David Ratzan

Dec 2019

Very knowledgable instructor who creatively taught the class from memory, rather than boring powerpoints or repetitive readings. Entertaining lectures were effectively presented through the use of interesting stories about history, comparisons to other languages, and even science. Overall a challenging class with a heavy workload, but that should be expected with Latin regardless of the teacher. In all honesty David Ratzan is the most academically well rounded, understanding, and professional Columbia professor I’ve had the pleasure of taking a class with. I wish his knowledge could guide me further down Latin’s rabbit hole for another semester.

Nov 2013

The class.... just... sucked. Ratzan complicated things, had his own interpretation of everything, led poor class discussions. I guess he was nice and meant well but it was just crippling how we were graded - both emotionally and GPA wise. EVERY LITTLE THING was graded on a scale of 1-100. And it was fairly harsh grading. If you show up to class, 80%. (Most other teachers give this a 90 or 100). If you said something, it bumps up; to get a 100, you have to say something brilliant, maybe you get a better score. Yikes. It was exhausting and oppressive. Feeling constantly judged is for celebrities, not people learning something new who barely have a handle on it yet. It's a huge indicator that, year after year, people switch sections ASAP between fall and spring. I got out and never looked back. I switched to another section in which I learned more and actually bonded with my teacher. I didn't feel like going to her office hours meant facing a 0-100 scale of how prepared I was, or leaving more confused. Man oh man. I'm a senior now, and looking back, he and that class were one of my worst experiences at Columbia. I just wish he wouldn't have made everything so complicated. The material is already hard enough - do you have to add all these layers on both the readings and the grading system? And office hours were practically useless. In sum: most of my complaints revolve around harsh (maybe even unfair) grading, but the constant evaluations that fed into that put up a wall between me and the teacher. You can't really interact with someone if you don't feel like when you speak they hear numbers/grades, not words.

May 2013

I took Professor Ratzan's class during Spring semester, and I found his classes to be genuinely fascinating — unusual for a 9am. I switched out of my last CC class because I found the teacher insufferably boring. David, on the other hand, held consistently interesting discussions and was deeply enthusiastic about the material he was teaching. Take David's class if you want a professor with an actual opinion. He won't beat you over the head with it nor force you to agree with him, but David definitely had his own interpretation of the books and wasn't shy about contesting discussion points that he did not find convincing. After too many teachers who will agree to just about anything, I enjoyed David's style. David also has his moments as far as humor goes, and did a good job of lightening up Nietzsche with a few well timed expletives. He also is fond of short and confusing anecdotes that only sometimes seem contextually relevant but are almost always pretty funny. David works to clarify the important elements of each text without getting lost in summary-style lectures, and he often connected the material to contemporary concerns (the influence of the Internet, the Boston bombing, etc) in appropriate and engaging ways. I definitely left each class with food for thought and I deeper understand of the material. David assigns more reading than most CC profs. It pays to actually make an effort if you want to join the discussion. However, finishing each section is rarely necessary and David does not expect everyone to make it through 130-odd pages every time. Participation is graded — although I have no idea what I received, David's explanation at the beginning of the course made it sound like he has a pretty simple metic (a la say one thing, good participation; say two things, full participation). David has high standards for student work. Do not expect to BS your essay the day-of, as I was able to before I joined David's class. However, I do not think it was impossible to get an A. My online postings were certainly scrutinized, but the grading was only ever a point or two below what an average grader might give. From what I observed, David rarely gives below an 87 for postings, and most grades were between 89-92. David's dedication to the course is obvious. He gives thorough comments on all postings and papers, and often posted very detailed reading notes on courseworks (check the calendar to find them). Yes, this could be intimidating, but they were also usually valuable as David seems to spend a lot of time writing them. Take David's class if you're at least semi-serious about CC, and want to consider how the material applies to contemporary life and decision making (instead of just pure intellectual masturbation). Don't take the class if you'd rather sacrifice any value in taking the core for a few percent more on your grade.

