Michael Rosenthal

This professor has earned a CULPA gold nugget

Sep 2010

As part of the last class Mr. Rosenthal taught before his retirement from Columbia, I agree wholeheartedly with the previous reviews in many respects--his brilliant (and not far-fetched, as I often find) insights into literature, his wonderful wit, etc. However, I'm writing this review not only to add my praise but to disagree with a trend in the previous reviews: that Mr. Rosenthal teaches his own opinion and isn't open to others. He often spoke about different interpretations of a text, and as we formed judgments about the books both individually and as a class, it was as part of an intellectual journey, not due to the ruling word of a teacher. The class discussions were so lively that people would voice many different opinions, and Mr. Rosenthal would sometimes mention that he agreed or disagreed, or elaborate on the topic, but as one of the discussion, not as a supreme authority. That's really what made the difference for me--participating in a discussion with Mr Rosenthal was like talking to a friend, in the sense that your friends can disagree with you about the meaning of the Iliad without sounding dictatorial because your opinions are of equal worth. When Mr. Rosenthal disagreed with me, I didn't feel "shot down," just that I was part of the conversation. He also isn't stern about his opinions and the class was friendly, so that if he thinks you're completely wrong, it's a funny situation, not a shameful one. I wouldn't condemn Mr. Rosenthal for his viewpoints on the books at all--I WANT his opinions. Since they were always humbly offered and well-received, I have no complaints. I congratulate him on his gold nugget, which he joked about wanting last semester and finally got.

May 2010

Wow, the best professor I've yet had (and probably will have) here at Columbia. Unfortunately, he is retiring this year, so this is more a tribute than a review. Plus, I want him to win back his Golden Nugget, as he 100% deserves it. All I can say is that he was an absolutely phenomenal teacher; always clear and engaging. He is brilliant and lets the students lead the discussion, grading heavily (and holistically) based on participation (he equates it to about 40% or more, though again, he said he does not grade quantitatively). Papers for his class don't need to be intense, just clear, concise, insightful, and though-provoking. He removes a few books from the syllabus and switches them out for a few of his own choices (the Bacchae, Faust Pt 1, Gulliver's Travels, and Benito Cereno are some), and they're all fantastics picks. He's always interesting, and usually quite funny (our class compiled an entire booklet of quotations as a retirement present), and he is endowed with the greatest of common sense. We read through the course quite quickly, which at times became overwhelming, but in those cases I could still get by in class discussion with Sparknotes. It's a tradeoff, because had we moved slower, we would've been able to enjoy some of books more, but we also wouldn'tve had such great discussions and read his supplementary books, which were usually better. Some, such as Metamorphoses, got only a day of coverage. I am glad he moved the pace so fast though (about 1 book/work per week), as it kept things from ever getting stale. When it came to writing papers, at first I did really well, but he is the professor who grades you to your own baseline, not his own arbitrary one. So, since my first paper was strong, he expected similar quality from all following, which generally coincided with high stress times like midterms and finals and other classes' papers. But writing in his class was life-changing; I developed an entirely new style from the stuffy prose I'd been taught in high school. I learned to be concise at no expense to content, and how to properly convey my thoughts in a college setting. My concept of the essay was revolutionized. The strongest component of his grading theory is the student's improvement. Again, he judges you against yourself and nothing else, and he wants to see you improve against that baseline. I sincerely believe that Professor Rosenthal is the greatest thing that happened to my college career, and his profound impact on my learning experience is immeasurable. This course was incredible, and this professor more so.

Nov 2009

Wow. Truly a wonderful class with someone whose knowledge of these texts is extensive and consideration for his students admirable. DEFINITELY get into his class if you can.

Jan 2009

Michael Rosenthal is wonderful. Get him second semester if you can, and feel lucky if you're placed in his class from the get-go. His knowledge of the Lit Hum works is immense and is equaled only by his dry, wry wit. If you want his respect, try your best to engage honestly and humbly with the works on the syllabus, the issues they raise, and his perspectives on them; if you want to lose it, try to BS him. He is genuine and cares deeply about his students, however gruff he appears sometimes. Like the previous reviewer, I'm now a senior and am writing this because I think he deserves a gold nugget. In my time here I've only had a few professors comparable to him, and certainly none better than him. He is exactly what the core should be.

