Judith Wermuth-Atkinson

Jan 2014

Judith was an excellent CC professor. She makes herself readily available to help students. I will agree that she plays favorites but all it requires to become a favorite is to actually show interest in the class and the material. You don't have to have the knowledge of a philosopher or even talk for half the class. Go to her office hours, express that you are having difficulty if you need help. Here are the 3 simple ways to get the grade you want in her class: 1st - read a good portion of the material or sparknotes. It is important that you enter the class at least knowing major themes in the book. 2nd- Participate, Participate, Participate! Even if you are not sure of your answer. I am a shy student who didn't really like to speak up but she loves students who engage in the conversation. 3rd - Take good notes. They are really helpful for the midterm and final.

Sep 2013

I'm a little confused as to why people are so unanimously against Judith. To be honest, she's a pretty standard CC prof. The trick? Just do the reading. Seriously. I suspect the reviews below were written by people who tended not to do the reading or something. She plays favorites a little, but I wasn't one of her favorites and still got an A-. My advice is to at the very least be engaged and look interest. Remember that she's REALLY passionate about the course (don't worry, she'll remind you continuously throughout the course if you forget.)

Jan 2013

I’m going to try to be as fair as possible here and will thus begin with the pros of the class before I move on to the cons. Notice I say “try”, because I’m sure the boiling vitriol that emerges in my soul whenever I think about Judith will soon overtake my consciousness. So to be fair, there’s no doubt that Judith cares immensely about the class. She stated during one meeting that she has essentially devoted her life to teaching the core here, and I believe that. She knows the ins and outs of essentially every work on the syllabus and you can tell that she spends a lot of time poring over the texts before she comes to class. She also gives historical context on the authors at the outset of every class, which really does help at times in understanding the motivation and the reason that the philosophy was written. Here ends my short list of pros. Everyone in the class seemed to have differing problems with Judith, but my own personal unforgivable problem with her is that she fundamentally does not trust any of her students. What I mean by this is that for Judith, there’s no such thing as having read a text and not understanding a part of it. If you are unable to provide the exact answer she wants either in an in-class question or on her homework assignments, she assumes automatically that you just did not read. Seriously. When she hands back essays or homework assignments, she always insists that we read her “helpful” comments, but the comments always boil down to “You did not provide the answer I was looking for. Therefore, you must not have read. This will hurt your performance in the class.” It’s not a huge issue at first, but when this comment appears on literally every assignment you turn in, it just becomes personally insulting, especially if you spent all night trying to finish a long reading assignment and just missed one of the minute details she always questions about. It’s fine for her to say that you have the wrong answer, but the insinuation that not finding the right answer is automatically equivalent to not having done the reading is unnecessary. This may not seem not like a huge problem: Just find the correct answer in the text and give it to her, right? Nope. Judith always insists on a precise sentence in a precise passage as the correct answer: any other interpretation of her questions is inherently wrong. Thus begins the second biggest issue I have with her class. There is no such thing as “discussion” in any of her classes. It’s more often like a hackneyed trivia game: scramble through the books as quickly as possible to find the one sentence that can answer Judith’s vague question. Every 2-hour session just ends up feeling like a waste because the class never does engage with the texts in any kind of substantial or meaningful way: your opinion never matters because it always becomes a lesson in answering Judith’s questions. Now if these questions were structured around exploring and really analyzing in depth the issues involved, that’d be fine, but Judith instead focuses on her own interpretation of the minutiae in each text, which makes every class an exercise in reading every sentence and guessing at what she means. In the extremely rare occasion where she asks for a personal opinion outside of the words of the author, no one responds at first because we’re all too surprised that Judith actually cares about what we think. Every single class is like this, which makes it impossible to really care about the class at the ending weeks of the semester. So if you’re very detail-oriented, are willing to spend sleepless nights committing to memory every detail of the texts, and don’t mind spending the next morning frantically flipping through pages to find the answer to Judith’s questions for fear of being accused of not having done the reading, then choose Judith. Otherwise, I’d suggest switching out at earliest convenience.

