lifelong love of all that is mathematical.

There is, perhaps, more than a little bit of mathematical incest in the sense that Garrity is the fourth (!) math professor at Williams to win this particular (nation-wide) award. At some point it starts to get like Nobel prizes at the University of Chicago Department of Economics — you feel inferior if you don’t have one. Of course, the math department at Williams is one of the College’s great success stories over the last 20 years. I don’t know the exact numbers, but my sense is that the number of majors has tripled in that time and that Williams has many more math majors, as a percentage of each class, than comparable institutions. I often use the math department as an example of the wonderfulness of Williams when talking to prospective students.

Although I never had Garrity as a professor, I have relatives who report that he is everything that Adams makes him out to be and more. I certainly would have benefitted from reading his book before graduate school, and any current Williams student who is even considering graduate school in economics or political science would be well-served to take as much math as they can stand. But that is a rant for another day.

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