I'm floored by all the positive reviews of this prof. I couldn't stand him. A good chunk of the class couldn't stand him. He was touchy and personal in class discussion. He couldn't get his own political agenda out of the way of our discussion and he made some pretty incredible material pretty painful to get through by the end of the semester. Had good contextual grasp of material but discussions he led were uninspiring.
Shannan embodies that rare combination of attibutes: incredibly intelligent, articulate, and impassioned, but simultaneously down-to-earth, approachable, and witty. More specifically, Shannan is the prime example of the nice guy who in this case finishes first--the class loves him, not only because we learn a lot, but because he manages to impart a huge amount of information in an unpatronizing but digestible manner. If you are assigned to his class, count your blessings. It may take a while to get used to his style--not to mention the readings, which can be tedious--but Shannan's students soon come to recognize him as an intensely cool guy with whom all of us would really want to hang out some weekend.
Professor Clark should win the core teaching award. I am a very concrete thinker, and thus was dreading a class comprised solely of analyzing abstract philosophical concepts. However, Prof. Clark quelled all my fears. He begins each class with a very brief background lecture, but then gets right into intense discussion. He requires people to post responses on courseworks the night before each class, which is a huge pain, but in the end encourages class participation. It's worth it because he reads the student responses thoroughly and then incorporates them into in-class discussion, going to far as to remember who posted what. He genuinely cares about conveying an understanding of the works to the class, and is also a very understanding individual. Coupled with a lively class, Professor Clark gets an A+ as a CC professor.
Shannan did not make the best first impression. For about a month. His courseworks postings were a pain (and he wants them done before every class). His questions for postings, discussion, exams and papers, though, are great because they incorporate everything you want to know about a text and everything you should know. Overall, he is a nice and understanding guy (he's also well-prepared and knows his philosophy, except for the Koran)--a lot better than most CC instructors. He gets an A for effort.
Take CC with this man. A little more work but its worth it for a professor who makes this material interesting. He's tough, but reasonable and knows the material really well. Classes are almost all discussion. He hardly ever lectures and lets you get the concepts for yourself. He made a potentially boring class into one of the best ones I've had this semester.
If you are in this section, stay there. Do not let yourself be intimidated by a slightly harder workload. Clark is easily the most passionate teacher that I have had at Columbia, and I enjoyed every class even if I didn't agree with his opinions. Shannan does an excellent job of running the class without stifling student discussion. He also is incredibly committed to the students' education, and it shows. He is never late; in fact he is ten minutes earlier, and hangs around for ten minutes afterwards to answer questions. He will always find time for students, even if they want to talk about something other than schoolwork. Shannan says that CC is intended to create better citizens and people, and he believes this so adamantly that he convinced me of it. This is perhaps the most valuable part of his class; Shannan gave a sense that our education is not just a cocktail party stimulator. If you have the opportunity to take a CC with him, go for it. You will learn a ton, but more importantly, you will enjoy CC.
Shannan knows the material really well, and although his class runs as a very discussion-based seminar, he subtly guides the the content to make sure we cover and understand all the important points. He also has a good sense of humor and relates well to the students. I think it is one of the only classes i've been in where people purposely get there early to chat with the prof. Basically for all those willing to exert a considerable amount of time and effort, the class will be immensely rewarding. He may not hand out As left and right, but he is by no means out to get his students. He simply wants to make students genuinely contemplate these philosophical texts so that we not only become more educated people, but perhaps even better people.
If you get Shannan for CC you've obviously managed to please Eileen Gilooly in some way. Simply put, he's a nearly-perfect CC instructor. A grad student in the History Dept., Shannan always made CC surprisingly interesting. He didn't pontificate, but I always felt that he explained the important concepts of each philosopher in class *and* allowed for a lot of discussion, which is pretty hard. He let us out slightly early, since we didn't get a break in the middle like most classes (which I actually preferred), and the individual reading assignments were rarely overwhelming (and when they were, like 300 pages of City of God for a Wed., he reduced them). Midterm and final weren't terribly hard, though since it's CC you do need to prepare. He did let us help determine the format of the final. We had four papers of 1500 words each, which is a lot but the fourth ended up being optional. Grading on the papers seemed to be fair, slightly leaning towards generous. The only problem I had was that we started writing our papers nearly a month in, so by the end of the semester it seemed as though we were always writing something for CC. Other than that, an ideal way to get through the most difficult Core requirement.