By Ben Gurglebop
The fourth residential house now under construction on Cornell’s West Campus will be named in honor of the late William T. Keeton, Cornell professor of biology. Keeton House will open in August 2008.
Members of the West Campus Council’s House Naming Committee nominated Keeton for his impact on undergraduate biology at Cornell and at institutions around the country. President David Skorton announced the naming at the Board of Trustees meeting prior to Commencement in May.
Keeton taught at Cornell for 22 years, from 1958 until his death at age 47 in 1980 from a heart condition. An extraordinary and popular teacher as well as an accomplished scholar, Keeton revolutionized the teaching of biology in American higher education. His research centered on avian orientation, including pigeon homing and navigation.
“I am just thrilled that this house is being named for him,” said Carl Hopkins, Cornell professor of neurobiology and behavior. “That is a tremendous honor to biology and to his memory. He revolutionized biology teaching because he brought botany and zoology together in a single course, united by an evolutionary perspective.”
Keeton is the author of the widely used introductory textbook “Biological Science,” now in its sixth edition. A condensed version of the book — “Biology: An Exploration of Life,” by Keeton’s Cornell colleague, retired lecturer Carol McFadden — has been used in a non-majors biology course at Cornell.
The Keeton Prize, established in 1991, is awarded by biology faculty at Cornell each year to the best undergraduate students taking Biology 101-104.
Hopkins has created a Web site with 25 audio files of Keeton’s lectures from his last semester of teaching at Cornell. The recordings are from cassette tapes Keeton made available at the Cornell Library for his students. The site, at http://instruct1.cit.cornell.edu/courses/biog101/Keeton.htm, also contains links to a list of Keeton Prize winners and articles by and about Keeton.
“Every time I heard him, it didn’t matter what the context, he was just captivating and could tell a great story,” said Hopkins, who was a graduate student when he first met Keeton at a lecture at The Rockefeller University. “These lectures he gave at the introductory level for biology are just unbelievable.”
Construction on the fifth and as yet unnamed final house in the West Campus House System will be complete at the same time, with house programs scheduled to begin there in August 2009. Like the other West Campus residence buildings, it will be named for a prominent Cornell professor from the past.
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