professor
Melissa Fusco

Jan 2018

I had a truly terrible experience with this professor in my sophomore year (fall 2016). I came to Columbia for the core curriculum, and I was really looking forward to CC, especially the first semester. So initially I counted myself lucky to get Professor Fusco. She is an actual tenure-track philosophy professor teaching CC, which is a rarity. At our first class, Professor Fusco seemed like she was a nervous and inexperienced but well-meaning professor who would go out of her way to try and learn to cover the material. Instead of talking about the Republic or anything related to CC that class, she gave a long lecture on the analytic/continental divide. She seemed pretty embarrassed when we admitted we'd read the first 5 books of the Republic for that class and quite eager to meet our expectations for the next class. I couldn't have been more wrong in my initial assessment of her. Professor Fusco turned out to demonstrate she was shockingly unwilling to try to actually teach the CC syllabus. She outright ignored the assigned reading for about 90% of class, instead focusing on her own personal research interests. The entire semester was dominated by tangents and I felt like I barely learned about the texts. Some days were better than others, but here's what happened our worst class meeting: we had read about 200 pages from Aristotle's Politics for that class, but after a five-minute attempt to discuss the text, Professor Fusco gave up. Literally, she took out a box of cookies, and told us that right before class, she realized she didn't know anything about The Politics. Her boyfriend suggested that she bring cookies to class to make up for the disappointment. So she ran to Hungarian Pastry Shop and bought some pastries. The remaining hours of class were spent discussing a book review she was writing and eating cookies. Most of the time, if we got off-topic, we discussed topics in her area of research, which was philosophy of language and game theory. Sometimes she brought in worksheets she'd prepared on random game theory experiments. Occasionally, she would go on tangents about her/the class' personal lives that were flat-out unrelated to philosophy and bordered on inappropriate. For example, she once asked us to explain the vibes of different bars Columbia students tend to frequent. Then she furnished a vivid anecdote of her own, about a bar she frequented in grad school that had a concrete floor so they could hose the vomit off at the end of the night. On the occasions she actually decided to address the text in class, she focused on incredibly narrow and usually irrelevant aspects of them. When we discussed Hobbes' Leviathan, she spent an hour on the crozier that the monster holds on the front cover. During our discussion of The Republic, she spent at least an hour trying to draw the physical configuration of the cave. Which she followed up on next class with printouts of various cave layouts from the first page of results on Google Images. That took another hour. Professor Fusco's administration of class discussion was also terrible. The class was primarily dominated by 4-5 guys who liked game theory, some of whom actively interrupted class members or laughed at the comments of other students. When we actually *did* discuss the texts, she encouraged comments from the group of guys, who liked to attack the authors before the text had been thoroughly understood. It didn't make for great discussion but it did make for some great comedy: sophomores in college who did the reading on Sparknotes bashing the founding ideas of the Western canon with the intellectual force of middle schoolers. Someone would dub Martin Luther's salvation by faith alone or Descartes' cogito ergo sum as "dumb," then pat themselves on the back for their intellectual achievement as Fusco noted that they "raised a good point." I'm not saying that CC shouldn't allow students to form their own evaluations of the text, but it is the responsibility of the instructor to encourage thoughtful responses to them, since they contain deeply historically important and philosophically compelling ideas. Even if you disagree with the authors, the point of CC isn't to randomly bash their ideas, but to understand then critically evaluate them. Fusco failed at fostering this kind of atmosphere. On top of not teaching the material and administering class discussion badly, Professor Fusco seemed to be quite a harsh grader. I got an A- in the class doing all the reading and starting the first essay about 2 weeks in advance (the second essay I did right before the due date, which tanked my grade). I have no grudges about my personal grade, but the class was only 33% A-range, which is pretty low for CC (usually it's around 50%). I think she was probably too harsh on students who don't have experience writing philosophy papers. In summary: Don't take Fusco's class if you want to actually cover any of the material in CC or have thoughtful and respectful discussions of the texts. Do take Fusco's class if you want to be questioned about your drinking habits and discuss the prisoner's dilemma like 10+ times in a semester. My choice? Second semester I broke out of jail, switched to another section taught by a great professor, and had an intellectually fulfilling experience. I recommend you do the same.