Dec 2011

I read all the reviews on CULPA before deciding to stay in Judith's class, and it turned out to be the worst decision I made in my college career so far. I should have been smarter and took the hint to switch: when there are only 10 people left in the class, there's probably something wrong with the teacher. But I thought I could work hard and prove everyone wrong. I was so wrong. The first couple of classes were excruciating. Time could not pass fast enough. Judith picks favorites very early on, and then she sticks to them. If you don't speak in class, she will give you an F for participation, which is 40% of your grade. A lot of people in my class were threatened to get an F if they didn't start talking more. She has a distinct way of teaching. There is only one right answer, either you get it right and she praises you with a "Bravo!" or "Fantastic!" or "Beautiful!", or you get it wrong and she gives you the stink eye and ignores you for the rest of the class. This has happened to me. You opinion basically doesn't matter - if it is not the same as her opinion, it is not worth discussing. I am a student athlete, and she has given me so much trouble for this. First I approached her and asked her to sign my application for the athlete tutor program, and she wouldn't sign it because she said "this is a class where you read books and learn to express your thoughts, how could someone tutor you on thinking?" and she concluded that I would only use the tutor for cheating and plagiarizing on essays. Secondly, we had an essay due the week I had a race, and I asked her for an extension, and she said she would only give it to me if my coach wrote her an email stating the date of the race, and specifically the fact that I would NOT be able to work AT ALL during the entire day. She said that a lot of coaches are opposed to stating that specific fact, and then she wished me good luck getting my coach to write the email. After my coach did write the email however, she gave the whole class an extension of one day, and the she told me I couldn't have an extension because I was given an extra day by default. I had to write her a lengthly email saying how hard it was to balance school and sports and I would really appreciate an extra day. She reluctantly gave it to me in the end, but not without a fight about how I was letting the people in my class down by gaining a day while they did not. All of the above I think is fine, excessive maybe, but acceptable. What really proved to be the problem was when I needed to be excused for my grandfather's funeral. Judith DOES NOT ALLOW ABSENCES, doesn't matter if you're dying in bed, if you don't have proof, she will take down half your final grade for every unexcused absence. This was the day after Thanksgiving break that I missed her class to attend the funeral, and I emailed her before, and gave her the plane ticket and the unofficial obituary, but she said it did not prove my association with the funeral and I was not excused. I called back home and got one of my uncles to write me an excuse, but then she swiftly emailed me saying what was I doing getting someone other than my parents to write an excuse, and I explained that it was because they were both out of the country, and then she said "I asked for a simple statement, and the fact that I am not getting it raises a lot of questions. I feel it is out of my competency to deal with this matter, and if you have anything to say to me, tell me asap before I take this to the dean to launch a formal investigation." All this for one absence. A formal investigation. In the end I got my mother to email my grandfather's certificate of death, and I guess she accepted it? She did not tell me. Why would I waste my weekend trying to gather all this information, not to mention bothering all my other grieving relatives and have Judith send me extremely rude emails just so I could miss one class? There was an excruciatingly difficult and long take-home midterm, which I did well on, but Judith questioned me whether or not I worked on it alone. Apparently she asked several other students the same thing, but I felt disrespected. For the final, she blatantly told me to sit next to her in front of the whole class after I had picked my seat. I have never been humiliated more by a teacher. I would never cheat, and the fact that she is so sure I would that she has to tell me to sit next to her so she can keep an eye on me, just completely undermines my integrity. I do not recommend this teacher. 8 out of the 10 people in my class are switching out.

Jun 2011

This was the first time Judith taught CC and I had to write a review to counteract all the inaccurate and obnoxious reviews below. Simply, Judith is BRILLIANT and she cares immensely about each and every student. She might have a semi-unclear way of presenting a few topics (for me it was Kant - but then again Kant is confusing for everyone the first time). If you need help, she is more than happy to meet with you one on one, at a time that is most convenient for you. She will re-arrange her schedule for you! Yes, she is very opinionated, but she is not so harsh when you suggest something inaccurate, as long as you back yourself up with something semi-reasonable. It is not hard to get an A or A- in her class. The paper topics are more fun than most other CC classes as they are creative even though she assigns a specific topic. In fact, I didn't write one essay: one was a persuasive letter to a book critic, and the other was a dialogue. In terms of tests, the midterm and final were both manageable. They were about equal in difficulty and with some hard core studying of your notes, they should be no problem. I didn't even have to re-open the books to study and there were passage IDs. I highly recommend taking very detailed notes. Everything she tests on is pretty much covered in class. There may be one surprise question but is is totally doable. I want to re-iterate that Judith is one of the nicest and most caring teachers I have ever had a Columbia. She cares about what every student is doing outside of her class and then tailors the workload to fit everyone's schedule - no other teacher does this! She was great - try her class - you can always switch out second semester if you hate it.

