Robert O'Meally

This professor has earned a CULPA silver nugget

Nov 2020

I feel really bad saying this but I hated this class. The professor clearly knew a ton about the topic, but his way of speaking was very difficult to follow and even harder to pay attention to for extended periods of time, which was unfortunate because the course was 95% lecture. There is no discussion or student participation though, so if you want an easy A class with basically no work that you can play games on your laptop and space out for the whole time, take this class. The readings he recommended were incredibly interesting, but most people didn't even do them because we weren't assessed on it ever. Prof. O'Meally was really nice though and always willing to talk outside of class!

Nov 2017

Professor O'Meally's approach is autodidactic, folks. And that is what we are here to do in the big leagues. Yes? The model of the Ivy League is to teach us to teach ourselves. So, in response to some other confused reviewers; it isn't about an "easy workload" or being "ripped off" (to use a less pejorative word than the last reviewer) because the only way that you walk away with nothing is if you put nothing into it. Professor O'Meally is not just a scholar, he is the foremost scholar--and yet he is somehow able to soar beyond that; he's like a guru. Yes, guru; for that is to say, he is teaching when he hasn't uttered a word. Yes, I mean he is able to convey the unsaid because he is adept in the art of listening. For that reason alone, he's on another level, plain and simple, people. And if you can't see that, then you're just not paying close enough attention because this gentleman contains worlds; he contains multitudes. I learned more in that class than I ever dreamed possible. I learned about Jazz, I learned about life and I learned to learn. I came away with not just the course content but also his associative way of thinking through the material, an approach that I still employ today. It has to do with this whole idea of montage which speaks to an aesthetic that is unmistakable to jazz and the arts of the African diaspora. So---his being able to teach in the aesthetic of the Diaspora is nothing short of brilliance. Professor O'Meally is no doubt the best improvisor standing in front of a classroom today, and that is because he is so well prepared, so well versed in his craft. His lectures are thought provoking and timeless because he is just as sharp as they come. Confession: I scored a "B" in the course; my first and only B while at Columbia and guess what? I could. not. have cared less., about the grade---because I was actively learning far and beyond the classroom. I ended up taking off on my own course of study! I was buying books and doing all of the supplemental readings that he had been suggesting along the way and I found myself mesmerized to the point of failing to complete my assigned tasks! So, for me, the grade became secondary to the learning experience-- which was an easy A+ Professor O'Meally is a legend. Get up in there already!

Dec 2013

By the end of the first semester, O'Meally's section of Lit Hum had a reputation for being the easy workload section. We were never held accountable for reading the books (**no in-class quizzes**), got free pointers on our papers before turning them in again for a grade, and had no real pressure to participate in class at all. To be honest, though, I felt a little gyped in the whole scheme of what I thought I was going to get out of Lit Hum because going to class and "discussing" the books didn't really give me any more perspective on them than I got from just reading them by myself. Class "discussion" consisted mainly of monologues by O'Meally on (sometimes pointless) background information for the books we read--only every 30 minutes or so would he remember to look up and say, "Oh, does anyone have anything to add?" The only time we really got to voice our opinions was on the days when people presented papers and we got to give them pointers, an exercise that would sometimes veer off into the direction of fascinating and valuable discussion but which was usually soon cut off by O'Meally taking control of things again. He was always available and happy to talk to students during office hours, and going to office hours proved to be a *gold mine*. If you wanted help or ideas for a paper, you could literally say five words about what you were trying to do and he would launch into a half-hour musing on it, basically giving you every idea you could ever need. He also always went to great lengths to find resources that could help me, from digging through books in his office to calling his Biblical scholar friend to ask what he knew about what I was trying to argue in my paper. O'Meally readily admits that he has little to no expertise in the area of the books we dealt with in Lit Hum, so I felt like I didn't really get much insight from him. He is extremely smart, though, and you can tell that he LOVES to muse about literature and deep ideas, but that musing was often at the expense of us getting to hear each other's ideas and perspectives, which I felt was the most important part. Beware that his grading on papers may be a bit harsher than he leads you to believe by the way he praises everybody's papers in class.

Jun 2011

O'Meally is not for everyone (he was definitely for me, though). He's always smiling, quite well-dressed, and excited about teaching, about learning, and about the things he holds most dear (as far as I can tell, literature and music). The man founded the Jazz Studies department (the academic one, not the performance-oriented one) at Columbia, so if you're into music, snag a class with him, and talk to him. I will admit that we spent a bit too much time going over peers' papers in LitHum. However, LitHum was one of the best classes I've taken so far precisely because the time we spent critiquing each other's papers, I'm pretty sure, helped us open up and engage more in discussion, which is what the class is all about. You have to really listen to what he says when he lectures, because he talks a lot and thought it is mostly very precise and interesting discourse, it can be tiring. Go to his office hours; he's smart, really helpful with paper revisions, and a great conversationalist. He has lots to talk about, especially (again) if you're into music.

