Jens Ulff-Miller

Jan 2010

This class seriously forced me to reconsider Columbia’s “commitment to the undergrads”. While I’m sure Professor Jens has a vast store of information/knowledge from his experience, CC is not the type of class to focus on frivolous details and historical context at the expense of studying important concepts that are actually in the texts. I absolutely recommend this class if you…: …want to be quizzed on really specific details about historical context (some of which might not even be covered in class). …enjoy getting really limited feedback (if any at all) on written assignments and really circular answers as to why the grading was unnecessarily harsh. … get really excited about writing 5-paragraph essays (which are actually expected to be 11 paragraphs? Nobody knows for sure, because we could rarely get a straight answer about his expectations.) …want to read everything only for the plot. The majority of class time is taken up by “presentations”, which are really only summaries of what everyone has presumably read already. If you don’t fit these criteria, then I suggest switching sections ASAP. I was completely disappointed by my experience in this section, especially because I have friends who absolutely loved their sections and even described them as “life-changing”. That just wasn’t my experience at all. The nail in the coffin was Jens’ inability to direct discussion (He would maintain that CC is NOT a lecture course, and this is entirely true; however, it was painfully obvious that he was incapable of leading the class toward meaningful discussions.). While I usually try to give professors the benefit of the doubt, this was just too much. I had higher expectations. Do yourself a favor and switch to a different section.

Dec 2009

This class seriously made me reconsider whether academia was the correct path for me or not. It's a tragedy when teachers cannot motivate students to do the interesting and engaging work that one thinks the typical Columbia student does. We were not motivated in this class. That being said, it was clear that Professor Jens was unable to separate his personal opinions from the ones he presented in class as fact. I found his comments very offensive and insensitive. Finally, while his intentions might be good, he just has to realize that Columbia is a top-of-the-notch school that cannot allow for such ignorance and chaos in the classroom. Don't take this class.

Dec 2009

I was not impressed by Professor Ulff-Miller's knowledge of the material nor his teaching style. Instead of directing discussions or having us do close readings of texts, he simply assigns "presentations" at the end of every class for the next chunk of reading. These "presentations" turn out to be one student talking at the rest of the class, giving lengthy summaries of the text which everyone presumably read. There is rarely any discussion of the texts because Jens fails to facilitate a forum for discussion. He also sometimes says downright offensive comments during class. I don't know whether it is because English is not his first language or because he really is that ignorant, but some of the low points of the class include accusatory and very awkward questions about the history of slavery that he directed towards some students in the class, who happened to be black. He also wastes a lot of time during class "lecturing" about the history of the Protestant reformation or the New World expeditions (this is just him reading paragraphs from a print-out of information). This will often go on for up to an hour, and at the end, he will not bother to relate the information to the texts. His attempts at "class discussion" waver between this and things that make me question his soundness of mind: One time, he distributed a photocopy of a text, in German, and asked the class what it meant. He also has some very bizarre grading "standards". He insists on this eleven-paragraph essay format, which is essentially the five-paragraph essay format you learn in ninth grade literacy class, except apparently you just hit the "enter" bar a few more times. He insists on professionalism and academic quality, yet his comments on your papers will be totally useless (on my first paper, his main qualm was that I used too many pronouns. He could not figure out what the antecedents were if they were not in the same sentence.) He also likes to harp on titles. All of his feedback makes me seriously wonder whether he's even reading for content. Prepare to discard everything you've ever learned about essay-writing, and conform to his bizarre, hodge-podge standards if you want to get higher than a B- on his papers. And his quizzes! This is the best part. He gives several multiple choice quizzes throughout the semester. They will not pertain to important themes, characters, text-to-text comparisons, or anything of substance. Instead, the questions feature random trivia that have no bearing on anything. For example, my favorite question was "In what city was Saint Augustine baptized?" Even if you go to every class, take notes, and do the readings, you can expect to get about 60% of the questions correct. Good thing his inexplicable grading methods equate 60% accuracy to a "B". I seriously question Columbia's hiring standards after having had Professor Ulff-Miller. Avoid taking CC with Jens at all costs unless you want to feel cheated out of your tuition money and time investment. I haven't been at Columbia for that long, but I'm pretty sure that by the time I graduate, Professor Ulff-Miller will still have been the worst professor I've ever had.