Jun 2010

Just wanted to largely agree with the reviews below: Judith is not a great teacher, although she is not, in fact, an evil reptile out to swallow your grade whole. I do want to point out that previous classes, as evidenced by the culpa reviews from years past, have not had such a violent reaction to judith's teaching style, and I will note that one of the classes from which this slew of negative reviews comes actually got judith only for the second semester of lithum after having a fantastic, amazing, wonderful teacher. That said, many of the reviews come from people who did not have said fantastic teacher at all. I'm going to try to be as fair as I can in this review, but I must say that before I sort of detached myself and stopped caring, Judith's course annoyed me about as much as it annoyed some people who have written particularly virulent reviews. But I don't feel that her course is one that you should immediately switch out of, and hopefully by giving an account of my experience of her class, you can determine if you are a student more like those she has had in previous years (who, from all I know, have really enjoyed her class), or a student more like those from my class this semester (in which case, RUN RUN RUN RUN RUN as fast as you can, make up an extracurricular activity, lie and say that you have a different major, do whatever you have to, but don't take this lithum section). Here are the main issues with Judith's teaching style, so far as I can tell: 1) Overemphasis on facts. She speaks as if certain interpretations of texts can be stated factually: some that I found particularly distasteful were her claim that Aeneas definitively loved Dido (I mean, that may be a great interpretation, but it is by no means the only one), her claim that Dante held that the placing of the virtuous pagans in limbo was arbitrary (again, a great interpretation, but not the only one), and her claim that Gloucester's fake "fall" from the Cliffs of Dover is an unambiguous symbol showing us that life is always worth living, no matter what. Oh, and she claimed that Boccaccio was a feminist. Which leads me to... 2) Apparent shallowness of interpretation. I'm not saying her interpretations were actually shallow. But the way she communicates them, with so many lovey-dovey up-with-people sentiments... it just makes them sound shallow. Some things that particularly bothered me in this regard were again the bit about Gloucester and the cliffs of Dover (okay, I gotta say, that pissed me off), and her claim that the ending of King Lear, wherein Lear points to Cordelia's lips and says, "look there, look there" means that Lear is telling us to pay attention to what Cordelia says, i.e., look at her lips, and learn from her wise example. That may be true. But come on. Possibly the most depressing tragedy ever, or at least the most depressing tragedy we read in this course, and she wants to say the meaning of it is listen to good people? There was another time when she was having one of her guessing-game pick-the-word moments (more on those in a minute), and the question was something like, "what words do characters x and y symbolize in the novel," and the answer was "yes and no." Again, might be a great point. But the way she presented it was just made it seem random. Honestly, more than anything else in the course, these two things bothered me the most. I just felt like she didn't leave enough room for complexity, rather than "lessons" or "facts," in her readings of the texts. She was too black and white in assigning definitive answers to questions that the authors themselves left open, rather than allowing the class as a whole to jump in and try to find our own answers to these difficult questions. 3) Unfortunate Socratic Guessing Games. She tries. She really does. But at some point in the course, fairly early on, her inability to guide the class towards the answers she is seeking (and her inability to deviate from her preconceived notion of where the class is going to go in order to adapt to the questions and ideas the class itself is interested in that day) results in a class-wide guessing game. So say she wants to know what Mr. and Mrs. Bennet symbolize in Pride and Prejudice. Well, people will just throw out a bunch of words, until, seemingly randomly, one will be the phrase she wants, and then the class is finally able to move on. This might be okay if some of these guessing games didn't waste ten minutes of class, only to make the answer seem completely random, whereas if she had offered her interpretation to the class and let us ask questions and respond to her ideas in a dialogue, rather than a fill-in-the-blank word guessing game, she could have explained how this particular set of words was useful for understanding the characters, and if we disagreed, she could have defended her ideas. 4) Favorites. Every lithum teacher I know of picks favorites. But Judith is fairly obvious about it. I will confess that during the semester (especially early in the semester) I was one of said favorites, and it did seem like she was just picking my answer to some of her guessing games because she liked me. And although I felt proud(ish) of the papers I wrote for her class, which parts she would like and which parts she would dislike seemed entirely random to me. She would think something was a good point that I thought was exceedingly obvious, and then she would be unimpressed by and ignore something I thought was actually a valid insight. It was horribly confusing. I will note that being a favorite does not = an automatic A. I mean, I got an A-... but the point is that even if you're her favorite, you're going to have to work hard to get an outright A, participate in every class, show up at the extra-curricular things, etc. 5) Unclear instructions. This goes back to Judith's central issue as a teacher, which is NOT, I want to stress, the quality of her thought. Judith is actually a very good thinker with interesting and worthwhile perspectives on each text we read, even if they do tend to focus on parts or qualities of the texts that I personally find less interesting or important. The central issue of Judith's teaching is her communication. She simply does not know what she has to tell us and what she does not. First of all, I want to address the infamous "modes of critical thought." This was the crux of a paper topic she once gave ("discuss modes of critical thought in four books we've read so far" or something like that), and the trouble was she acted as though "modes of critical thought" was some sort of unambiguous critical term the entire class should have been familiar with. Now, I don't want to be conceited, because I haven't read that much, but I've read a little bit of literary criticism outside of class, and I have never come across the term "mode of critical thought" as some sort of official terminology. I'm sure there's a critic somewhere out there that uses the term in the exact same way as Judith does. But if it is not ubiquitous enough for someone who actually explores literary criticism to have heard of it, how on earth does she expect someone who doesn't care about literature, is only taking lithum as a requirement, and uses their extra reading time to read scientific journals or something rather than literary criticism, to have any semblance of a clue what a "mode of critical thought" is? Actually, scratch that. I'm sure anybody could guess what a mode of critical thought was. But almost no one in the class had a clear idea of what she meant by the term, and she meant something highly specific. A number of very good students were asked to re-write their papers, essentially because they looked at all the million different things a term like "modes of critical thought" could mean, and failed to guess the one that Judith had in mind. I did OK on the paper, and I still can't define for you what on earth a mode of critical thought is (for the record, neither can Judith, or if she can, she certainly refused to do so when we asked on repeated occasions). Another example of her unclear instructions is when she asked us to do a reading journal on St. Augustine. Now, she said that we were just supposed to read Confessions and keep a log of our thoughts. So I did just that. I sat down, and every time I had a thought or question or something in Confessions reminded me of something, I wrote it down. So, I finish writing, and I have several pages of ideas and questions about the topic. Easy A, right? I mean, it's not like you can grade someone's unfiltered responses to the text, right? Wrong. Even in this assignment, Judith expected certain answers, certain types of responses, attention to the themes and ideas she found important. There were also several questions on the midterm with equally unclear wording which left it wholly ambiguous as to what sort of answer she was looking for, despite the fact that the answer she was actually looking for was highly specific. Even adding the phrase "that we talked about in class" to a few of her questions could easily have resolved some of the confusion on these questions, which tended to be super broad, like "name some reasons why Dante wrote the Divine Comedy in tezra rima," or "name the technique Virgil uses to manipulate time in the Aeneid." Now that I've enumerated all my problems with Judith's teaching style, I want to note some of the things I really feel that she got right in teaching me last semester. 1) She always provided extremely useful and interesting context. While sometimes she would allow her discussion of context to overrun an entire class, reducing time for actual discussion, I do feel that the context she provided really enhanced my understanding of the works. It's important to know, for instance, that Caesar Augustus was undertaking a massive renovation of both the city of Rome and of Roman culture, and that he commissioned Virgil to write his epic as a part of this renovation. It's important to know about the Spanish Inquisition, and the relationship between Spanish and Islamic society if you're going to read Don Quixote. All this is very valid and helpful. 2) Her ideas were almost always good. Even if they pissed me off, like her reading of the Cliffs of Dover bit (I know I keep going back to that, but only because it really frustrated me, because the explanation she gave seemed so simple and so shallow for SUCH a defining moment of complexity in literature), they were solid, interesting, defensible readings. Even some of the most out-there ones, such as the "artists are stealing from God" idea, I have found to be not only correct, but very useful to my own thinking and speculation in general, not just in lithum. The ideas are almost always good; it's the presentation that's off, and that causes the good ideas to look ridiculous or shallow or cliche or random. 3) She really cares about her students. In fact, one of the reasons I wanted to write, if not a positive review, at least a more balanced review, is because I know Judith would probably be hurt by hearing her students speak (or write) about her so negatively. She really cares about making Lithum count for people, and she is frustrated when people don't seem to respond to her efforts. She does go the extra mile as a teacher, not only organizing a tour of the Metropolitan Museum for our class, but also staying afterward to have coffee and tea with some of the students, just to chat. That was a real "blue book" moment, and it was very kind of her to do. She also arranged a class picnic. That I slept through (yeah, I'm giving away who I am, who cares). But I hear it was very nice. Now... all that said... go to a class or two with Judith perhaps. You should fairly quickly be able to tell if you are her type of student or not. And if you're not her kind of student, seriously, please, don't take her class. There are people who could really benefit from it, and I think it's really unfortunate that last semester, she was stuck with a class of people who, by and large, were unable to benefit from her strengths, and who were particularly irked by her weaknesses.

