Brown’s career accolades continue with Award for Excellence in Faculty Outreach
For Steven Brown, outreach has become a valued tool that has helped him develop as a leader among educators at Auburn University.
Brown, professor and Morris Savage Endowed Chair of the Department of Political Science, has become a faculty standout and beloved part of the Auburn community since arriving on the Plains in 1998. For his dedication to teaching students of all ages and walks of life in a variety of arenas, success as an author and status as an expert in his field, Brown recently was presented the Award for Excellence in Faculty Outreach as part of Auburn’s annual Faculty Awards.
The award "honors the engagement of exemplary faculty members and demonstrates the tremendous impact outreach has on our community, state, nation and beyond." Brown—an expert on everything from constitutional law and church-and-state issues to the Supreme Court and American legal history—was flattered to receive such a prestigious award.
“It really is an honor, especially since there is a good bit of outreach that goes on here at Auburn,” Brown said. “There are a lot of great things happening, so it is a great honor.”
Brown’s teaching has been recognized regularly at the departmental, college and university level with numerous awards and nationally in 2006 when he received the National Society of Collegiate Scholars Faculty of the Year Award. He was an inaugural recipient of the Auburn University Parents Association’s Faculty Award in 2018, has been awarded several grants, has conducted numerous workshops and spoken at dozens of conferences across the country, as well.
His research topics have ranged from First Amendment church-and-state issues and Christian right litigation strategies to the U.S. Supreme Court and American legal history. After spending a few years working on Capitol Hill as a staff member in the U.S. Senate, Brown began his studies at the University of Virginia thinking he would concentrate his focus on Congress, but fate intervened.
“I really thought I’d become ‘the Congress guy’ because of my experience on Capitol Hill,” said Brown, who would go on to earn his doctorate from the university in 1998. “I had signed up for a constitutional law class, and the professor happened to be in Japan at the time for the first two or three weeks. I lived in Japan for two years when I was younger, and when he came back, we kind of made this connection about Japan. He took me under his wing, and I ended up becoming a teaching assistant for him.
“I gradually shifted my focus toward constitutional law, and I wrote my thesis and dissertation about it. That’s not how I thought grad school would end, but I’m glad it worked out the way it did. I’m having a lot more fun in this field than I think I would if I had specialized in Congress.”
Brown—who teaches courses in American Constitutional law, religion and politics, law and society and government—is an award-winning writer who has been published regularly since 2002. He received the National Communication Association’s Franklyn S. Haiman Award for Distinguished Scholarship in Freedom of Expression in 2005 for his book, “Trumping Religion: The New Christian Right, The Free Speech Clause and the Courts.”
Brown’s article, “The Girard Will and Twin Landmarks of Supreme Court History,” received the Supreme Court Historical Society’s 2017 Hughes-Gossett Senior Prize which was awarded by Chief Justice John Roberts. Earlier this year, Brown’s book, “Alabama Justice: The Cases and Faces That Changed a Nation,” the companion book to his award-winning traveling exhibition, was awarded the Anne B. and James B. McMillian Prize in Southern History, and the exhibit was named a finalist for the 2020 Silver Gavel Award for Media and the Arts by the American Bar Association.
Brown has committed considerable effort to promoting outreach and providing instruction to a wide range of students through the years, regularly teaching at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, or OLLI, where he has thoroughly enjoyed sharing his knowledge with older students who still have an innate desire for knowledge. In addition, Brown has served as an instructor for The National Association of Election Officials for more than two decades.
“As people learn new things or gain new perspectives about things, they’re like, ‘Oh, wow, I never really thought about it that way,’” Brown said. “That generates other questions, and that’s where learning begins to take place. Somebody might hear about a constitutional law issue on the news, or maybe they remember something from high school or something from one of my classes. That’s when they’re on the verge of learning, because they then go and Google that issue or check out a book about it.
“That’s what every professor and educator wants. They want their students to keep learning on their own. It is empowering in that sense, because I think everyone has a thirst for knowledge. We just help facilitate that when we go out and help answer some of these questions.”
Outreach has long been a focus for Brown, who was trained of its importance from the start of his graduate studies.
“In graduate school, one of my professors at the University of Virginia told us that we were basically required to do outreach,” Brown said. “He said that, as research professors, we would have the skills and the time to devote to different questions and that there are a lot of people out there who have those same questions but didn’t have the time or research ability to answer them. So, it was incumbent upon those going into academia to share that knowledge, not just with other scholars, but with non-academic audiences, too.
“So, that’s where a lot of this has come from. There are a lot of people out there who may have really good questions, but they may not know how to find the answers. As professors, we have research skills and the time to be able to explore some of those questions, and it’s important for us to share what we have learned.”
Brown’s teaching philosophy is inclusionary and interactive, centered on establishing an atmosphere of open dialogue and collaboration.
“I like to ask questions of my students, and my teaching philosophy thrives on student participation,” Brown said. “What’s great about my area is that everybody already has an idea about ‘con law,’ even if they don’t realize it. They know how they feel about abortion, church-and-state issues, capital punishment or presidential authority. They may not know the case law behind all those quite yet, but they already have an opinion on them.
“So, I’m already tapping into an existing body of knowledge that’s based on what they’ve heard. I tend to get a lot of participation in that sense, just because people already have a framework or a point of reference.”
Brown’s peers and supervisors effused praise for the veteran professor, submitting glowing letters of recommendation for him during the nomination process.
“In a college with over 300 tenure-track faculty, Steve is a standout as one of the most engaged faculty in the college with a lengthy and substantive track record in faculty outreach,” College of Liberal Arts Dean Joseph Aistrup said of Brown in his recommendation letter. “Steve connects his scholarly expertise to the wider world and in tum has brought a great deal of positive recognition to Auburn University. Of the many strengths which makes Steve such a deserving candidate for the Outreach A ward is his ability to connect with a broad audience outside the university and convey complex ideas and concepts.
“Steve has the ability to connect to his classes making his students—whether in the Election Center courses, OLLI or as a guest lecturer—feel like they have joined Steve along this journey for knowledge. Steve has achieved a level of scholarly acclaim which has and continues to bring great credit upon the department, the College and Auburn University.”
Brown—who has raised seven children with his wife, Melanie—says the most fulfilling part of teaching is seeing students learn and grow while expanding their knowledge.
“It’s when you see that light go on and can tell that students get it, because of their comments in class or their performance on exams,” Brown said. “I’ll get e-mails long after class is over from students about certain cases or something that’s going on at the Supreme Court. So, just watching them learn and have an interest is great.”