LAWRENCE — Paul Laird, professor of musicology at the University of Kansas, is known for his creative, energetic teaching style filled with movement and music.
After a class at KU’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, the university’s continuing education center, Laird received a review from a participant that said, “Nail his shoes to the floor!”
Laird was undeterred. “I said, ‘Hey! I’ll just take ’em off. You’re not going to keep me in one place!’”
His enthusiasm and memorable style in large part earned Laird the 2021 Chancellors Club Career Teaching Award. Since joining the KU faculty in 1994, he has gained the admiration and trust of countless students he has taught, mentored and guided through undergraduate, postgraduate and postdoctoral endeavors.
Robert Walzel, dean of the School of Music at KU, didn’t hold back when nominating Laird for the award.
“Professor Paul Laird is the single most outstanding university faculty member I have worked with or otherwise encountered in my 30-year career in higher education,” Walzel wrote in his nomination letter.
Laird is proud of being part of a large state university, which attracts students with varying life experiences — from farms and neighborhoods to high school graduating classes with single, double and even triple digits in metropolitan areas.
“When this job came up, I was really interested. I wanted to make a difference in the lives of students who came from different backgrounds,” Laird said. “It seemed like the kind of democratizing place I wanted to be.”
Spencer Huston received his doctorate in musicology from KU in 2017, and Laird was his doctoral adviser. In his letter of support, Huston wrote that few professors capture students’ attention the way Laird does.
“Dr. Laird’s unselfish passion for sharing and teaching his subjects is mesmerizing, awe-inspiring and infectious,” Huston wrote. “Imagine an entire class eagerly soaking up every detail and then waiting in anticipation for 48 hours until the class meets again.”
The professional recognition the award brings is an honor, Laird said.
“When you’re as passionate as I am about teaching, to win an award like this is incredible,” he said. “It’s validation for what I’ve done with my life, and for students to take the time to write letters about me makes me very happy. It also is very humbling. There are so many deserving instructors at KU.”
Music absorbs much of Laird’s professional time. He teaches, plays Baroque cello, advises undergraduate and graduate students, writes and publishes books and research, and serves the university with performances and lectures outside of his faculty obligations. All of those things together build support and interest in the music and ideas that drive him.
“When you publish a book, somebody emails you to say something appreciative or ask you a question, and you realize there’s a conversation going on out there and you are part of it,” Laird said. “It’s even more thrilling in the classroom because it’s immediate. We’re talking in a class, and I see light bulbs go on, and it’s just thrilling to be part of forming that conversation about something I care about so deeply.”
The Chancellors Club was founded in 1977 and recognizes donors who give $1,000 or more annually to the Greater KU Fund. As an honoree, Laird will receive a $10,000 award.
Top photo: Paul Laird, KU professor of musicology, speaks at the KU Collage Concert on Sept. 11, 2021, at the Lied Center of Kansas. Credit: KU Marketing Communications