Jan 2009

I know all the other reviews say this, but Rosenthal is without a doubt the best professor I've ever had. Having him for LitHum really makes the core not just worthwhile, but essential. He's been teaching at CU for around 40 years, but keeps teaching LitHum because he clearly has a real passion for the texts and his students. Also make sure to go to Rosenthal's office hours! He really makes an effort to form a relationship with everyone in the class, and you'll end up easily spending an hour talking about your experiences and hearing his stories from when he was associate dean of the College. My only complaint would be that he adds a lot of his own choice texts to the syllabus (make no mistake, they are terrific), so often the pace is a bit rushed. By the end of the course, you are reading narrative on a completely higher level, and have gained serious insights into human nature and timeless moral problems. If you get Rosenthal for LitHum, DO NOT CHANGE under any circumstances! Those who don't get him, do everything you can to switch in to him!

Sep 2008

The best professor I've had at Columbia hands down, and I write this as a senior. I'm submitting a review purely to get this man the gold nugget he deserves because I feel that the past reviews are generally accurate. He's brilliant and funny in a rather dry, sly way. He can also tell you some amazing stories about Columbia's past, so go to his (very accessible) office hours and ask him a few questions. It is true that he isn't really open to alternative readings of the texts, but this has the benefit of giving class a trajectory rather than making it a wild goose chase. Inevitably, his interpretation will blow your mind and make you think about each and every work in a completely different way. This the quality stuff we came here for, folks. Take this incredible gift of a class and be part of the Rosenthal legacy.

May 2007

Professor Rosenthal is easily one of the best professors I've had at Columbia. This is how a Lit Hum class should be taught--read the books (and a couple extra, well worth it), have a lively class discussion, write papers that make a point, and get to know one of Columbia's finest (he's quite an accessible guy). This is a senior faculty member who chooses to teach (nearly exclusively) Lit Hum, because he knows and loves the books, and gets to know and love the students. Give this man a golden nugget, so that students lucky enough to get randomly assigned to his class freshmen year appreciate the fantastic year they can expect.

Dec 2006

I love this man. There's even a facebook group about him. He's brilliant; everything he says in class about seemingly boring books is so insightful and interesting. A lot of reviewers are right when they say that he tends to teach his own opinion...and If any other teacher taught his opinions the way Prof. Rosenthal did, I might've been annoyed, but since he's the smartest teacher I've ever had, I don't mind, because he's most definitely right about everything. He's pretty much a god among men. Oh, and he's super funny, but in a subtle way. Take his class.

Nov 2006

respectable, older professer, used to be in columbia's administration. wrote a biography on either Low or Butler, i forget which one. great sense of humor. nice slight bohemian flavor. pretty much the only question he ever asks to spark discussin is "what do you make of that." he doesnt accept every comment on the texts, which is kind of refreshing - he'll tell you if he disagrees with you, altho he'll claim to be open to other interpretations. he lets the students talk for most of the class, but also puts in his own comments and he questions students about their comments. there were times in class where i really felt enlightened by him. a pretty damn good teacher.

May 2006

In your first few classes with Michael Rosenthal, you might think him just another stuffy old English professor who's spent too much time indoors with his books. He himself, in his dry, self-effacing manner, claims as much. But that's his teaching genius: he draws you in with his simple questions so subtly and quietly that when you reach the end of class, without your even realizing it, your understanding of the work at hand has been expanded titanically (to paraphrase one of his favorite lines from Faust). Beneath the musty facade lurks a man of formidable intellect who possesses a detailed knowledge and deep understanding of the Lit Hum books. As another reviewer wrote, you won't get any postmodern BS from him, nor will he tolerate such from his students. He insists on intellectual honesty and keeping it real. He also tends to insist on his own interpretations, but usually, he is right, and in my opinion it's a good thing that he doesn't wishy-washily tolerate bull from his students. And for the most part he's tactful in his disagreement. He's also quite willing to agree to disagree when there is a genuine stalemate (this happened once in my time in his class). He is, in short, everything a Lit Hum teacher should be: intelligent and intellectually stimulating, while still kind and funny. Recommended.