May 2010

SWITCH OUT OF JUDITH’S SECTION. Before it’s too late. For your own sanity and well-being and for the sake of your education. Before I elaborate upon that, let me list Judith’s strengths, to be fair: - She provides a very thorough historical context for everything we read, which is usually quite interesting. - She seems to care about her students (in a certain way; if you go to her office hours you’ll see what I mean, maybe). - She knows a lot about the texts and is clearly enthusiastic about teaching them. But let me talk about her weaknesses, which, as a previous reviewer said, far outweigh her strengths. In a word, Judith is not dumb — she is a dreadful teacher. Let me break it down for you: a.) There is only one correct answer to every question Judith poses in class. b.) Class discussions are not discussions at all, but guessing games with her (see a.) c.) She blatantly plays favorites. d.) Her essay topics (as mentioned in previous reviews) and expectations for assignments are unclear and often make little sense. Allow me to expand: a.) This is the biggest grievance I had with Judith’s teaching style: as a previous reviewer described, there are "correct" answers to the questions Judith poses to the class. I agree that there are more-valid and less-valid ways of interpreting texts — the validity being dependent on how sound the interpretation's reasoning is — but the fact that, with Judith, there is ONE and ONLY ONE way to interpret symbols and themes, is absurd and frustrating. It is even more so when her interpretations make little sense. My three favorite (“favorite”) examples of Judith's interpretations: - One of the stories in the Decameron (Third Day, first story) of the gardener at the convent who pretends to be a deaf-mute so he can sleep with all the nuns, and when this gets to be too much for him he "miraculously" regains his voice. Judith told us that the "meaning" of this story was that, in order to be a writer (symbolized by the gardener regaining his voice) one must steal from God (symbolized by the gardener's sleeping with all the nuns, the "wives of God"). Even if you can take this interpretation to be anything other than completely ridiculous, there is no way anyone can prove that this is the correct interpretation, and it is absurd for her to insist that it is. - For a more serious (and grievous) example, Judith told us that in Part I of To The Lighthouse, Woolf does not, in fact, manipulate time; that all the actions take as long to be performed as it takes us to read about them. So, in the scene where Mrs. Ramsay holds the stocking she’s knitting up to James’ leg to measure it and spends about three pages narrating her internal monologue, Judith asked us, “how long do you think Mrs. Ramsay held the stocking up to James’ leg?” About five seconds, we all said. “No!” said Judith. “Mrs. Ramsay spends that ENTIRE TIME — five or seven minutes or however long it took you to read it — holding the stocking up. Everything happens in REAL TIME.” To suggest such a thing is to put words in Virginia Woolf’s mouth, i.e. to say what Woolf herself wanted to get across when she wrote the book. This is totally absurd because, as I think almost any other literature professor or person with common sense will tell you, there is no way to know for sure what the author was thinking. I had studied To The Lighthouse previously, and obviously the theme of the passage of time is one of the central and most beautiful things about the book, which does not deserve to be understood has having only one, rigid interpretation. - For my third example, (which will completely give away who I am, if it wasn’t already obvious): I had studied the Aeneid in high school in a Latin class, and my Latin teacher (a classicist) was of the very firm opinion that Aeneas and Pallas were lovers. I was skeptical of this opinion, but my teacher drew a parallel to Achilles and Patroclus — a pair which is widely believed to have been lovers — and I found this at least sort of valid, particularly because we were given textual examples to back it up. So, when we were reading the Aeneid, I asked Judith, OUT OF CURIOSITY, what her opinion on Aeneas and Pallas’ relationship was; I did NOT say that I agreed with the viewpoint I was asking her about. I was completely unprepared for Judith’s response: she sucked in her breath and looked the most insulted I’ve ever seen her, as though I had personally attacked her. She proceeded to rant at me for about ten minutes about how OF COURSE Aeneas and Pallas are NOT lovers, and neither are Achilles and Patroclus — “We are forgetting the value of FRIENDSHIP!” she cried, horrified. I’m not offended that she has a different opinion. I am offended at the way she responded to my question, as I feel that it was a legitimate one and I did not do anything to deserve being yelled at. I am also offended that she completely shut out the possibility of another interpretation being valid. I am also very sure that any number of other literature professors and classicists would be offended at her doing this as well. If Judith is going to expound her interpretations upon us, then fine, but she should at least give her students room to come up with and explain their own interpretations. I understand that Judith is the professor and that we are the students and that it is her job to teach us. But one of my fundamental understandings about literature in academia is that there is any number of ways to interpret a text, which is why, to this day, we continue to read the Iliad and the Odyssey and other historical texts — because we CAN formulate new and interesting ways to think about these works and there is not only one way to understand them. Judith once told me that, as a professor, she tries to focus what she wants us to “take away” from the texts, which is fine — as long as she doesn’t present her interpretations as the ONLY interpretations. Which is exactly what she does. b.) This is closely related to a). About a month into our class' semester with Judith, it became apparent to me that all of Judith's discussion-starters were formatted and conducted as such: "I'm thinking of a number between one and 1,000. What number am I thinking of?" You think I am joking. I am not. Her seemingly open-ended questions have included, "There is one important theme in ______. What is it?" "What is the role of the character ______?" Our class discussions quickly collapsed into us asking her "Is it ___? Is it ___?" with Judith looking over us, rejecting all of our answers. And then, of course, once the "correct" answer has been said, all the bells and whistles go off — "CORRECT! EXCELLENT!" — and the sayer of the correct answer is lauded as a hero. Furthermore, on my midterm exam, Judith's comments included, "You didn't discuss ___!" "Why didn't you talk about ___?" "What is the most important question raised by ___?" It is unreasonable of her to have such narrow definitions of “correct” answers. As the author of an earlier review described, Judith poses seemingly open-ended questions but demands extremely specific answers. c.) However, neither a.) nor b.) above would have been problematic for me if I had been one of Judith’s favorites. Alas, I was not (how did you know?). Judith CLAIMED to not play favorites (i.e. she personally told me that she didn’t), but anyone who spent about ten minutes in our class would see that this is blatantly untrue. The thing her favorites had most in common was that they were all very willing to come up with the answer that she wanted — or, actually, that they all had the miraculous ability to just say whatever came to their mind which Judith would then fawn upon them for. I never figured it out. In fact, I talked about this with one of her clear class favorites and even HE said he didn’t know why she always liked the answers and essays he came up with. Either way, her playing favorites is extremely frustrating, not to say unprofessional. d.) See previous reviews — I still don’t know what a mode of critical thought is. Also, after our first day (out of two days) of group presentations, Judith told one of my classmates (who hadn’t presented yet) that she was so surprised that the groups who had presented that day had failed to pose questions to the class during their presentations. Her surprise at this could be explained by the fact that she NEVER TOLD US that she wanted us to ask questions to the class. Also, while she did manage to tell us not to put titles on our first essays, she mentioned nothing of the sort for our second papers — until we were turning them in in class and she told us that we should have put titles on our papers. Such expectations would have been acceptable (if still nonsensical) if she had TOLD US PRECISELY the expectations she had for our assignments. Another example, mentioned by a previous reviewer: she told us that we would not need to refer to the books for the midterm. However, one of the questions asked us to cite specific canto numbers for examples from the Inferno. Such a discrepancy is extremely unfair. In conclusion: If you’re willing to take a 3/25 or so chance at being one of her favorites, then be my guest, for if Judith picks you to be one of her chosen few, she will love you to no end and you will get an A. But I highly, HIGHLY recommend you switch out of her section immediately, because even if you are one of her favorites, 1.) it doesn’t mean you’ll enjoy her class or 2.) that she’ll be any better of a teacher. Literature Humanities has the potential to be a great class, simply because all of the books on the curriculum are important in some way and many of them are enjoyable to read, but Judith simply ruined this class for me. THEREFORE — if you value: - open-ended and dynamic class discussion, - clear descriptions of each assignment, - grading that is not based on ridiculous and unclear standards, - and having each member of the class treated equally, SWITCH OUT OF JUDITH’S SECTION. For you will find none of these things in her class.

