Faculty Awards 2021: Cynthia Nitz Ris
Professor of English honored with Faculty Senate Award for Exemplary Service to the University
Bringing a singular spirit of service to her work with UC, Cynthia Nitz Ris, JD, PhD and Professor, Educator in the Department of English at UC's College of Arts and Sciences, has built a history of impact on UC since 2005. Serving in some 50 administrative roles at the state, university, college and departmental levels, her influence has helped shape the fabric of the UC community.
As chair of UC Faculty Senate from 2018 to 2020, Ris was instrumental in helping the university to respond to twin challenges: the COVID-19 pandemic and social upheaval re-ignited by the killing of George Floyd. Her leadership in the unprecedented campus shut-down — informed by her background in and understanding of online study — was key to guiding UC’s pivot from face-to-face to distance learning. Her influence also was key in facilitating the UC Faculty Senate’s “Resolution and Commitment to Eradicate Racism,” a document designed to help further social equity in the university community and beyond. For these reasons, and her more than 15-year legacy of service, Ris has received the 2021 Faculty Senate Award for Exemplary Service to the University.
Ris attributes her ability to work across the aisle — hearing, considering and facilitating the interests of many constituencies — in part to her legal background. Earning a Juris Doctorate at the University of Michigan Law School and practicing law, she learned that “you have to listen to the other side, to a client, to your students, the people you’re working with on a committee, partly because you’re curious to find out all the things that make up the issue that you’re dealing with.” This combined spirit of curiosity and collaboration has informed her approach to service at UC, rooted in the cornerstone of shared governance.
“Service is really shared governance,” she says. “Service is our way of working with other constituents to run the university, ensuring the rights of everybody at the university, and making sure the university works as well as it should.”
Ris’ wide range of influence has touched university policy on issues from online learning excellence to intellectual property rights, research and scholarship to student mental health services, and beyond.
According to Keisha Love, Associate Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs and Special Initiatives, “Dr. Ris’ service has positively impacted the UC community. Her hard work, dedication, positivity and excellent interpersonal and communication skills have distinguished her as an outstanding leader on our campus.”
Adds Associate Professor of Sociology Tamika Odum: “Cynthia is a living example of what it means to live our mission.”
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