Mar 2006

While Prof. Rosenthal is undoubtedly an intelligent man, the class left me feeling not completely satisfied. While the reading list is incredible, almost every discussion begins with "I liked this novel because.." or "I didn't like it at all." At times I felt like he could've drawn us in to discuss thematic issues or technique in greater depth, but instead I often felt like we lingered on superficial sparknote-esque analysis.

Sep 2005

Professor Rosenthal has been the best professor I've had at Columbia. In my view, his class was an open discussion, and he encouraged everyone to join in (although he was biased towards a couple students' opinions). His sense of humour is fantastic and makes the class extremely enjoyable. He, unlike my Lit Hum teacher second semester, actually knew what he was talking about. Why not take a class from the head of then English Dept.? Unfortunately, he went on leave second semester, and I had a train wreck of a teacher after him.

Jan 2005

Professor Rosenthal is an amazing teacher. I'll give the only complaint I had about him first, that he spends a lot of time presenting his own views on the texts and is not always open to other interpretations. You will see, however, that he is usually right. Plus, it seems that he knows that the class should be discussion based, and restrains himself from lecturing as much as he could. The insights that he gave us about the books were always fascinating and thought provoking. His questions were great at helping you draw connections between different concepts. Also, he is always interesting, and even funny despite his seemingly dull voice.

Jan 2005

At first, I found Prof. Rosenthal a little intimidating; he sometimes shoots down comments or just ignores them completely. However, Professor Rosenthal really grew on me, and I realized how nice it was to have a professor that actually respects his students enough to call them out when they are obviously wrong or rambling about something. He also has a wry sense of humor that made the class amusing. Professor Rosenthal really just wants to help students improve their prose and explore the texts (and not in a cliff notes-type way). I ended up thinking he was a really nice and insanely intelligent guy. That said, I sometimes wished he would impart his insights a little more often. But it was a seminar class, so I can't really complain that he let students talk so often.

May 2004

As the other reviews say, Professor Rosenthal is a very good Lit Hum teacher. It's also pretty neat to have the former Associate Dean of Columbia College and current head of the english department as your Lit Hum teacher. I don't know if he was quite as fantastic as some of the reviews make him out to be, but maybe that's just because I don't love Lit Hum in general. In short, I doubt there are many lit hum teachers who are better than him. Like another reviewer said, he could be described as an "old school" professor, but to me, that is sort of the perfect description of a Lit Hum teacher, because Lit Hum is an "old school" course. He clearly knows everything about the books on the syllabus, and he loves each one. However, he doesn't force the students to love these books--he just asks them to read them seriously and critically, and be ready to discuss. His dry humor brings a certain lightness to the class, which is certainly a good thing. My one main complaint would be that he lectured a little too much for my taste. I shouldn't really complain, though, because what he said in his mini-lectures was usually helpful to understanding the book, but as another reviewer said, he was also attempting (although he wouldn't want to admit it) to make the students agree with his interpretations of the texts. When he wasn't lecturing, though, he moved the discussions along well, often focusing on the most obviously important parts of the book (which is a good thing, in my opinion). He is an extremely nice man, who desperately wants to interact with students outside of class (he has a ton of office hours, and he invited our whole class to a party at his beautiful apartment at the end of the year). So, if you're placed into Professor Rosenthal's class, be happy, because most of your friends will end up with teachers that have many more flaws than he does! And, if you can, try to take advantage of his great knowledge while appreciating his self-depricating humor.

