Dr. Stephen Brookfield Named First John Ireland Chair

This story was updated June 3, 2019.  A previous version of this story incorrectly referred to the title of the John Ireland Chair as the John Ireland Endowed Chair.

Dr. Stephen Brookfield, St. Thomas’ Distinguished University Professor since 1992, has been named the first John Ireland Chair.

The chair is funded by the Office of Academic Affairs and is designed to remain in the College of Education, Leadership and Counseling. It is awarded to a person who has achieved a worldwide reputation for academic excellence and scholarly contributions in a particular field.

Father Dennis Dease, former president of the university, and Susan Huber, executive vice president and provost, had several conversation over the years about CELC's desire to establish a chair position.

“Dr. Brookfield was selected as the first John Ireland chair for CELC because he fit the criteria to a T. He is an internationally recognized scholar who has an extensive and enviable list of both publications and presentations. He is a remarkable teacher who allows his pedagogy to inform his research and comes full circle by having his published research, in turn, inform his teaching,” Huber commented. “He also provides universitywide service through Faculty Development to assist faculty members in improving their teaching and writing and assists junior faculty, in particular, in getting their work published.”

Brookfield has held the chair since Sept. 1.

Dr. Stephen Brookfield

Dr. Stephen Brookfield

“I attempt to create a high profile on an international stage for the university through my writing and speaking. Within the university I take responsibility for mentoring faculty in their scholarship and research through workshops on scholarly publishing as well as numerous individual consultations. I also work to encourage faculty across the university to move to a learner-centered approach to their teaching, and to model a cross-unit, interdisciplinary contribution to the scholarly life of the community,” Brookfield notes in his curriculum vitae. Brookfield holds three degrees and two postgraduate diplomas from universities in the United Kingdom: Bachelor of Arts in Modern Studies, Coventry University, 1970; Master of Arts in Theoretical Sociology, University of Reading, 1974; and Doctor of Philosophy in Adult Education, University of Leicester, 1980. In addition, he holds a Postgraduate Diploma in Modern Social and Cultural Studies, University of London, 1971, and a Postgraduate Diploma in Adult Education, University of Nottingham, 1977.

He also holds three honorary doctoral degrees: the University System of New Hampshire for “Contributions to the Understanding of Adult Learning and Educational Practice,” 1991; Concordia University (St. Paul) for “Contributions in Shaping Adult Educational Practice,” 2003; and Muhlenberg College (Allentown, Pa.) for “Educational Leadership in the Scholarship of Teaching,” 2010.

Here, there and everywhere

Brookfield was born in Liverpool, England, in 1949. “My mom moved us south to Oxfordshire when I was about 14, and she was determined that her kids would grow up without a Liverpool accent,” Brookfield said in a recent interview, speaking in a softer, easier-to-understand accent than that of Liverpool’s other most-famous citizens – John, Paul, George and Ringo. (Brookfield plays in a punk-surf band – The 99ers – but its playlist does not include anything by Lennon and McCartney.)

Brookfield came to the United States in 1982 to take a temporary professorship at Columbia University in New York City.

“I was offered a really great position in ’82 in England, a very senior position, and I thought that if I take this position the rest of my career is settled and mapped out. At the same time, from out of the blue, I was offered a temporary position in New York – at a much less exalted status. I just got more excited thinking about working in New York for a couple of years,” Brookfield said. “So I took it just thinking it would be a working holiday, and then I just really liked living in New York. And then I met my wife and we started a family. She’s from Minnesota.”

The “temporary position” lasted 10 years.

Distinguished University Professor

With his children coming of school age, the family decided to move to Minnesota, and Brookfield began to teach at St. Thomas. “Here I am, 21 years later. I’m not going anywhere, either,” Brookfield said with a laugh. He teaches graduate students evenings and weekends in the College of Education, Leadership and Counseling.

Dr. Stephen Brookfield speaks during the 2008 Spring Graduate Commencement. He was St. Thomas' Distinguished University Professor at the time. (Photo by Elias Adams)

Dr. Stephen Brookfield speaks during the 2008 Spring Graduate Commencement. He was St. Thomas' Distinguished University Professor at the time. (Photo by Elias Adams)

In January 1992 Brookfield was named Distinguished University Professor. “The Distinguished University Professor role is one which you’re sort of on call to any school in the university to help them improve teaching. … And so the role was sort of a universitywide resource, and then also the idea was that the Distinguished University Professor would publish in such a way as to bring attention and prestige to the university,” he explained.

Brookfield’s curriculum vitae lists numerous fellowships and visiting professorships, 16 written, co-written or edited books (a 17th is scheduled for publication in early 2014), and 30 additional pages of book chapters and published papers, monographs and commissioned papers, articles in refereed journals, book forwards, book reviews, keynote speeches and selected consulting activities.

In addition, six times he has won the prestigious Cyril O. Houle World Award for Literature in Adult Education, awarded by the American Association for Adult and Continuing Education. In 2009 he was inducted into the International Adult Education Hall of Fame.

In 2008, St. Thomas presented him with the John Ireland Presidential Award for Outstanding Achievement as a Teacher/Scholar, and the Diversity Leadership Teaching and Research Award.

Across the universe of learning

Brookfield’s 16 books deal with various aspects of teaching or learning. Most are written for teachers to help them improve their teaching. But he is venturing into new territory with his 17th book – Engaging Imagination: Helping Students Become Creative and Reflective Thinkers. He is writing the book with a woman from the London College of Fashion in England, “which is a complete departure for me to write with someone from the field of fashion.”

“I’ve been exposed to lots of different ideas about using visual methods,” Brookfield remarked about the experience. “I’m a very word-based teacher and thinker. Even my PowerPoints tend to be lists of words. … And so I’ve been really challenged to convey ideas graphically and visually and diagrammatically, and to think about different ways that students could demonstrate learning which are alternative to the usual heavily text- or word-dependent methods like essays.”

Still learning? His reply is yes, whether it’s in the fashion world or in the classroom. “Are you kidding?” he answered, laughing. “I’m still learning – still learning about teaching and how to be a good teacher, still making what I feel are rookie mistakes. So one of my big interests over the years has been to experiment in different ways of finding out how students are experiencing learning, and then to base what you do as a teacher on the information that you are getting about students’ experiences week in and week out, and knowing when to change things, knowing when you’re roughly on the right track, and whether you’ve got the balance right between different methods.”

As the John Ireland Chair, Brookfield is available to help others in the university community to keep learning right along with him on that long and winding road of learning to teach.