May 2013

Definitely does not deserve the silver nugget, CULPA should start handing out charcoal. Honestly the worst experience I've had at Columbia. Avoid him like the plague unless you want to work twice as hard as every other CC student and get half the grade. If possible switch out as soon as possible. He holds interesting discussions but lets students ramble on and on.

Feb 2013

David Ratzan without a doubt does not deserve a silver nugget. The class started off energetic and was decently engaging throughout the semester until the last few weeks came when David decided to stop really preparing for class. One day he came into class and apologized for not preparing, but explained that his dog had gotten sick the night before, and he was up all night taking it out. The discussions never had an overarching focus; he would simply start the class (often while taking his coat off) by things that the students were interested in. This is nice to an extent, but unfortunately there were many works that we read where there was no take-away message. I found that I had scribbled lots of ideas on various points, but it was really hard to sum up what the work was really about after going to class. He also often seemed more interested in arguing/playing devil's advocate with a student's idea rather than trying to understand and accept it. Overall, this class was incredibly stressful because David is such a harsh grader. Participation was worth 30% for this class, and we found that he actually checked students off when they said something. 0 checks was bad, 1 check was okay, 2 checks was good. He grades everything on a 0-100 scale, even participation and posts (which were due every class). David considers around an 85 to be a pretty solid score; unfortunately most students do not. During the first round of papers, only 3 people got A-. The rest of the class got variations on Bs and Cs. He said that these A- papers were truly outstanding, above and beyond. For some reason David does not think even truly outstanding papers deserve As. While he is very approachable and willing to help students outside of class, he often seems to have a very limited tolerance for ideas that do not coincide with his own, of which students can see evidence in their paper grades. Would not take David if you can avoid him. He's not the worst, but he will make your CC experience a lot more stressful than it needs to be with very little gain on your part.

Jan 2013

Professor Ratzan is okay. He is pretty enthusiastic about the class, but discussions very much follow his agenda. He has points that he wants to make, and asks the class questions to direct the discussion to a specific conclusion. This is a problematic way to study philosophy: while the authors we read often make very specific points, there is a lot of interpreting or further meaning, nuance etc. that are within all the works. I was constantly frustrated by his narrow focus and unwillingness to really consider other parts of the work that weren't part of what he wanted to discuss. The class and the subject matter were very much tailored to what he wanted to present. He was also difficult to follow at times, especially in one on one meetings. He used examples that were interesting, but didn't straightforwardly relate to the subject matter we studied, and often complicated things. We were also constantly evaluated: almost everything we did (discussion posts, attendance, etc) were graded on a scale of 0-100. That said, he is a smart person and nice. He reviewed each one of our papers extensively, writing each of us a 500 word email about our paper's strengths and weaknesses, but this came at the cost of waiting weeks for our papers. He certainly means well, and the focused way of studying the materials meant that we walked away at the end of every class with some concrete information on what the philosopher said. But it was the information he wanted us to walk away with. It was not the most dynamic class, and certainly not a very student-led or student-oriented CC. Overall, I would not recommend taking Ratzan's section.

Apr 2012

David Ratzan is a good professor with much enthusiasm for CC. He is extremely knowledgable and very smart. However, I sometimes felt as though the class was not able to follow the discussion (myself included). Class discussions did not always touch on all the important concepts of each author. But this was my only criticism. Ratzan is one of the better CC professors I would say. He is very approachable and will explain concepts to you in his OH. He is a relatively tough grader when it comes to papers, but he is not unfair.

Sep 2009

One of my better teachers. Phenomenal, sleep-deprived, intelligent, modest, understanding. He generally helped us understand the important points of the authors/philosophers we were studying. Interesting tangents, but a lot were relevant and informed the material. The only thing that annoyed me was that I’d go into class thinking I knew something, but it never came up, or we discussed something completely different. As a testament to his reception from our class: at the end of the year, we all made him a scrapbook with photos, thank-you’s, and what-I-learned’s.