Apr 2004

There is an understated grace to the method with which Michael Rosenthal conducts a class. Several themes surface as you go on throughout the year: he will say "I am a simple man," "I am skeptical of that," "I urge you to take yourselves seriously." He is simple; he expects only that you read and come to class ready to discuss, and the questions he raises are pointed, direct, and always relevant: "what is the function of this?" or "what did you think of this?" He is skeptical; you will not delve into postmodern literary theory, or long tangents into etymology, or reductive biographies and historical currents, or intuitively nonsense ideas, or "things that professors say." He is serious; every work is treated as if it were somehow relevant to a life-or-death condition of humanity, everybody will participate or eventually be called upon, every comment will be considered with academic rigor even if it is a flailing gasp at coherency, and every class creates an atmosphere where students are naturally compelled to invest in it as such. There are downsides. He will claim to be open to varying interpretations, but not always (although if you disagree initially, you are usually persuaded to his reading anyway). He will ask questions until he arrives at something close to his right answer, and then expostulate on his reading for what seems like a bit too long sometimes. He will not take you to King Lear even when you can get discount tickets to an award-winning interpretation. And yet, professors like him are why I came to Columbia; his Lit Hum made me an English major. He is brilliant, unassuming, unintimidating, highly approachable, incredibly kind, old-school almost--but not quite--to a fault. He conveys just the right ratio of ego to that which backs it up, tempered with self-effacing humor and dry English-professor--but not smug Ivy League academic--wit. The man embodies all that the Core is meant to give you with Lit Hum, a class that--as head of the English department--he elects to teach out of his passion for the humanities and his "perfect goodness to you." And, as you realize every time that a writer discusses the purpose of art, his teaching--every text, Homer to Woolf (his specialty)--is artistic, gently shaping, blending, and combining ideas to moments of radiance and insight. If you get him, and you are even mildly engaged in a liberal arts education, you are blessed. He will make you into a better reader and a more passionate student.

Apr 2004

Rosenthal is unbelievably smart. If you are an English superstar or if you are looking for a teacher who is challenging and engaging, he is a great bet. Though he lectures quite a bit, he steers the class away from that ubiquitous English class in which dumb students talk all the time and the teacher never says anything substantial about the books. He doesn't give extremely specific comments on the written papers, and he is a pretty hard grader, so if you are looking for an easy A, this is not your guy. Nevertheless, if you are looking for a guy who will make you like, or at least find value in, all of the Lit. Hum. books you read, he is great.

Apr 2004

Rosenthal is a teacher with an intimidating ego, but the skills to back it up. You probably won't be able to find a Lit Hum prof that teaches the material as well as Rosie. He is more than qualified, and teaches the class because he loves it. Don't plan on skipping his class, he takes attendance very seriously.

Jan 2004

I don't know what I can say negative about Professor Rosenthal. I'm months out of Lit Hum but we still talk, he still amazes me, and I'm still in awe of his ability. Prof. Rosenthal engages the class, is self- deprecating, exudes brilliance and refinement, and is truly one of the best men I have ever met. He'll make fun of you if you're wrong but never does it mean-spiritedly. He'll invite you to his house for dinner. He'll have people join the class all year like the amazing Barbara Barrie that he met at cocktail parties and were so impressed that they decided to devote a year out of their professional lives to his course. I don't think you can adequately describe this man in English.

Oct 2003

Professors like Rosenthal are the reason I wanted to go to Columbia. When I imagined myself here and saw myself taking core classes, this was what I thought of. The man is brilliant, yet unassuming. He knows all the texts inside out and possesses the ability to make you enjoy anything, or at least make you feel glad that you read it. And by anything, I do mean ANYTHING. Augustine? Yep. Thucydides? Indeed. Herodotus? The Bible? Name your Lit Hum stumbling block and the majority of people in my class will tell you that they ultimately found some value in it. In addition to his insightful comments his sarcastic, dry sense of humor made every class worthwhile. This is the only class here that I have never ever wanted to skip. The class atmosphere was excellent too. He lectured more than some other teachers, but I at least never minded because he had so much intelligent stuff to say and made sure to invite discussion and provoke ideas from us as well. Our class got so close that he even invited us to dinner at his apartment at the end of the year. Incoming freshmen, if you get him be VERY happy. He's no pushover, but he makes it worthwhile!

Sep 2003

Professor Rosenthal was an amazing teacher, easily the best I have had at Columbia. He is completely knowledgable about the texts, and created a great classroom environment

Dec 2002

Professor Rosenthal is a really good instructor. I didn't know what to expect out of LitHum, and since I am not that good at literature, I feared the worse. But since the first class, Prof. Rosenthal was very friendly, funny, and interesting. It just doesn't get any better and easier. Encourages discussion in class and always finds a funny, wacky comment to add when discussing a certain book. When I was in class, I felt like if I was with a bunch of buddies just chatting, really stress free. He is also a fair-grader, and does not impose requirements on students, like write 6-page-essays. Very laid-back, good professor.