May 2010

If you are an incoming freshman and you are reading the last two posts and quivering in your boots asking yourself "what kind of monstrosity could I expect when I walk into class", chill out. She's not a snake, or even a member of the reptile family. She is all human, part good teacher, part bad. As far as english teachers go, as you should know by now, you have to write like they want you to write (and even think like they want you to think) to a certain extent. Professor can sometimes take this to an extreme, but she has many good qualities as well. She is highly intelligent and appeared to me to be an understanding person. When I asked to skip class once at the end of the semester she said it would be fine. With that said, she can be a little pessimistic about the students at the beginning of the year, hinting that she doesn't believe you when you say "I read the book cover to cover". Make a good first impression. It's important. Seriously. All in all I didn't think she was that bad, and I found unlike some that I could disagree with her. If you make a point that isn't what she's looking for, she'll often shake her head or tut. While admittedly this can be bothersome, if you ignore and continue your point, respond to her criticism and make a decent argument, she will respect you for it. Most of the time she won't agree, and her response may seem deflective, but believe me don't give up on what you're saying. Expressing your arguments in spite of her (while remaining very respectful) is ABSOLUTELY the way to approach this course. Confidence is a must. Also, the classes themselves I found amusing, both for the content of the class and the shenanigans going on as well. Oh and be funny. An hour and 50 minutes is a long time if you're not funny.

May 2010

Dear Judith, I would like to apologize. I know I've let you down. And, frankly, I've let myself down, too. I really should have known what a "mode of critical thought" is. What is wrong with me? Why can't I speak your language? And I'm so sorry you were sick one day. I totally understand why you'd make us have a four-hour class on a Thursday evening to compensate for your absence. After all, you are really forgiving when students are sick or have other commitments. It's only fair I'd be sympathetic towards your situation, too. I'm sorry I wasn't able to read 500+ pages of Dostoevsky in one weekend. I wish, in retrospect, that I had sacrificed my work in all my other classes in order to read the texts for your class at a level you'd find only passably sufficient. I suppose my most burdensome regret, though, Judy, is not having been one of your favorites. I let us both down in my inability to win your approval. I only wish I could have sustained that twinkle in your koala eyes long enough to regain my confidence as a reader and writer. But, instead, because I couldn't attend a voluntary activity outside of class, I'm doomed to be haunted by my inability to win a "EXXXXXCELLENT" in response to an indirect, ambiguous question. I don't know what to do to work for your approval. I am willing to do anything, except go to the Cloisters or the Opera with you. But just let me know.

