Reminiscence of a physics professor
Wistfully reminiscing, he was a big man. He was ``mass" as we would say in physics.
He had a boyish visage and dressed as a child, for one would think he was color-blind if not knowing better. His solid yellow shirt, plaid tartan tie, maroon trousers, and white high-top sneakers clashed stereotypically of a nerdy physics professor.
But what Dr. Strontium lacked in dress, he made up for in lectures wherein you saw his real purpose (or didn't see it) in the inert classroom. He spoke and wrote in the ``language" of equations and exacting diagrammatic drawings. He was staunchly planted in the groves of academe with well over one hundred publications in professional journals.
There were perhaps three scores of us, and it was the passing of long nights and burning the candle at both ends that presented the lectures somnolent and sent once-alert minds into torpor. Strontium would then whack the podium with a meter stick, and the resulting earsplitting resounding echoes throughout the auditorium would jerk students awake. I thought this rather amusing, but to no avail, because having missed halfway through the solution of a problem, who could follow it thereafter?
Physics was not an easy college course. Although at times comfortable assumptions could be made, facile answers to complex problems yielded the professor's red ink of cognitive deficit.
However, Prof. Strontium was a liberal giver when it came to examination points. By penning our name to the exam, he started us off with twenty-five points and would give extra points as though it were a football game. A conversion play ― a successful attempt at bonus questions ― would almost always ensure another ten points.
So there you have it, 35-points given up-front with another twenty-five points required (out of one hundred available for the core exam) to pass on the professor's grading system. Thus, this free distribution of points precluded assignment of grades by curve fitting as well as assignment of grades based on predetermined standards of achievement.
It was a twisting he was not obliged to do, for no matter how many students failed to make the grade, Prof. Strontium would receive no summary dismissal as he was under protective tenure. It was a fail-safe solution to permit idiots to continue on to medical school and this pleased most. Those who concentrated in science academics and were exposed to physics at prep school did somewhat better than the rest of us. Those who were raised on gold stars for effort and certificates for self-esteem were the thirteenth-hour students and grade grousers.
Physics lab was disconcerting because grad students taught it, who were not that far removed from undergrads and whose acumen was often no better than that of the undergrad. Although one does not expect Nobel Prize winners to teach undergrads, one is in expectation of at least a doctorate level or post-doctorate to teach, even if it is laboratory.
When grad students end up teaching, the class becomes a breeze to frat-oriented students. Inevitably, the grad teacher was a member in one of the many Greek-lettered organizations; and thus, social influence and control determined grades meted out. Lab write-ups were laborious and time consuming; thus, favoritism permitted one to apply or allot that precious time to other demands.
If you did not associate with a fraternity, as I did not, then in effect, you were doomed. I didn't give a damn about my peers' wishes for my social life. I simply didn't care for secret rites and hazing and didn't much believe in brotherliness. Thus, I was game for serious pranksters. Leaving my study cubicle in the main campus library to roam among the reference stacks, returning within minutes, my briefcase holding ten accumulated lab reports had vanished.
These reports were due before the end of the semester, and the end was too near.
William Roger Jones has taught English in Korea for five years. He presently teaches with the English Program in Korea (EPIK). He has written a novella with his Korean wife entitled ``Beyond Harvard.'' He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.