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OU Professor Receives Otis Sullivant Award

OU Professor Receives Otis Sullivant Award

Alan Velie, David Ross Boyd Professor of English, has been named the 2014 recipient of the Otis Sullivant Award for Perceptivity.

Alan Velie, David Ross Boyd Professor of English, has been named the 2014 recipient of the $20,000 Otis Sullivant Award for Perceptivity at the University of Oklahoma. 

The Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation and the selection committee, which is composed of faculty and staff members, students and alumni, makes the selection.

“The university family feels fortunate to have the opportunity to honor Alan Velie, who is a master teacher and mentor to countless number of students,” said OU First Lady Molly Shi Boren, who chairs the selection committee.

“This year’s recipient of the Otis Sullivant Award for Perceptivity is Alan Velie” said Bob Ross, president and CEO of Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.  “When Edith Gaylord established this award, she hoped it would recognize a member of the University of Oklahoma community who shared the same forward thinking and acute attention to detail as her dear friend Otis Sullivant.  Mr. Velie exemplifies the perceptivity Edith was hoping to acknowledge.”

The late Edith Kinney Gaylord of Oklahoma City established the $500,000 Sullivant Prize endowment shortly before her death in January 2001. The award honors the late longtime Oklahoma journalist Otis Sullivant, who covered Oklahoma and national political news for several decades and was known for his ability to analyze and accurately predict political trends. Edith Kinney Gaylord was a longtime supporter of many OU programs and a pioneering journalist. She was the first woman reporter to join the New York bureau of the Associated Press, and was the second president and one of the founders of the Women’s National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

The award is presented to a faculty or staff member at OU who exhibits “keen perceptivity.” The agreement establishing the prize also states that a person “who manifests intuitiveness, instant comprehension, empathy, is observant and interprets from experience” should be selected. The benefit to society and the broader community, which comes from the insight of the recipient, also is considered.

Velie is a well-respected and extremely popular educator whose ability is based on good judgment and perceiving the needs of his students each semester. It has been stated the only tools used in his classrooms are the minds of his students. Velie is a believer in the written word and the power of holding a book, interpreting its meaning and understanding the philosophy or story.

Velie began his career at OU in 1967 teaching Shakespeare, but soon shifted his focus to American Indian literature. In 1969, his course in Indian literature was the first in the country to focus on Indian literature from the standpoint of literary analysis, and the first to examine contemporary Indian fiction and poetry. Velie had the insight to see the serious attention needed to be given to the work of Native American writers, and is widely acknowledged as one of the original scholars in this area of study. As stated in a nomination letter, “it would be extravagant to say Alan Velie was the sole founder of this field of literary study; but it would be most unfair to discount the extent to which he was among the earliest or to minimize the quality of his insights in bringing this field to maturity.”

In addition to courses in Indian literature, Velie continues to teach Shakespeare as well as a capstone course on poetry and the Bible as Literature. He also serves as director of Undergraduate Programs for the English Department. He is a past recipient of the Amoco Award for Outstanding Teaching, the Baldwin Award for Excellence in Classroom Instruction and the Summer Faculty Instructional Award as well as being named Mortarboard Honor Society Outstanding Faculty Member.

Throughout the course of his career, Velie has widened and enriched the lives of thousands of students. His commitment to furthering the educational experience is evident in the way in which he engages students and faculty alike in thought-provoking and challenging discussion. As a mentor and visionary leader, Velie’s mind is constantly at work. He embraces various ideas, encourages discussions, and is open to the consideration of new possibilities. For him, the passion of thought is essential to the learning process. As a result of sharing himself and his abilities, students and faculty have been presented the opportunity to rise intellectually, develop a better feeling of understanding and to fine-tune keen discernment.

In a nomination letter, one person described how Velie’s generously perceptive intelligence allowed him to see how the combination of rigorous intellectual work, engagements with others and community building could be a model for an important and fulfilling life in education. One of his greatest strengths as an educator is his ability to demonstrate a firm commitment to life-long learning and building a community of people who work together and enjoy one another’s company.

An innumerable amount of students and alumni at OU have stated how Velie changed the course of their lives. Many claimed studying with him allowed them the opportunity to see the possibility of a fulfilling career and the way in which they can help to build and give back to their communities in ways they had not imagined before.

Velie has written five books and edited eight others. In 1979, recognizing a need to focus upon and canonize the literature of indigenous people of Oklahoma and North America, Velie published American Indian Literature, one of the first two anthologies of Native American literature published in the world. He has published more than 40 articles and lectured on Indian literature and other topics in universities throughout North and South America, Europe, and Asia. He is currently editing a series of volumes on the American Indian Renaissance.

Velie does not limit his teaching solely to the classroom, or to only the students enrolled in one of his classes. He has been known to teach all the time, everywhere, about anything, to anyone. Through his work with OU’s Oxford study abroad program, he ensured education included cultural and social experiences as well.

Furthermore, Velie was the founding faculty advisor of the OU Rugby Club, which has been a club sport at OU for more than 30 years. He participated as both a player and coach, and still serves as the faculty sponsor of the organization to this day. Velie believes the competitive elements of this sport define character. The OU Rugby Football Complex is named in his honor to recognize his years of leadership in the sport.

Velie received his bachelor’s degree in 1959 from Harvard University. He went on to earn a master’s degree and Ph.D. from Stanford University in 1966 and 1969, respectively. 

When asked about Velie, a fellow faculty member and former student said, “when I look around the university, I wish we had a hundred more Alan Velies. Teachers like him are what makes this place special. He is everything a university teacher should be.”