URI’s Scott Molloy named Professor of Year

KINGSTON, R.I. — November 18, 2004 — The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education have chosen D. Scott Molloy, professor of labor and industrial relations at the University of Rhode Island, its Rhode Island Professor of the Year.

It’s another in a long line of honors for Molloy, a resident of West Kingston, who was awarded the URI Foundation 1995 Teaching Excellence Award.

“If you can’t inspire people as a teacher, then what are you doing in the classroom?”

Now in his 19th year of teaching at URI, Molloy described how he used a phone book recently to explain how labor unions are supposed to protect workers. “I couldn’t get across to this student how a labor union protects an individual in the workplace. So, I grabbed a phone book and told the student to tear out a few pages. He had no trouble doing it. Then I closed the book and asked him to tear it, which he obviously couldn’t do. Individually, the pages could be damaged, but as a whole, the phone book, like a union, cannot be torn asunder.”

URI Provost M. Beverly Swan, who nominated Molloy for the award, said: “In many ways, Scott is URI’s Joe Hill, a man who will not be deterred from educating people about both the challenges of achieving and the right of accessibility to the American Dream. “

A former bus driver for the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority who operated out of the garage that once housed trolleys operated by his Irish immigrant grandfather, Molloy said he learned how to teach, not in a classroom, but in a union hall.

After earning his bachelor’s degree from Rhode Island College and his master’s from the University of New Hampshire, he took the wheel of the bus and immersed himself in the history of the transit workers union, becoming a shop steward, president and business agent. “Nothing in my formal education had prepared me to run a rowdy monthly meeting or address a diverse and boisterous membership from a podium,” Molloy said.

He earned his doctorate in American History from Providence College while still earning a paycheck as a bus driver.

“I enjoyed the dichotomy of one foot in academia and the other on a gas pedal,” Molloy said. “I discovered a penchant for teaching and learned a lifelong lesson: don’t expect your students to automatically embrace the subject matter at hand without displaying a passion for the material yourself.”

He was chief of staff for former Republican Congresswoman Claudine Schneider in the mid-1980s when he was asked to teach a summer course at URI. He never left the campus.

Molloy doesn’t confine his teaching and contributions to the URI classroom. In the last several years, he lectured to about 40 groups annually and he refuses all honorariums.

He brings more than two decades of labor research to the classroom. He wrote Trolley Wars, Streetcar Workers on the Line, an intimate look at streetcar workers during the Rhode Island Transit Strike of 1902. Next year, while he is on sabbatical, he will write a book about Joseph Bannigan, the first Irish Catholic millionaire in Rhode Island, who founded the Woonsocket Rubber Co. during the Gilded Age. He eventually became president of the U.S. Rubber Co., now known as Uniroyal.

In the end, the URI professor says that his parents played critical roles in his success as a teacher. “My father was a cop in Providence for 25 years and my mother was a math teacher at Mount Pleasant High. I learned to relate to all kinds of people because of my parents.”

Roger LeBrun, a URI entomology professor won the Rhode Island Professor of the Year award in 2001.

The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching was founded in 1905 by Andrew Carnegie “to do all things necessary to encourage, uphold and dignify the profession of teaching.” The foundation is the only advanced student center for teachers in the world.

The Council for Advancement and Support of Education is the largest international association of educational institutions, with nearly 2,900 colleges, universities and independent elementary and secondary schools in 44 countries as members.