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Four honored with Hilldale Awards

April 9, 2012 By Käri Knutson

Four University of Wisconsin–Madison faculty members have been named recipients of this year’s Hilldale Awards, which recognize excellence in teaching, research and service.

Honors are given in each of four divisions: biological sciences, physical sciences, social studies and arts and humanities. The awards, supported by the Hilldale Fund, will be presented at the Monday, April 9 meeting of the Faculty Senate.

This year’s recipients are:

Alfred W. McCoy, J.R.W. Smail professor of history

Alfred W. McCoy’s profile as an intellectual and academic is an excellent match for the intent of the Hilldale Award. At the level of scholarship, he is extremely rare among academic historians, nominator Florencia E. Mallon, chair of the history department, writes. “He has transformed four separate fields — Southeast Asian history, the history of the illicit drug trade, the history of torture and the study of U.S. imperialism,” Mallon writes.

McCoy came to the UW in 1989 and his course on the Vietnam Wars has since become a mainstay in the undergraduate program. He’s also developed several 600-level history courses, the advanced undergraduate seminar considered the capstone for the major.

Even before McCoy completed his dissertation, he published his first book, “The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia” in 1972. It has remained in print for 40 years and been translated into nine languages. He went on to publish other studies on drug trafficking as well as revising his first book in 1991 and 2003.

In 2004, he earned a WARF Named Professorship for his outstanding record as an academic historian and intellectual.

Since then, he’s become involved in exploring the historical evolution of the U.S. imperial presence in the world and the rise of the surveillance state. His book, “A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, From the Civil War to the War on Terror,” was published in 2006. In addition to an edited collection on U.S. empire — “Colonial Crucible: Empire in the Making of a Modern American State” in 2009, he also published “Policing America’s Empire: The United States, the Philippines and the Rise of the Surveillance State” in 2009, which was awarded the George McT. Kahin Prize of the Association for Asian Studies.

“Even this quick summary of Professor McCoy’s scholarly achievements makes clear that he is a prolific, original and revisionist historian whose international reputation is richly deserved,” Mallon writes. “Despite the variety and breadth of topics and time periods covered, it is also important to see that McCoy maintains an intellectual unity in his work.”

Charles A. Mistretta, professor of radiology and medical physics

Since coming to the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 1971, Charles A. Mistretta has made significant and transformational discoveries in imaging while working in the Departments of Radiology and Medical Physics.

Mistretta is credited with leading the team that invented Digital Subtraction Angiography in the 1980s, several new high-impact MRI techniques in the 1990s and more recently a host of acquisition and iterative reconstruction techniques that are likely to have significant application throughout medical imaging in this millennium, nominator Thomas M. Grist, radiology chair, writes.

Mistretta is the John R. Cameron Professor of Radiology and Medical Physics at UW, a professorship named after the father of modern medical physics. He has authored more than 120 publications in the field of imaging and has served as principal investigator on numerous peer-reviewed nationally funded research grants.

The economic impact of his inventions has helped fuel nearly $5 billion in sales of DSA equipment, the royalties of which have contributed significantly to the endowment of the University of Wisconsin.

Beyond the laboratory, Mistretta has served as a mentor and trainer of numerous radiology researchers who have had a tremendous impact on the field.

“Throughout the years, Mistretta has served as an unselfish, inspiring leader and mentor to many imaging researchers. I argue that his direct contributions to our field, coupled with indirect contributions through these individuals, are unsurpassed by any in imaging research active today,” Grist writes. “His research discoveries have had a major impact on patient care during the past 30 years. His mentorship of a new generation of researchers and leaders in imaging sciences will undoubtedly have a long-term impact on our field for many years to come.”

Alexander Nagel, professor and chair of the mathematics department

Alexander Nagel has received numerous honors and awards for his research and teaching, including a Romnes Fellowship from the University of Wisconsin–Madison and a Guggenheim fellowship. He has been a Lipman Bers Professor of Mathematics since 2004 and a Steenbock Professor of Mathematical Sciences since 2004.

He came to UW as an instructor in 1970 and became a full professor in 1977. Nagel was chair of the Department of Mathematics from 1991 to 1993 and is serving a second term. He served as associate dean in Letters & Science from 1993 to 1998. From 2001 to 2004, he was an elected member on the Council of the American Mathematical Society.

In 2009, Nagel was elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Nagel and collaborator Stephen Wainger were the 2007-08 recipients of the prestigious Stefan Bergman Prize of the American Mathematical Society which is given for outstanding research in Complex Analysis. The prize was awarded for fundamental contributions to the field of Berman and Szegö kernals, the geometry of control metrics associated with vector fields and breakthroughs on singular integrals on curves, culminating in a general theory of singular Radon transforms.

His research has transformed several areas in modern mathematical analysis and continues to have a major impact, writes nominator Tonghai Yang, professor of mathematics.

Nagel’s work has been published in prestigious journals including Acta Mathematica, the Annals of Mathematics and Inventiones Mathematicae.

He is one of the top teachers in the Department of Mathematics and has supervised 18 students who have completed their Ph.D. with him and currently works with three students. He introduced the now well-established and highly successful Honors Calculus sequence. In 2004, he received the Distinguished Teaching Award of the Wisconsin Section of the Mathematical Association of America.

“Professor Alexander Nagel has excelled in all aspects of our profession, research, teaching and service,” Yang writes. “In view of his pioneering research contributions, and his dedication and loyalty to the University of Wisconsin, he is an outstanding candidate for a Hilldale Award.”

John Witte, professor of political science

With a UW career spanning more than three decades, John Witte started as an assistant professor in 1977 and became a full professor in 1989. Witte works as a professor in the Political Science Department, the Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs and has an appointment as professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis in the School of Education.

Through research, service and teaching, Witte has compiled a tremendously productive and distinguished record which includes numerous publications.

He has authored or co-authored eight books or monographs, with three single-authored monographs in top-ranked university presses. In addition he has published over 70 articles and book chapters. Witte has been a visiting distinguished professor in England, Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan, Portugal, Hungary, Poland and Romania.

Since writing a very successful book on industrial democracy that was in print for 20 years, Witte has been engaged in the research on tax policy and education policy. His book “The Politics and Development of the Federal Income Tax” was published in 1985. The next year it was the subject of plenary symposium at the National Tax Association.

In 1984, he was appointed executive director of the Study Commission on the Quality of Education in the Milwaukee Metropolitan Schools by Gov. Tony Earl. That commission set off a series of reforms and studies in the Milwaukee Public Schools. In 1988, Witte was a co-organizer of the first serious scholarly effort to study educational choice which resulted in the first papers written on charter schools and open enrollment as well as a serious analysis of the idea of educational vouchers.

He is currently one of the principal investigators in a five-year study of a voucher program in Milwaukee that enrolls more than 22,000 students. Witte is also the state evaluator of charter schools in Wisconsin through 2014 as appointed by the Department of Public Instruction.

“Professor John Witte is a marvel,” writes John Coleman, professor of political science and department chair. “He is a prolific, cutting-edge interdisciplinary scholar who is internationally acclaimed. He has extraordinary intellectual breadth, has had a broad and distinguished career at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and is currently at the peak of research activity.”