professor
Marc Hertzman

Dec 2012

I can genuinely say CC was one of the classes I was most excited about coming into Columbia, so I was already looking forward to all the books before coming to class in September. Although I had heard terrible stories of unfortunate CC professors, I came to class with an open mind, knowing that either way, I would at least get something out of simply reading the texts. Although I really enjoyed the progression of the readings, I felt I have been cheated a semester of a potentially enlightening class due to Marc’s lack experience in the subject matter and knowledge required to present these books. What I wish to critique most is his inefficient ways of managing class time, directing conversations towards valuable discussions, and bringing up meaningful and important passages in the text. Seriously the first few classes, and I mean at least the first four, we spent about 20-30 minutes total each class memorizing each other’s names. Although it was an effective strategy in creating a comfortable classroom environment, he often interrupted discussion at the end of class so that we could go around the room and say our names, multiple times. Although that does not seem like a significant issue, there were countless times when I felt he did not understand the books and concepts presented in the texts, so he would waste class time with such diversions. Because he provided no background of the texts and did not discuss the historical significance in context, it felt as though he was reading the books along with us through the semester. Because he had no background knowledge in any of the texts we read, I seriously do believe that any of us in the classroom could have served as a professor. What bothered me, and many other of my colleagues the most, was that for literally every book, we spent about half the class discussing why we think it should be on the core and whether we believed the Core education was valuable. While it is important to consider this as future leaders of our generation and to discuss the argument on both sides, I would have liked to spend this valuable class time ACTUALLY discussing the book and doing close readings. In addition to poor text discussion, he would also spend significant time for every single book discussing reading strategies we used. It would have been sufficient to discuss this just one time at the beginning of the year… not for every single book. In addition, when returning papers, he spent significant class time discussing basic writing skills, like how to use an apostrophe and a semicolon. He stressed such minor issues and distracted the class from the texts themselves. When we finally did have good debates, Marc would often interrupt it so that he could stay in line with his very structured lesson plan. Throughout each class, he would fit in these awkward five-minute “reflections” which interrupted class unnaturally. Many times, he would ask us to read them to share our thoughts, but he would only allow us to do so if we read our writing verbatim. I personally, saw no value to this, and did not benefit from it. We would often even have “re-writes” in which we would reflect on our first writing, and then discuss what we changed when we answered the question the second time. This was perhaps the most disappointing thing about Marc because his inflexibility did not provide enough room for natural conversation and debate. Honestly, each class I left very disappointed and dissatisfied because I felt that I wasted 2 hours in class without gaining much insight into the texts than I already gained just from reading the books. All in all, I would not recommend Marc Hertzman as a CC professor. To be fair, he seemed like an actually pretty nice guy with good intentions, but I am unsure as to how the Core Committee found him qualified to teach such a dense course. Perhaps he would be more suited to teach the global core classes in which he can focus specifically on his background knowledge of Brazil and Latin American studies.

Dec 2012

Though Marc is generally a friendly person and no doubt accomplished in his field, I seriously question his ability to teach CC. Other students may disagree with me and favor his "chillness." But I argue this sense of relaxation is due to the fact that he avoids serious engagement with the literature. One of the largest problems was that Marc frequently interrupted the natural flow of class discussions with what he believes were beneficial exercises (e.g. written reflections, movie clips, unnecessary 5 minute breaks, or just total changes in discussion topics). This was extremely frustrating, as I often felt that whenever we were getting to the deep questions and underlying issues of CC, Marc would say something like "Ok we can't spend any more time on this, we need to move on to..." Additionally, I felt Marc was often detrimentally bogged down by his own beliefs and unwilling to honor different student perspectives. If a student raised a controversial point, he would typically try to veer the discussion away from it and closer to whatever he wanted to talk about. Rather than probe students further regarding certain points that perhaps he did not fully grasp, Marc came off as dismissive and stubborn. It also seemed, at times, that Marc was wholly unprepared to teach this class. For example, we never even discussed Medieval philosophy but rather spent an ENTIRE class watching a documentary on Hurricane Katrina. Of course the ethical issues regarding Katrina are tremendous. However, I did not come to Columbia to spend my valuable Core classes watching movies that I can watch on my own time. The classes we had on St. Augustine, the Qur'an, and others were also very abstract and barely grounded in the text, which signaled to me that Marc was not prepared to actually engage the literature. I was extremely insulted by these occurrences, which I felt Marc made with frequency. Moreover, Marc often mistook student boredom for disrespect. I believe that most students come to class eager and willing to learn, and that this inattentiveness was in fact due to the poor quality of his lecturing. However, rather than take this as a sign of his personal short comings, Marc would take personal offense to these attitudes.