By Harrison Goldstein
For the Mitzpeh
Dr. James Glass has made a habit of looking at things differently than everybody else.
Glass, who has been teaching at this university for 47 years, has written six books based on his research on social and political theory, ethics, mental illness, and trauma. However, what makes Glass, unique is that he approaches these issues differently than most.
Glass’s longtime colleague, Dr. Charles Alford, referred to this approach as the “revolution” that Glass brought to political theory.
“It’s better to go out into the world first and then turn to political theory for answers, rather than the other way around,” Alford said. “I think he really introduced a new way of thinking in political theory.”
For example, Glass studied the mentally ill, particularly those with schizophrenia, to see how they perceived things. Alford said over a span of “at least five years” starting in the late 1970s, Glass visited patients at the Sheppard-Enoch Pratt Mental Hospital in Towson, Maryland to try to understand their thoughts. Glass asked a question that looked at these people from a different perspective: What can mental illness teach us about political life, ethics, and human understanding?
“So much literature dismissed the talk of schizophrenic patients as worthless,” said Glass, who earned his Ph.D in Political Science and Government from the University of California, Berkeley. “But I found lots of meaning in it. Psychosis can teach us about political life.”
One event Glass looks at differently than most is the Holocaust. While a common defense of the German public was that they were largely ignorant to the atrocities being committed by the Nazi regime, Glass believes that they were not only aware, but many were also in favor of it.
“The notion of indifference isn’t true. They were convinced that it was for the health of the nation that the Jews should die,” Glass said. “German science and medicine had convinced the majority of the population that Jews were an imminent threat to the body and the mind and the psyche of the Aryan race. That racism was a very powerful dynamic in creating all the various sectors of participation.”
Because of Glass’s extensive research in a variety of different spheres, he has a plethora of anecdotes with which to engage his classes. Freshman bioengineering major Roxana Demeter described him as a mentor and guiding figure.
“He is very engaging, thoughtful and exciting to listen to,” Demeter said. “He uses storytelling – lots of anecdotes to make the material, which is quite abstract, relatable to freshmen in college.”
Demeter is not the only person to recognize the effectiveness of Glass’s distinct and engaging style. Glass has won several awards for excellence in teaching including the University of Maryland’s Distinguished Scholar Teacher Award for the 2002-03 school year, the Outstanding Faculty in the State of Maryland Award, given by the Maryland Association for Higher Education, in 2004 and the W. E. Kirwan Undergraduate Education Award, which honors exceptional contributions to undergraduate education at this university, in 2008.
“It’s the imagination of his projects in which he doesn’t start with some classic text, but something in the world, and shows how it illuminates classic works,” Alford said about how Glass distinguishes himself from other educators. “Nobody does it better than [James], hardly anyone did it before he started it.”
Glass is also the director of International Studies, one of 12 subsets of the university’s College Park Scholars program. His responsibilities include administering the program, deciding the curriculum and how to use graduate assistants. Additionally, he orchestrates off-campus activities for the program, such as trips to the Model United Nations in Boston, various embassies and the Holocaust museum.
Senior environmental science and policy major Marcie Kim, who graduated from the International Studies program at the end of her sophomore year, characterized Glass as eloquent, friendly and always willing to talk to people.
“The first lecture he gave us, our class gave a standing ovation because he spoke so well,” Kim said. “He doesn’t use slides, he just talks. It’s almost like storytelling, but it captivates any student who’s open to listen to him.”
When Glass is not lecturing or researching, he enjoys relaxing, taking walks and spending time with family. Additionally, he helps his wife with “Jeremy’s Run,” a charitable event in his child’s name, who died 10 years ago of a drug overdose.
The most rewarding part of his job, Glass said, is his back-and-forth interactions with his students.
“Teaching is the way for an old guy to stay young,” Glass said. “It keeps me sharp and helps to focus my research and how I look at things.”