May 2011

The course itself was great; the syllabus is varied yet relevant. The fact that this course is taught by Professor O'Meally makes it even better. One gets the immediate impression that he cares deeply about academic work. Scribbling notes with a furrowed brow when students participated (fairly infrequently), I could listen to O'Meally talk all day. Very insightful and with a great collection of anecdotes. Only got feedback on one of the two papers written for the course. It was (for me) surprisingly laudatory but not especially in-depth. Lectures intermittently included screenings of documentary or film clips which nicely complemented O'Meally's lectures. I didn't feel as though they were ever a cop-out or waste of class time, even in a small lecture course.

May 2010

I just saw that American Humor is being offered again next semester and immediately opened up CULPA so that I could caution everyone NOT TO TAKE THIS AWFUL, AWFUL CLASS. When I was signing up for seminars last fall, I saw that O'Meally had a few bad reviews. Even so, I figured that a class called "American Humor" had to be fun enough that I could stand if the professor was a little full of himself. I was completely wrong. To begin, the syllabus is awful. Instead of reading well-known American humorists like, say, Kurt Vonnegut, Philip Roth, David Sedaris, or anyone else the phrase "American humor" might bring to mind, O'Meally has you read things like "Invisible Man"—which, needless to say, is not a very funny book—and a random novel by Mary Gordon. He was also totally unaware that some of the books he assigned this semester were out of print, making it near impossible for us to find them. O'Meally didn't send us the syllabus until the week after classes had begun (our first session was canceled because he was abroad, which shows just how little he cares about teaching), meaning that by the time we all found out how bad the syllabus was, it was too late to drop this seminar and add a new class. The actual class itself is unbearably, excruciatingly boring. O'Meally begins each session by rambling for about half an hour, name-dropping and talking about Ralph Ellison, who he's done a lot of work on. He then has three or four students "present" two- to three-page papers they've written about that day's reading, mainly so that he can get out of teaching for the rest of our class time. We've never discussed any of the big overarching themes O'Meally named in this course's description—instead, we spend class nitpicking each other's work and trying not to roll our eyes too loudly. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad if we didn't have class from 6-8pm on Thursdays, which might be the worst possible two-hour block. Either way, I can't imagine that things would be much better even if we met in the afternoon. I'm so angry that one of the last courses I'll ever take at Columbia is such an utter waste. The one nice thing about this travesty is that it's barely any work—you can contribute to discussion without doing the reading, since discussion is about other students' papers instead of the "humor" books themselves. Even so, spare yourself the agony of American Humor. It is without exaggeration the worst class I've taken in my four years here—even worse than Critical Reading, Critical Writing. And Critical Reading, Critical Writing was BAD.

Sep 2007

Robert O'Meally is an exceptional professor. He is a very laid-back, humble, and approachable professor, and his accomplishments speak for themselves. He commands considerable respect from his students, and runs LitHum in a very approachable fashion. He is easy to talk to and genuinely has an interest in the well-being of the students in his class. Additionally, he is very concerned with discussion and argues that it is essential to an effective teaching of LitHum. Students present short papers before the entire class in order to spur discussion. Some of the best debates and most interesting discussions came out of the examination of student papers. O'Meally also brings an interesting point of view to the texts. As a Jazz specialist, he is concerned with improvization and ambiguity. These can be refreshing ways to look at old texts.

Apr 2007

He is the humblest and most approachable scholar I have ever met. He is INSPIRED by his engagement with both literature, Music and biography. Consider yourself blessed to take a class with him and even if the TAs are going to grade your paper, do your best to get him to read your papers-- he is incredibly encouraging and supportive of student's scholarship.

May 2006

As O'Meally's first time teaching Lit Hum, it was a pretty interesting experience. He read the books along with us, and added himself into our discussions as though he were another student, although he did bring in a lot of literary criticism to introduce us to each text. He was very personable -- our whole class fell in love with him. It was pretty apparent he wasn't used to dealing with freshmen, but he soon got used to us and was nothing but encouraging. His grading was usually pretty fair (although a little harsher than he made it seem it would be), and he would give good comments on essays. Overall a good experience, although not necessarily the most in-depth lit hum class. Oh, and he doesn't believe in tests, so there's NO MIDTERM, and he counts the final as little as possible.

Jan 2005

O'Meally is a teacher who truly seems to be excited by the material that he teaches. He doesn't always get through the material in the syllabus but that is because he wants to thoroughly explore the topics. He is quite knowledgable about what he is teaching but understands that many students in the class do not have the background that the has and tries to make the material interesting to everyone. He sometimes gets a little off topic but he always has something important to say.

