Tuesday, November 30, 2010

In Re: Who Is Your Favorite Prof?

An excellent question that warrants serious deliberation. Mac has a healthy crop of legitimately talented and engaging faculty, which makes it difficult to winnow down the top contenders to a single professor. As such, I've taken the leisurely route of declaring a three-way tie, and thus, in no particular order, I give you my top 3:

1) Professor Marlon James

The man, the myth, the legend. Marlon, who predominantly teaches Creative Writing courses, is easily one of the more popular professo
rs among students. He has a down-to-earth, don't-think-I-won't-call-you-out-on-your-nonsense approach to teaching. He's extremely accessible and has a distinct and easy to relate to sense of humor. He's authored two novels and knows what he's talking about when it comes to writing fiction.

Oh yeah, he has a cool accent too.

(For more on class with Marlon you can check out my post on Intro to Creative Writing).


2) Professor Patrick Schmidt

Schmidt is a ward of the Political Science Department, specializing in US Politics and Legal Studies. Last year he was my professor for a foundations course in US Politics. The class was lecture-based which, with Schmidt at the helm of the podium, is a treat. He's a thoughtful type who gives a great deal of consideration to his teaching style and the efficacy of his methods. As such class was worthwhile, enlightening and usually amusing (did I mention he has a quirky sense of humor? See below for Schmidtisms). Also, assignments were interesting and unique. One required us to get off campus and witness politics-in-action which led my friends and I to the Federal Courthouse in downtown in St. Paul. There we watched a pre-trial proceeding involving a drug operation which led me to realize the tenacity with which the Constitution defends the rights of the accused.

His final advice to our class, I'll never forget. He said (after some prevarication): "My final advice to you is this: Don't vote."

His rationale? Voting, in purely practical terms, is not the most influential political action available to a person. With the rather outstanding exception of the Franken-Coleman senatorial race, one vote doesn't make a difference, but voting is an easy way for the average citizen to feel complacent about their political efficacy. It's easy to cast a ballot and rest on your laurels, thus if you're only going to commit to the political process in one way, find a different avenue than just voting. Force yourself to wield political influence by writing a letter to your legislature, working for a campaign or protesting neo-Nazis outside the YMCA on Lake Street.

And now a brief sampling of Schmidtisms:

"Politics is like silly puddy; you squeeze it and it oozes everywhere."
"Would you like to do an interpretive dance to this manifesto?"

3) Professor Geoffrey Gorham

Don't be fooled by his austere photo in front of the dark-robed brooding philosopher, Gorham is one of the friendliest professors you'll find on campus. He's a Canadian import (also with a slight accent) who just earned tenure. His classes are a forum for discussion and as a facilitator he takes a back seat in order to allow students' thoughts to take center stage. The atmosphere he creates is a relaxed one that makes students feel comfortable to share opinions and dissent with each other. The prompts he gives, both informal devil's advocate suggestions posed in class and the more formal paper topics, are thought-provoking and force you to reconcile competing worldviews.

A class with any of these professors is likely to be one you'll look forward to and find to be ultimately rewarding in terms of what you take away from class.