Apr 2010

The review directly below this one is superb. It is, in fact the best CULPA review I have ever read. I was planning on logging on and riping Judith a new one, but that has already been done for me in an absurdly clear, professional (which, as I'm sure you have realized by now is remarkable given the professionalism of this professor) manner. I can only add examples to the critiques of the previous student. Judith is like the opposite of a blessing in disguise. She is more like an extremely toxic snake slithering around in a beautiful pasture. You will start the semester off really well. Her discussions are directed in such a way that when you answer a question 'correctly' (a concept I find absurd in a literature class anyway) she will sing your praises and commend your intelligence. Savor the beautiful pasture while it lasts my friend, for the snake will bite sooner or later. Amidst all the incredible examples from the previous reviewer, I am shocked that he or she forgot to mention the first essay topic we received this semester (which was assigned with a similarly unreasonable timeline). Here it is in all its glory, copied straight from courseworks: Discuss a few different modes of critical thought represented in the literary works we have read so far. You should focus on the Aeneid, the Divine Comedy, the Decameron, and either the Confessions or Metamorphoses. Instructions: You can compare and contrast different modes of critical thought or you can discuss them independently from each other. Write an essay of no more than 6 double spaced pages (12 point, standard margins). The recommended time for the completion of this assignment is approximately 6/7 hours. Please read through your completed papers, making sure that the whole reads smoothly, and edit as needed. Be very explicit in the first paragraph about the direction of the argument(s) which you will pursue in the rest of the paper. If you can tell me what a mode of critical thought is, then I will applaud you and then tell you that, whatever you think a mode of critical though is, Judith probably has a different definition. If you guess right on any of her assignments then you get an A and become a class favorite. If you can't mystically match her opinion, the snake will bite, the venom will flow and all the joy of reading these amazing texts will slowly bleed out.

Apr 2010

CULPA, tear down that silver nugget! I read over all the other reviews below when I learned she would be teaching me second semester, and I was truly torn. In the end I decided that the people who were complaining about her were slackers and whiners. I have regretted that judgment everyday since. SWITCH OUT OF HER SECTION. Period. End of story. Don't believe me, well, read on... My biggest problem is that she is totally unprofessional. First, let me get out of the way that she is clearly smart and an intellectual. She explicates the classics quite well. She can be stimulating half the time. However, her shortcomings do not justify her strengths. There are other stimulating professors at Columbia who are not unprofessional like she is. Switch into their section. Firstly, she had three extracurricular trips, which she never said were not required. Two of these trips are the weekend before reading week. I personally have three majors assignments due on Monday. I would speak any other professor to see if I could be excused, but I saw how she reacted to a student who had to miss the trip to the Met because he has an internship and another student who had a sports tournament, and I decided it was better not to even ask. She was very upset with these students and seemed to question their intellectual commitment. This is far too many outside of class trips. It is unfair and also not announced on her syllabus. For our trip to cloisters she made up keep two weekends totally open and only on Friday of the first did she alert us to the fact that the trip wouldn't be that weekend but the following. This shows totally disregard for her students. Secondly, she gives an unfairly short period of time to write the papers. This last paper she assigned Friday morning and it was due Tuesday morning. This was a paper on three texts. My professor last semester assigned us the essays three weeks in advances; before this she alerted us to the text on which we were to write. This discrepancy is absurd. Thirdly, her grading seems totally subjective. The problem is that she presents a totally open eneded question and then wants a very specific answer. There is absolutely ZERO way for the student to know what she wants as a response from her question. Students from the first semester say, "well I've learned how she wants the questions answered, so that makes it easier." However, this is not how a literature course should work. This is unfair. If the professor wants something very, very specific, she should say so. Here are some salient examples from the mid-term: ·The question was "Explain Virgil's new concept of destiny." I am not going to give my answer her because it would give away my identity (and I do fear that the professor would dock me out of revenge), but I gave a good answer that discusses destiny in the Aeneid. Her comment reveals her problem: She said she wanted a discussion of the differences between the Roman concept of destiny and the Greek concept of fate. If that is the case, she should have ASKED for that. That is a question I could have answered, but when it isn't asked for of course I'm not going to answer it! ·This will be my final example, the question was: "Can you remember one example of Dante's discussion of liberty in Purgatorio? Explain its relevance to the pilgrim's journey." She found fault in my answer because I used to word "freedom" to discuss an example of free-will instead of using "liberty" to discuss Cato. She said she wanted the Cato example. Is there really only ONE example of "liberty" in the entire text? Also, I do not think it is fair that I was penalized for using the word “freedom” instead of “liberty” in this case. The Oxford English Dictionary actually defines “freedom” as “liberty”: freedom, n. 1. a. Exemption or release from slavery or imprisonment; = LIBERTY n.1 1b. liberty, n. 1. a. Exemption or release from captivity, bondage, or slavery. So how in the world was I docked for this?! Fourthly, this mid-term I am discussing was given under quite unusual circumstances. She spent an extra day discussing a text, so instead of just adjusting her teaching, she insisted on using the final day before Spring Break for discussion and giving us a take home mid-term instead of allowing us to take the mid-term during class like every other first year. Not only did she give us a take home mid-term, but it was an unfair one, for several reasons. a) She sternly reminded us of the Columbia honor code and said we weren't under any circumstances to use more than three hours. This is absurd. Of course students will use more than three hours and I know of students who spent much, much more than three hours. Someone handed in a 15 page mid-term. b) She said the mid-term was designed so that we did not have to use the books; in fact we were told we weren't allowed to. This seemed fair of her at first, because I was unable to take all my books home with me for my mid-term. Fair, until it became clear that this wasn't the case. One question even asked for Canto Numbers! How are we supposed to do that without our books? So here I am at home without my books and I have this massive mid-term in front of me. Fair? I think not. Also, besides this one question asking for canto numbers all of the questions needed the books. How is a student supposed to remember "the particular words missing in the language of the savages" in Montaigne? c) As already discussed, her questions were a trap. They seemed open eneded but she really wanted a very specific answer. Fifthly, her prompts and questions are even interesting. They are actually just busy work of pouring through the text to find minute details. It is actually a little challenging to write an interesting essay because her prompts are so narrow and dumbed down. Sixthly, she will dock a student a 1/3 of a letter grade if they miss a class. I know this may be course policy on some level, but it seems absurd to me. I know she demanded to see a girl's prescription once to PROVE that she was sick. That seems unprofessional. Ironically, when SHE was sick, and made us have a make-up class on a Sunday (the Sunday before one of her absurd, huge, and opened essay was due), SHE didn't provide any documentation or so much as apologize. Seventhly, subjectivity is actually explicitly stated in her syllabus. She states that 30% of the grade will be reflected in her essays. The other 70% is EVERYTHING else. I have no idea how much my mid-term was worth to my grade. Finally, she cows her students in every way. She uses the Socratic method in the most aggressive and obnoxious manner possible. One girl was driven almost to tears because they disagreed about interpretation. Students are afraid to ask if events are required. She openly scolds students and tut-tuts them for reading things differently than she does. This professor needs to be spoken to. She is unprofessional and clearly oversteps her role. She is unfair. She is biased. I am glad she doesn't have tenure and I hope these errors are noticed before she gets it. I am a committed Dean's List student. I have a very respectable grade, despite her unfair grading. I am NOT writing this because I am bitter. I put all this effort into this response because I a shocked at her lack of professionalism and the fact that she is allowed to teach at Columbia.

