Rael Isacowitz: The Teacher of Teachers
The University of Southern California prides itself on the integration of "liberal and professional learning"and its commitment to excellence in "teaching knowledge and skills to [its] students." Through teaching, research, artistic creation, professional practice, and selected forms of public service, the university accomplishes it role as a premier educational institution. Alumni, trustees, volunteers, and friends of USC are essential to the Trojan Family tradition, and their camaraderie and willingness to help one another are evident among each member of the family. Every Spring graduation, USC awards an honorary degree to distinguished individuals displaying excellence in one or more of four highly regarded areas. James Freedman, president emeritus of the University of Iowa and Dartmouth College notes in Liberal Education and the Public Interest, "a university makes an explicit statement to its students and the world about the qualities of character and attainment it admires most" when awarding an honorary degree (117). Through its Role and Mission statement, it is clear that USC admires the arts and professional practice--two areas in which Rael Isacowitz excels. While he has not contributed to the university through gifts nor is he an alumnus, Isacowitz, founder and owner of Body Arts and Science International, has distinguished himself through achievements in his Pilates profession and in the business arena throughout the world. For this reason, I have chosen to nominate Isacowitz for an honorary degree in fine arts at the University of Southern California.
The university's purposes for awarding an honorary degree include: honoring individuals who have distinguished themselves through extraordinary achievements in scholarship, the professions, or other creative activities, but who may not be widely known by the general public; honoring alumni and other individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the welfare and development of USC or the communities of which it is a part; recognizing exceptional acts of philanthropy to the University and/or on the national or world scene; elevating the university in the eyes of the world by honoring individuals who are widely known and highly regarded for achievements in their respective fields of endeavor. As previously stated, Isacowitz's accomplishments may not be widely known by the general public, but within his respective profession, he has established a world-renowned reputation and name for himself.
USC's Honorary Degrees Committee invites students to nominate distinguished individuals to be considered for the university's highest honor, and they "welcome nominations of persons with distinguished accomplishments outside of conventional academic fields." In the surrounding neighborhoods and throughout the world, "USC provides public leadership and public service in such diverse fields as health care, economic development, social welfare, scientific research, public policy, and the arts." Pilates is clearly outside of the conventional academic fields in which USC awards honorary degrees. Still, Pilates is a form of art in its graceful movements and a form of science in its ability to rehabilitate the body. Isacowitz has mastered both the art and science of Pilates, while developing a Pilates empire across the globe. With his international acclaim and involvement, Isacowitz has served as a leader in his field while helping his clients and students achieve their goals.
Chapman University's Mike Martin provides an instrument by which to measure the attainments of an honorary degree nominee in his book Meaningful Work: Rethinking Professional Ethics. Martin believes professional achievement falls into three categories (21): craft, such as expertise, technical skill, theoretical understanding, and creativity; compensation, such as money, power, authority, and recognition; and morals, such as integrity, honesty, justice, benevolence, loyalty, gratitude, and conscientiousness. In other words, Martin's professional categories reveal the definition of a profession: "advanced expertise, social recognition, and service to clients and community" (22). Isacowitz is widely known as a teacher of teachers. With more than twenty-five years of teaching experience, he is recognized as an expert in the Pilates method. Incorporating yoga, dance, athletics, and academic knowledge, Isacowitz developed the Body Arts and Science International approach. The BASI certification is recognized today as a contemporary, cutting edge approach to the works of the founding father Joseph Pilates, and represents the amalgamation of the pure form of Pilates and current scientific knowledge. This therapeutic exercise modality has caught the attention of physicians and physical therapists, which now integrate Pilates into their practices.
Martin further claims, "Delivery of services involves relationships of trust, trustworthiness, confidentiality, and caring about clients, employers, colleagues, and the wider public. As a result, professions have inherent moral significance, in two ways: professions provide opportunities to make ongoing contributions to the well being of others, and they play special responsibilities on professionals as outlined in codes of ethics (23). On Center Conditioning, one of the Pilates studios established by Isacowitz, is "home to an exclusive, internationally acclaimed instructor-training and certification program that attracts students from all over the world." In a letter to visitors at the On Center Conditioning website, Isacowitz states, "I have had the pleasure of witnessing and being part of people's journey towards well being, and have seen the most profound changes before my eyes." His care for each client as an individual, and his interest in their personal goals, contributes to the value and moral qualities of his profession.
