Paul G. Theobald, Ph.D., Woods-Beals Endowed Chair in Urban and Rural Education, Center for Excellence in Urban and Rural Education
"What I found attractive about Buffalo State," said Paul Theobald, "is that the college is sincere in its desire to make a contribution to the most disadvantaged schools, and relatively unique in recognizing that those schools are not only urban but rural."
Theobald has been named to Buffalo State's first endowed chair, the Woods-Beals Endowed Chair in Urban and Rural Education. The endowed chair is affiliated with the college's Center for Excellence in Urban and Rural Education (CEURE). Endowed chairs are professorships created with funds donated by individuals interested in furthering academic research and excellence in a particular area. In this case, alumna Eleanore Woods Beals, '50, and her husband, Vaughn L. Beals, established the Woods-Beals Endowed Chair in Urban and Rural Education as a way to honor their parents, people who believed in the value of education.
It's hard to imagine a better choice than Theobald. His understanding of education in America is broad, deep, and experiential: He taught English and social studies for six years before earning his doctorate in 1990. Since then, he has established a national reputation as a scholar and expert in the history and philosophy of education and in rural education.
"Urban and rural school districts are often seen as being in opposition somehow," he said, "when in fact they face many of the same problems. Both struggle to attract teachers; both suffer from declining tax bases; and both face greater diversity, including linguistic diversity." Theobald noted that, in the Midwest, immigrant populations have followed agricultural processing facilities to rural areas.
Theobald hopes to make a contribution to CEURE and the high-needs school districts it serves. He also hopes to use his position as an endowed chair to bring conversations about the country's high-needs schools to the national level.
In fact, he has been taking part in such national discussions for many years through his research and publications. He has been invited to address audiences from California to Ohio on subjects ranging from enhancing teacher preparation to defining the purpose of schools in the twenty-first century.
"Defining the purpose of schools" seems easy: Schools are for teaching students. But teaching them what? Theobald has a profound understanding of how America's educational system exists within historical and cultural contexts.
"During the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth," he said, "our school system's purpose was to prepare students to be responsible American citizens. Now its purpose is to prepare student to have successful careers."
Theobald brings the same capacity for contextual analysis to problems faced by individual schools. For example, his research into the relationship between a school district and the community it serves has suggested that what benefits a school district and its taxpayers may not benefit the community and its residents.
"I certainly hope I can make a contribution to Buffalo State, to CEURE, and to the Western New York community," he said. "I'm happy and thrilled to be part of an academic community where the desire to serve is sincere."