Jan 2010

I come from a high school with a very strong background in the humanities, although I personally consider myself more of a "science" person and have trouble with analyzing literature and speaking up in class. However, I have had good training in writing papers (even if my theses are meh xD). So while I had some difficulty with speaking up in class and really understanding some of the books, I feel like taking Judith's class helped me with that, a lot. She demands a different level of analysis than what I had encountered in high school. We looked at the books in great detail and I felt like I really got to know the "essence" of what each one was about. Even if we never got to cover all of the issues raised in each book, as a result of the class I feel like I can talk and think about them in a more insightful manner. Of course, I can only say that, really, after taking a semester of her class. What the other reviewers have said earlier is true--she "forces" discussion, and when you don't say what she wants to hear she usually ignores your point (occasionally in a not very tactful manner).. or sometimes just says it herself. And she does play favorites a little, though I guess she's mostly justified in that because the ones that are her favorites speak out a lot in class and say lots of interesting things. Often class was frustrating for me because I wanted to make a point or speak up but she would move on to something else (especially when we did the Iliad). Or I would speak up and she would make a face like, what are you talking about? And say, "Okay..." Or she would misunderstand my point. Given that she's a bit intimidating in class I thought that her grading would be equally harsh, but I was very much mistaken. I'm not sure if it's because of the fact that I have had a lot of writing help, but I often got good grades on essays. I think part of the reason, though, was that the style that she seemed to like really appealed to me, because it meant that I didn't have to spend as much time on introductions and conclusions--she was okay with us just stating the thesis and our points. I sort of dislike writing introductions and conclusions, and my favorite parts of essays are body paragraphs. XD Plus the essays really gave me a chance to develop and describe my own ideas. I should really, really emphasize, though, that she gives you practically no time to write said essays. The first one she assigned, she gave us a week. It was a really painful topic. too--really broad and vague, and we had to talk about several books in the essay. The maximum number of pages was about six or seven, and of course she said, "this essay should take you five to six hours." +___+ The next essay was just as long, and she gave us approximately four days to write it. (Though I liked the books in the second half of the semester a little better than the books in the first half, so it was more interesting for me to write the paper.) And while I got decent grades on both papers, if you're not very confident about your writing skills, she gives very little support when you're writing them. For the first essay, we handed them in anonymously, and because she didn't want to know the authors we couldn't consult her about the actual paper except through email about general questions. And for the second essay we had so little time that it was impossible (unless you're super-hardworking and don't procrastinate XD;) to ask her to look at it. So the papers are extremely stressful, and if you have a heavy workload (I didn't, but I know people who did +_+), be prepared to die. However, asides from that (which *does* only take about a week of pain for each one) and a few small writing assignments, there's nothing else to do but read. A lot of people in my class don't really like her, and I can definitely see why. She's intimidating and demanding and while she does seem like a nice person it's hard to get away, mentally, from the slightly bitchy persona that comes out in class...But she knows the material really well, and I feel like I learned a lot from her. have a whole new understanding of the books that we read, especially ones like the Odyssey that I had read in high school. However, be wary about the papers, and the fact that class doesn't always leave you with a happy shiny feeling. And the midterm was sort of a bitch (almost as long as the final, but about an hour less of time), but if you know the material (and doing the first paper helps you with that a lot), you'll do fine.

