Professor Mass is a nice guy and his lectures are interesting, but his classes are a crap shoot. Each week, our seminar ran an hour over, and he talked nearly the entire time. He asked for response papers on most of the books. The essay questions for the two papers ran two pages single spaced. This is just his way; he complicates the course to make it much harder than it has to be. He grades response papers, as an example, "B/B-" and says that grade really means "A- or maybe even an A in some cases." Response papers are said to be "optional...if you want to be sure to get an A," but Prof. Mass grades by check marks and half check marks It's not clear how professor Mass grades, but if you're looking for the easy A or a certain opportunity to earn an A, avoid his classes because you'll be guessing till the end.
I am a Freshman and this was my second class with Professor Massimilla. Not only is the syllabus incredible (You can look forward to reading: Ulysses, Heart of Darkness, the Good Soldier, Mrs. Dalloway, Women in Love, and A Passage to India), but Professor Massimilla is astonishingly well-versed in Modern(ist) Fiction, Modern(ist) Poetry, and a broad spectrum of other topics. The best part about this class is his passion: he loves what he is teaching, he knows a lot about it, and he truly desires to make these dense works accessible to his students. He is funny, erudite, willing to work with his students on deadlines, consistently available, and genuinely kind. He is exactly what you want/imagine in the perfect professor. I took this class because I wanted to read Ulysses in an academic setting-- Massimilla recognized the daunting intricacy of the work and endeavored to make it easier for his students. If all of this information weren't enough to persuade you to take a one-day-a-week-class on amazing works of literature, Professor Massimilla held one session at a restaurant near campus and paid for everyone's dinner! He PAID for dinner while we discussed James Joyce. If he lectures at all, it is only because the class is really not long enough for the material it covers. And his lectures are always insightful and worthwhile. The workload is completely manageable for a class covering these books: 1 short essay on each work (essentially free response and not a lot to ask for a class that meets once a week) and 2 longer papers. This class is amazing. The professor is amazing. I would take it again a hundred times.
I have to say that I disagree with the previous reviewer. I'm also a senior who took this seminar this past semester and I loved it. It's true that he does like to talk a lot (I always end up with my wrist spazzing out from all the notes I take), but he does allow students to interject with their opinions and whatnot, and he works at making it into a discussion. That was, at least for me, what those group projects were all about. Personally, it helped me focus and analyze whatever one theme our group decided on and get a sort of deeper understanding of the text, because we usually try to simultaneously cover depth and breadth which is a difficult task. The extra thirty minutes thing wasn't really a problem for me... And I had to leave every week, without fail, exactly at 8:00 because I had somewhere else to run to. I just made a friend in the class, and we'd exchange notes if either one of us were absent, and when I would borrow her notebook, I would just make a copy of whatever bit I missed in the extra thirty minutes. It's just difficult because the texts we read are really dense (as all modernist texts are), and we do go through a fair share of books, so two hours a week really isn't enough. I certainly felt like time flew by when I was in class. I did miss a few classes, but I don't think he gave us any shit about it. He'd make a passing remark or something every now and then but that's just his sense of humor. I was never really offended by anything he'd said; maybe I'm just not as sensitive, I don't know. He's never been slow with email responses with me, and really, if you take the time to talk to him after class or drop him an email asking for an extension with a valid kind of excuse, he's really nice about it. I know from previous classes with him also that he'd happily send you a really long email bouncing off ideas on a paper topic that you'd want to write about, if you take initiative. I can see how the sort of seeming "structurelessness" of his lecturing style (yes, he *does* lecture, but as I mentioned, he also opens up room for discussion) can be frustrating for some people, but when you read through your notes again carefully, it does actually make a lot of sense. It may not be chapter-for-chapter, but you slowly start to understand the structures that we're trying to cover. Which is, well, a great first step for modernist literature. If there was one thing that I struggled with, it was containing three modernist texts into five pages for our papers! My second one, after endless edits, was finally cut down from it's original 12 page length to 7 pages... Anyways, the course syllabus is amazing, and there is a lot of reading (of course, it's a seminar after all) but all of it's interesting! You really get back as much as you put in in this seminar, and it was actually one of my favorite classes this semester, and I would recommend it to anyone -- don't be intimidated even if you aren't an English major! Really. Take this class. You won't regret it.
I am a Senior, and this was my second class with Prof Mass. I enjoyed both classes with him. He is incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about modernist fiction and poetry. The syllabus was great, and those group presentations often lend to interesting discussions. Prof Mass does have a tendency to fall into rambling lecture mode, but what he is saying is always worthwhile. I will say that he really should mention on the bulletin that he intends the class to be 6-8:30 instead of 6-8. Also, I think part of the reason he started lecturing so much is because he kind of overloaded his syllabus. Ulysses took up 4 classes and people started to lose focus by the end of it. He would do better to substitute it with one or two shorter, challenging works. I have found him to respond to emails within a day, which is not unusual for professors. As for the Passover/Jewish remarks situation--his remarks were not offensive at all.
Let me just say that this is my first CULPA review, and I'm a senior. I had such a horrible time in this class that I had to review him, and I'm honestly not sure how or why this professor is silver-starred. And as a side-note, this review has nothing to do with the grade I've received in the course, as I did well throughout the semester. As a disclaimer, this course is supposed to be a seminar, but for all intents and purposes, it's just 2 hours of Prof Mass (as he will have you call him) lecturing, and disorganized-ly at that. He also failed to mention in his course description that he keeps his class 30 minutes extra after class, saying "it's just optional," but really expecting you to stay. And this class was on a Monday night from 6 to 8. To be fair, the syllabus was great (Ulysses, Heart of Darkness, the Good Soldier, Mrs. Dalloway, Women in Love, A Passage to India), and Prof Mass clearly knows his stuff. However, he often rambled without providing us with any information, and he never facilitated class discussion. When students would try to contribute, he would often interrupt them immediately and not let them finish a thought. He would also then have us to these weird little group exercises during class in which we would divide into small groups for 10 minutes, discuss a topic of his choosing, and present to the rest of the class. These were ultimately unhelpful and a waste of time. Additionally, he is not amenable to students missing class. If you do miss a class, he requires you to write a response paper on the week's reading anyway, and if you miss handouts from a week you've missed and then ask for the missing handouts, he puts up a stink about you having missed that class. He is also VERY slow to respond to emails, which I always think is frustrating. On a completely different note, the course fell during Passover week, and Prof Mass made some rather offensive and insulting comments to some students who explained that they had to miss a week because they were observing the holiday. Overall, one of the worst English classes I've taken in college, and one of the worst professors I've had at Columbia. If you don't want to leave class angry every week, steer clear of this professor.
Take this class! Prof Mass has the passion and the dedication that you came to Columbia for. Personally, I took this class to fulfill a core requirement. I'm no lit major and English isn't my first language, BUT this class was the perfect jump into the deep end that I needed. James Joyce and H.D Lawrence may be a tough pill to swallow on any other day (for me anyway), but prof mass made me look forward to reading it and the discussions in class were thoroughly engaging, fruitful and frankly, mindblowing at times. As for the syllabus, the books that you'll read in this class will be a major part of your education. I couldn't see myself going on about my life without ever reading Mrs Dalloway and Heart of Darkness. But to get a chance to discuss it in depth and listen to Prof Mass' brilliant take on it is an opportunity you must take. In short, tuition well spent ;)