The good news is that here are still courses at Columbia that allow for genuine academic inquiry. The bad news is that it is too easy to find the other type.
“In Methods and Problems, we’ll read some philosopher––say, Thomas Nagel––and learn his arguments well enough to repeat them, and then spend much of the class exposing any weaknesses that Nagel’s argument might have,” Coleman Hughes writes on the Heterodox Academy blog. The downside, though, comes when he leaves the class.
“Every Monday and Wednesday I leave Methods and Problems and go straight to Philosophy and Feminism where the mood is strikingly different. We read some philosopher––say, Foucault––and learn his arguments, but rarely does a single person even ask a question, to say nothing of making a critique. On the exceedingly rare occasion that a student asks a question that could potentially contradict what’s being taught, the professor has a mysterious way of answering without ever suggesting that the argument could simply have a weakness.”
“Of the seven philosophy courses I’ve taken at Columbia so far, not a single one has operated even close to this way––philosophy professors are always the first to point out logical weaknesses, strong counterarguments, and alternative points of view, even when they fundamentally agree with the course material.”
Hughes goes on to give us a few highlights of how the course is taught:
• “The professor once said that all students of color are victims of oppression (I’m black and I view myself in no such way, but I didn’t dare say so in the moment because I felt a silent pressure not to be a nuisance);
• “She once suggested that students not come to class so that we could attend a protest against disciplining students who had interrupted an event hosted by a Republican student group;
• “She once compared privilege to sin, and remarked about how nice it would be if we could cleanse ourselves of it; she once castigated the class, saying, ‘You’re part of the f**king problem!,’ for the crime of having had little prior knowledge of the U.S. bail system (this was before our unit on the Prison System, so she was castigating us not for being lazy students, but for being ignorant people).
• “She went on to swear at us in this guilt-inducing way a couple more times before the semester’s end.”