Aug 2009

Maybe I just had an awesome class or she liked us better, but I had a great time with this professor. Yes, she has a specific idea in mind for the answers to all of her questions, but even so, she is extremely knowledgeable about her material. DO THE READING. She'll make you feel guilty if you don't. Overall, I found her class very entertaining and I learned a lot. She really cares about her students and is flexible with paper deadlines. It was a great way to transition into college.

Aug 2009

Judith is an amazing teacher, and if you're willing to put the work into the class, and you care about the literature, she is probably one of the best. The fact of the matter is that it's going to be more work than other Lit Hum sections, because she cares about the work, and knows every book front to back (she has hundreds of bookmarks, and can think of dozens of quotes off-hand). She cares greatly that her students do well, and the occasional guilt trip over an assignment or lack of reading is not uncommon, but it pays off with the a rewarding feeling when you do succeed in the class, and you do contribute to the discussion well. The chemistry of her lecturing style brings together the class significantly, and if you have friendly classmates, there is no lack of humor on a regular basis. In the first semester we were reading Lysistrata, and she brought up a joke about a cat, but then said it was too inappropriate to tell. This became a class inside-joke for the entire year until in the final farewell lunch she finally told the joke. Her teaching style easily made this one of my favorite classes of my first year. With that said, she is a pretty strict grader, I didn't get any A's until the second semester papers. The GREATEST con about her is that she has VERY specific ideas, and her most regular tendency is to pose a question, and suck answers out of half the class until someone gets to something similar enough to her answer, or sometimes she'll skip it entirely if no one gets what she's thinking. She has a similar slant in the papers; you have to either know what her (well-founded) ideas on the subject are, or pose new ideas and BACK THEM UP. Discussions can easily become very absorbing, and almost every class we ran out of time without finishing the "lecture." She gives historical background at the beginning of each work, and then launches into discussion. You'll often feel like the class is running behind, but she ends up making a schedule where you start one work in one period, finish it halfway through the next and then start another. A lot of this has to do with her method of guiding the discussion and questioning without giving you the answer she's looking for. All of that being said, I appreciate the class more months later than I did during. It is very easy to become incredibly frustrated or even enraged with her grading and lecture style, despite how much you get out of it.

Apr 2009

No, is all you need to know. Stay away from her! She comes very well prepared for class, but is narrow-minded when it comes to considering your arguments if they are not in agreement with hers. She is also a hypocrite in the sense that she will make you feel good about your work, but in the end will stab a knife in your back and you will end up with a grade much lower than you expected. Seriously, for her every grade is good from the A+ to the D. I have had her, and have talked to other students. In the end about 20-30 percent of the students get A's! If you think that you have the skills to suck up, be sure to know that you have ~25% chance to do well, but you would not know until the end, even if it does not appear so. If you somehow manage to hurt her ego, then forget about an A. This is the truth - if you don't believe me when you get your transcript you will see the % - but then it will be too late. You might indeed be brilliant, but Professor Wermuth is not concerned with that, she cares about how you compare to your classmates. She is subjective and fake. People like her should not be allowed to teach at Columbia. She does not deserve a silver nugget but a coal nugget (at best). In the end we should have compassion for her as she has had a horrible life escaping communism, living in Germany, divorcing and remarrying, and finally although old coming to the US. She has been through a lot, and will make you go through a lot as well - that's her life after all, and her class is a reflection of her misfortunes. Who knows, in the end I might have learnt, more from her than anyone else. I now know how to spot and avoid little people like her. So, if you want a challenge of that sort or like seeing yourself, or your classmates doing poorly then go for it and subject yourself to her.

Jun 2008

Came across as a very sweet lady who really cares about how you do in class. She wants everyone to understand the content and is well-organized with the daily discussions. She knows all of the books very well. But if you haven't read, she'll know about it and makes you feel kind of bad that you are not up to date with the readings. If the same people participate over and over, she will call on you at random. Unless you like being humiliated or having your ideas flat out rejected, come prepared to least with a general idea of what is going on. Definitely take her if you get the chance though, she really loves what she teaches and gives a much needed break halfway through the nearly two hour class.

Jan 2008

Prof. Wermuth is one of those professors that opinions tend to be split on. I thought she was wonderful, but most of my class disagreed. Her lectures are hard to follow if you don't read, but if you read properly, you find yourself contributing and participating and you really learn a lot. Don't let her intimidate you, she really has a lot of good information and is open to discussion. Class style varies between lecture and discussion, fairly comfortable mix of the two, reasonably engaging. Good note-taking is encouraged, and if you write in your book, so much the better. You can't skate by in this class, but if you're willing to read thoroughly and put in the time, you'll be set.

Jan 2008

While I generally agree that she is a nice person (and may have some 'motherly' qualities) I didn't enjoy her class. When conducting class, Wermuth expected one answer and one answer only. This was extremely frustrating! It didn't seem to matter if you had read the texts (or skimmed sparknotes a few minutes before class) as long as you produced the answer that she agreed with. As such, I spent much of my time trying to figure out what SHE would think about certain texts, rather than meaningfully analyzing the texts myself. She was generally a fair grader for the papers (this seems to only apply if she likes your writing style though...) but her first midterm was extremely difficult! If you're taking her class: be prepared, her passage IDs are obscure.

Sep 2006

She is absolutely amazing... She is really sweet and has this motherly way of teaching. She genuinely cares for her students and offers you the most beautiful way of perceiving the text. She hardly ever gives homework because she expects you to have read all the text. (She actually gets sad if you don't), you'll wind up reading the books just not to make her sad. She is really understanding too. She can be a hard grader depending on your writing style, make sure you discuss your topic with her before hand. If she likes your writing, you're set for the rest of the year. Just consider yourself extremely lucky to have her as your professor.