Jan 2005

I don't have enough bad things to say about him. First of all, he is too famous and too self-involved to be teaching undergraduates, because he clearly does not have time for them. When asked when his office hours were, he replied that he wasn't sure and to please call his off-campus assistant to inquire. He treated the class like his baby, though not in a good way: I think for him setting up the reading list was his major accomplishment. He thought he had come up with the canon on American humor, apparantly. The class was dominated by several people who thought O'Meally cared about what they had to say, and he did nothing to stop that. Also, the atmosphere was very unpleasant in that everyone was trying to one-up one another so no one would agree. O'Meally himself could be very harsh for no reason. All in all, I suggest avoiding this class and Professor O'Meally until he comes down to earth and realizes he isn't Toni Morrison.

Dec 2004

A couple of reviewers have already mentioned that Professor O'Meally himself is an intelligent, knowledgable, unpretensious instructor and that the class content is very interesting - i want to emphasize that it is also extremely relevant, thoughtfully presented (this class is not just finger snapping to good songs) and provocative. If you do the reading, whether the class gets to it or not (and O'Meally will), listen to the songs and listen to what he has to share, there should be no end to the discussion on our American culture, and the wayJazz dynamics reflect and inform it. I learned a lot from Prof O'Meally, not just in a text-book, now I can write a term paper way, but in a way that inspired me to ask my own questions and seek connections between the classroom and life. .

Feb 2004

That last reviewer completely misses the idea of what higher learning is about. O'Meally is a master in his field. No question. But O'Meally's purpose in that course was to encourage "love of learning," what philosopy is all about. O'Meally is definitely a lecturer-discussion leader, and he blends the role well, for he knows that students are not empty vessels that he must "fill" with his "knowledge." We're not robots dude. And O'Meally isn't the only brain in the classroom. I enjoyed the class because of the diversity of the points of view, and how well O'Meally guides students in the process of learning. Now, that's what higher learning is about: figuring out what you think and finding the answers. Don't come into his class like the typical Ivy League "stiff" expecting answers on engraved silver platters, and you'll do fine.

May 2003

I can't believe this guy won a teaching award. The class was a joke and a half. Most of the time (really. most of the time), he'd play us a song he liked, and rather than explaining any of the musical elements of it, or even what it had to d with anything, he'd sit there and snap along, occasionally making a face as a player hit a high note. Don't get me wrong, he has great taste in music, and there could be worse ways to spend a morning, but come on. Our assignments were either fun but marginally relevant books (for instance, Louis Armstrong's autobiography) or pretentious essays in which someone uses every cliche about art to describe jazz ("jazz reflects life, jazz reflects the personal life of the musician, etc.) Still, it's pretty pointless to do most of the reading, since he never gets around to talking about it (remember--the snapping), and the weekly reading respones are ungraded chances for you to become your own jazz scholar ("jazz is life, etc"). So, take it cause it's fun, but don't expect anything more than some fun listening and hyterical b.s-ing about art. Oh yeah, it's also easy as hell.

May 2003

He is a very nice guy, but he is not the best lecturer on campus. I think that he does a great job of listening to the students especially by allowing them to speak in class. He really knows his stuff about African American Literature and he can usually compare it well to mainstream literature. The only thing I really did not like about the class is that they have these responses every single week. I could not stand having to do those things.

Jan 2003

This class is for those interested in thinking critically about humor as a means of entertainment, persuasion, and defense. O'Meally challenges students to reconsider identity politics by analyzing humor in works ranging from the novel Huck Finn to the cartoon Betty Boop. Readings are rarely "funny," but often interesting. Discussions tend to be lively. O'Meally has great jokes that are relevant to class discussion. This class inspires much student creativity.

May 2002

Professor O'Meally is one of those rare Columbia teachers who cares not only to share his vast knowledge with students but also to learn as much from them as he can. Just look at the huge line every week waiting for his office hours. Prof. O'Meally can fill your ears for hours in his office, eager to discuss anything class-related or personal. If you're trying to come up with a paper topic, he can rattle off several names of texts to consult that are not mindlessly recommended but spot-on useful. This class has a fairly diverse syllabus, with authors ranging from the Harlem renaissance to Henry James and Faulkner. Some people may be disappointed that there is no direct emphasis on contemporary humor and comedic forms, but these topics are welcomed in the class discussion. Prof. O'Meally has a lot to say about the authors covered but generally keeps his remarks brief and lets the class run itself. And unlike many of his peers' anecdotes, O'Meally's are relevant to the material and above all interesting. Seminar atmosphere very laid-back: a class you'll look forward to coming to, whether you're passionate about the week's readings or just want to hang out for two hours .

Jan 2000

You'll learn a lot about the influence of jazz on American culture (dance, literature, art) from this class. The lectures are stimulating and the professor clearly has a passion and excitement for the subject matter.