Wednesday, September 20, 2006

A teacher's influence

Every committed teacher would die to have the kind of influence that this teacher has:

Once, they were fresh-faced students bewitched by courses in political science they were taking with a young professor, Stanley Feingold. He provoked them with uncomfortable questions, made them see other sides to smugly held beliefs.

Now in their 60’s and 70’s, these two dozen alumni of Bronx and Brooklyn walk-ups and the City College of New York are high-powered lawyers and other professionals. They range from pro-Bush Republicans to A.C.L.U. Democrats. Most have had more real-world experience in government and politics than their mentor.

Yet they continue to meet with their old professor over lunch as they have for the past 20 years, to hear his unsettling questions once more. At 80 years old, he flies in especially from Seattle five times a year, and they find the chance for a spirited exchange of ideas under his adventurous steering, a priceless grace in their lives.

The NYTimes story goes on to say that it is becoming increasingly more difficult for a teacher to have this kind of influence. Reason? The ever increasing importance of research over teaching.

There probably aren’t that many similar gatherings around the country where adults recapture the zestful engagement of a seminar with the same professor who taught it ages ago. Some experts contend that the odds against such mentor relationships are mounting because stimulating teaching is not as valued as publication and research.

Donald Kagan, dean of Yale College from 1989 to 1992, , points out how little professors actually teach — two courses, or one, in many elite colleges, half the load of his student days 50 years ago. Basic classes often are taught by graduate students. Faculty senates strive to let professors teach what they wish, resulting in fewer core courses that students have in common.


  1. Big Jim said...

    As a current CCNY student (Political Science major, class of 2007), and one who had transferred from another University, I can vouch that CCNY continues to have a much stronger focus on teaching than its peer schools. In the 3 years that I have been here, I've had only one with more than 100 students in it. All of the classes in my major are taught by competent faculty, with a minority of adjuncts.

    I know that CCNY is the exception rather than the rule.