Isacowitz is a teacher of the highest caliber. His rich experience in all facets of human movement are incorporated into his practice and teaching. Isacowitz's work in Pilates has spanned five continents and has touched hundreds of students around the world. "In addition to earning money to pursue interests outside work," Martin argues, "we seek activities and relationships at the workplace that are inherently meaningful in terms of our fundamental values" (11). Martin provides an explanation in his discussion of "meaningful work, moral psychology, character and the virtues, self-fulfillment and self-betrayal, and the interplay of private and professional life" (vii). He argues that most people need more from professions than simply money and fame. "Usually, though not always, work is inherently meaningful only when something more than money is gained" (21). Isacowitz gains more than money and fame through sharing his love and knowledge of the work of Joseph H. Pilates. At the BASI host studio, On Center Conditioning, he is able to bring the depth of his experience and his passion to life. Isacowitz notes in A Pilates-based Workout Can Change Your Life, "We are very proud of our center. It is the culmination of over twenty years" work; and for me, a dream come true. I am genuinely committed to helping our clients achieve their individual health and fitness goals, and we tailor programs specifically to meet these goals." Isacowitz continues to practice Pilates at every level, and to integrate the work into his life, which he is able to share with all.
Freedman argues an honorary degree is above all intended to "celebrate distinguished and sublime achievement" (132). In addition to serving as a committee chairperson for the Pilates Method Alliance, a non-profit organization dedicated to unity, professionalism, and to advocating educational standards for Pilates, Isacowitz has published several articles, has been featured in numerous publications dedicated to health and fitness, and recently released a book called Pilates. Isacowitz also works extensively on five continents in the fields of dance and Pilates and receives international recognition from the medical, dance, and athletic communities, as well as from his peers and colleagues. Furthermore, he was a featured speaker and demostrator at the International Association of Dance Medicine and Science in Tel Aviv, Israel and at the University of California, Irvine. Isacowitz received his teaching credentials in 1978 and a Bachelor of Education degree in Israel at the prestigious Wingate Institute of Physical Education, where he was later invited to join the teaching faculty and lectured for three years. In 1986, he completed his Master of Arts degree in Dance at the University of Surrey, England. The beginnings of the BASI organization were in Australia in 1989, being one of the first curriculum-based Pilates teacher-training programs in the world. In 1991, Isacowitz established On Center Conditioning in Costa Mesa, California, which has always served as the "standard for excellence" in the Pilates industry since its inception. He has also lectured and taught in universities, colleges, clinics, and studios in Australia, England, Israel, South Africa, and throughout the United States. For his notable achievements throughout the world, Isacowitz exemplifies an individual deserving of an honorary degree of the arts at USC.
According to the Role and Mission of USC, the university is "pluralistic, welcoming outstanding men and women of every race, creed, and background." Moreover, the Honorary Degree Committee is "particularly interested in candidates from diverse backgrounds." Isacowitz was born in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1955 and was raised in the country until moving to in Israel for college. His time in South Africa allowed him to begin his profession and grow the BASI company throughout the world. Living and attending school in Israel provided another path in which to expand a Pilates empire, furthering a dream of establishing world-wide recognition. Not only did Isacowitz develop a successful business in his country of birth and schooling, but also he immigrated to the United States and established himself as a "master" and a "teacher of teachers" in the Pilates method. Isacowitz's dparticularringing, which is of particluar interest at USC, should provide further evidence for the awarding of an honorary degree.
Some may ask what this profession--Pilates--would mean to the students at USC, and possibly why the institution should award Isacowitz with an honorary degree. "There are of course risks to colleges in granting honorary degrees," argues Freedman. "Perhaps the greatest risk is that the recipient will turn out, in retrospect, to have been ill-chosen" (130). Risks, while at times dangerous, often can result in something very successful and worth the taken chances. It is important to illustrate to students, especially graduates, the wide range of possibilities in the professional world. Isacowitz began as a teacher and has developed the dream of establishing an internationally praised program for Pilates and rehabilitation. In a commencement speech to the graduating class of 2007, Isacowitz would most likely express life's journey of pursuing passion-driven service. He would offer that success comes from finding a vocation that resonates within one's self--one in which an individual can become an expert and share generously with others throughout the world. While his initial accomplishments may not be commonly recognized by the public, and particularly by the students, Isacowitz's achievements are nonetheless admirable and worthy of an honorary degree at USC.