Baer, Leonard D. (PhD)
Associate Professor
Humanities and Social Sciences


PhD, Geography, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
MS, Geography, Virginia Tech
AB, Philosophy, Oberlin College

Professional Biography

My professional experience has been quite varied over the past 25 years. I was a professor, development practitioner, and (early in my career) a policy analyst. Throughout my career, I wanted to find ways to help people, from research during my graduate studies on the uneven distribution of physicians in relation to need, to teaching students (and, occasionally, colleagues) to question ideas and not take accepted explanations for granted. I have always been deeply interested in cross-cultural understandings and perceptions, ranging from studies on immigrant physicians in rural America to learning in different microcultures about people’s perceptions towards one another. For example, my work has included studies on prisoners’ interpretations of one another’s surroundings, and an analysis of my colleagues’ perceptions towards their students. More recently, in leading a non-governmental organization in the Upper West Region of Ghana, I have worked across and within cultures in running projects on water, sanitation and hygiene, education, and livelihoods.

In 2011, after I had been in Ghana for a little over 3 years, I took a hiatus from the academic world to work on international community development. Along with my wife, Agatha, I started, established, directed, and managed a community development program in a remote rural area of Ghana near the Burkina Faso border. The program began as a local NGO in her hometown and then became the Ghana office for an international foundation. From this personal and professional experience, I have developed a deep interest in culture and development, especially development ethics and the rights of community members to conduct analyses on programs that impact their lives. This presents a turn from my previous academic work on health services research and carceral geographies, with certain threads binding different aspects of my career: valuing local voices and cultural understandings in people’s everyday lives; learning about the ‘between’ spaces and overlooked meanings that do not fit easily into categories; emphasizing participatory approaches to learning, whether the learner is a student or a community member or if I am the learner; and questioning the status quo if it is disenfranchising people or placing unnecessary limits on what people can do.

Teaching Statement

When I was working on my PhD, a teaching consultant at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill would adorn his office with various quotations about teaching and learning. Although it was around 20 years ago, I am still inspired by one of the quotations that he put on his wall: “Teaching consists of causing people to go into situations from which they cannot escape, except by thinking (William Spare).”

In a nutshell, that is what I seek to do with my teaching. To teach based on reflection is to turn the tables on standard practice in teaching and learning at many universities around the world. By the time that many university students are in their senior year, they are already conditioned to ‘chew and pour’ information. Yet learning results from the challenging of one’s own understanding. In the classroom, we need to be cognizant of the ways in which learning takes place, give students opportunities to make mistakes, and focus on concepts that can serve as the foundation for their learning.

To teach students to challenge their own understandings and question ideas, we need to know how our students think. Over the course of my career in teaching, I have realized that the more that we as teachers know about our students, how they think and what interests them, the better we can be at teaching. However, regardless of preparation or effort, I have also realized that every class can go in a totally different direction than planned.

If any class that I teach ever goes exactly as planned, it will have gone terribly awry. If I ever ‘figure out’ how to teach and feel like I ‘have it down,’ it will be time to quit. That time has clearly not come. In fact, I feel inspired to return to the classroom and work with students to bring my passion for teaching and learning to Ashesi.

Courses taught at Ashesi 

Leadership Seminar 4: Leadership as Service