Blogs > Cliopatria > The prof stumbles on the air

Jan 24, 2005 9:35 pm

The prof stumbles on the air

As I've posted over at my own blog, I was a guest on Glenn Sacks radio program yesterday.  I don't know if any of my fellow Cliopatriarchs or their loyal readers have been guests on radio programs, but it's a most unsatisfying experience.   

Most of us who have spent much time in the classroom are adept at timing our lectures.  For example, if I'm lecturing on the French Revolution in a class that lasts 75 minutes, I'm pretty darned clear on how to pace things so that by the time the dismissal time arrives, I've made my main points and given the students a (it is to be hoped) tantalizing hint of where the next meeting's lecture will go.   Similarly, when asked a question by a student, I don't expect him or her to cut me off, telling me that we've got to head to a comercial break.  In the classroom, I get to dictate the pace (and like so many of my colleagues -- you know exactly who you are --I tend to go off on some fairly odd and lengthy tangents!)

It's absolutely maddening to not be able to say everything one would like to say in the way one would like to say it.  Yesterday, on the radio show, I was reduced to offering up desperate soundbites that I hoped would be memorable and accurate.  I haven't felt under such pressure since my oral qualifiying exams a dozen years ago!  In a way, it reminded me of how exceptionally privileged those of us who teach truly are.  Though we've all surely had experiences with difficult and combative students, it's rare that we are not the ones controlling the rhythm, the tempo and the end time of our lectures.  In that sense, it's refreshingly humbling to be "brought low" at the hands of a deft and argumentative talk show host!

Anyone else have any experiences along this line?

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Richard Henry Morgan - 1/25/2005

It's said that the little old ladies of Konigsberg set their watches (I'm guessing clocks instead) by the appearance of Kant on his daily constitutional.

He also had some problem with irregularity. His doctor prescribed him a purgative. It worked. After a while, it no longer sufficed, so he returned to the doctor, and the doctor prescribed two pills, instead of the one. That too worked for a while. The doctor then prescribed three pills, at which point Kant balked, asking if there was any end to this process. The doctor replied NO, so Kant refused the third pill a day, and stuck to two, though two didn't do the job. There is no documentary evidence to support the notion that this was the origin of the judgment that Kant was anal-retentive.

Jonathan Dresner - 1/25/2005

My father-in-law tells the story of a professor (business, if memory serves) who, when asked a question, would tell you the date and time that the question would be addressed in upcoming lectures.

I had one who ended within seconds of the stroke of the clock-tower, every time. You could literally set your watch by him.

Richard Henry Morgan - 1/25/2005

Rocks for Jocks. You and Al Gore. Tsk, tsk.

Van L. Hayhow - 1/25/2005

As an undergrad I took earth science for a GER. My professor, Boutilier (SP?) would walk in on the dot of the hour the class started; lecture and run his slide show for exactly 50 minutes; end with a question and state for the answer to that and other questions, we had to come to the next class. He would leave at 10 of the hour on the dot. It was a large lecture class (one of the few I had) so there were few questions but even so it was quite a performance.

Jonathan Dresner - 1/25/2005

Complex URLs like that need to be embedded in href tags to translate properly on this system. Like this.

I programmed a very minimal compiler in college (CompSci minor!) and have the greatest sympathy for anyone trying to design interpreters for dynamic HTML.

Richard Henry Morgan - 1/25/2005

Apparently I didn't screw up the link. There's something in the HNN software (perhaps) that insists on injecting a semi-colon between 'help&' and 'helpfile'.

Richard Henry Morgan - 1/25/2005

I screwed up the link. It should read:;helpfile=nozickinterview.html

Richard Henry Morgan - 1/25/2005

There's an interesting story over at Reason (I give the link below -- the story is toward the end of the interview) that popped up during an interview with Robert Nozick. Seems he was going to give a course called Capitalism, the course description being "a moral examination". A grad student informed him that he might not be allowed to give the course, that there would be classroom demonstrations and the like. Nozick replied that if that happened he would "kick the shit" out of the guy, to which the cafe revolutionary grad student replied "You're taking this very personally!!"

No problems occurred.;helpfile=nozickinterview.html

Jonathan Dresner - 1/25/2005

My one radio appearance as an historian was after the HNN Truman Trial. I'd written an op-ed for a local paper which got noticed by a conservative christian talk-show host in Detroit. It was a phone interview, so I didn't get the studio tour, even.

I talked to the college PR folks beforehand and got some great tips: speak clearly and to the point. Don't try to list points or qualify statements that don't need it. Stop when you're done.

The interview itself was only about fifteen minutes: I'm quite sure he thought I was a raging liberal lunatic; his questions were reasonably predictable but not at all raging. The truly disconcerting thing is that, in the age just before live webcasts, etc., I have no idea what was said about me after the interview ended.

Hugo Schwyzer - 1/25/2005

Well, I always did like his History of Class in Britain... its been on my shelf for a while.. now he is my hero too!

Manan Ahmed - 1/25/2005

HA - Cannadine just became my hero!

Ralph E. Luker - 1/24/2005

I was on Minnesota Public Radio last week for the King holiday. I was supposed to be at a station in Atlanta and another historian at a station in Michigan, with the talk show host mediating between us and telephone call-ins. So, I get to the station 15 minutes before we were to go on air at 10:00 a.m. and no one there had ever heard about the arrangement. Turns out the engineer in question thought Monday's holiday was still a Sunday.
So, I drove home and had two telephone messages asking me to call Minnesota. We made the connection about 10:15 and there was just time for a few, faily superficial questions before the host started taking calls. The discussion was scattered. My experience has been that almost everyone has about 5 minutes worth of interest in Martin Luther King.

Richard Henry Morgan - 1/24/2005

I once heard Mary Lefkowitz getting tag-teamed by a host and guest (neither of whom had hint of a shadow of a clue) on WBLS (I think). It wasn't pretty. She's less naive now.

I had Cannadine and Cremin as lecturers, and they were both in great command. Cremin had this almost vaudeville schtick, that also sounded like Fiddler on the Roof -- "on the one hand ... and on the other".

Cannadine would enter just as the bell rang (so as not to be pestered by students). He would enter lecturing, taking off his coat as he went. He later would then put on his coat and leave lecturing, with a final climactic thought, just as the bell rang again -- he was a master at both timing and avoiding students.

As for oral defenses, I had a professor who defended a 400+ page dissertation (at Pittsburgh) on the philosophy of science of Ludwig Boltzmann, the father of statistical mechanics. There was some bizarre rule that the program in history and philosophy of science had to have a straight up philosopher outside the field on the examining committee. A famous ethicist (who shall go nameless -- the knowledgable will know who I mean) was appointed, and he opened the examination by declaring that the thesis defender had misspelled Boltzmann!! There was considerable discussion later on whether the philosopher was stark raving mad.

Manan Ahmed - 1/24/2005

I was on a radio program for an hour or so about pakistan and terrorism last spring. I remember having a lot of fun - after I figured the nose to mike distance.

But you are right that the tempo is out of your hand. And one has to adjust really quickly to that. But I found myself anticipating many of the points and quickly formulating my thoughts - and taking on the host really made me happy. Partly why I never got called back :)

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