|"It was a very glorious time,"
Teofilo Ruiz recalls of his involvement in the Cuban revolution of 1959.
"We thought we could change the world, create a new kind of man, and
put an end to the country's great inequalities and oppressions."
He was 16 at the time. Now, at 61, this professor of medieval history believes that teaching may be his most powerful tool for social change.
Born in Cuba, Ruiz became active in the July 26 Movement as a student representative. Later, he came to the United States, where his love of history enticed him into academia. In 1998 he joined UCLA's department of history, and has been its chair since 2001.
His courses are always filled to capacity, invariably producing long waiting lists. He attributes this to the fact that he always finds interesting ways to challenge his students. "I am far more interested in having them learn to think critically than in memorizing dates and events," he says.
Ruiz points out that the experience of undergraduate students in history is tied to the department's ability to compete for top graduate students. Increasing funding for fellowships, he says, "would dramatically improve our ability to attract and retain top graduate students, who in turn are vital to the teaching of undergraduates."
"I am in my heart of hearts an undergraduate
teacher. I truly think that to be human is to
teach and to be taught. Sometimes the
experience can be frustrating. Sometimes
it can be glorious. I know that I do not
reach everyone, but I feel good if I can
reach a few."