University Diaries long ago named it The Worst University in America.

Today it was named Top Party School in America.

The University of Georgia, in Athens, Georgia, beat out Ohio University, in Athens, Ohio, as the top party school — a ranking derived from questions about the use of alcohol and drugs, the amount of studying and the popularity of fraternities and sororities.

Reed College has the best teachers. And Reed was second in the nation for “study the most.” Interesting combination.

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UPDATE: Indeed let’s take a closer look at Reed College. Let’s look at three highly ranked (on Rate My Professors) teachers at the college ranked “best teachers.” Let’s see if we can discover traits they may share.

First, their names: Jerry Shurman, Mike Foat, Jamie Pommersheim. Shurman and Pommersheim teach math. Foat teaches religion.

Shurman’s RMP page.

Foat’s.

Pommersheim’s.

Read them, read them. Then get back to me….

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Okay. What did we discover? In no particular order, we discovered that

1.) Professors are weird. No surprise there. But it may be that really good professors are strikingly weird. Weird in the sense that they bring themselves into the classroom. Not that they talk endlessly about themselves, but that they are themselves. Not emotionally withdrawn. Not fake. Open. Vulnerable to being called weird. Human beings. Individuals. Students may like this in particular because at a young age, when students are tentatively working on becoming who they are, these professors — aside from teaching them — model a certain comfort in one’s own skin, an achieved identity. This can be quite inspirational.

2.) Good teachers assign a lot of work and expect class participation and general engagement. But since the teacher has excited the student’s interest in the subject, the student does not seem to resent the work. Indeed, the student may wish to impress the professor with her work, her enthusiasm, because she admires the professor and wishes the professor to admire her.

3.) The professor is not condescending.

4.) The professor has a sense of humor.

5.) The professor is very smart.

6.) The professor somehow manages to anticipate your confusions, your questions. From Shurman’s reviews: “His ability to know exactly what you are thinking and stumbling over is uncanny.”

(Note to online instructors: Don’t try this at home.)

7.) The professor’s enthusiasm for his subject is contagious, sometimes dangerously so. (“He hypnotized me into taking Attic Greek my freshman year, one of the dumbest mistakes of my academic career…”) It also broadens and deepens his lecture content. (“Says fascinating things about the structure and meaning of math in class.”)

8.) Enfin, it’s a pleasure. “His class was a real pleasure.”

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Is this a scientific sample? No. Does everyone love these guys? No. Are they teaching under optimal, small-seminar, selective college conditions? Yes.

Still. Don’t we all already know that these are the attributes of really good teachers? Doesn’t this result simply confirm what we know?

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3 Responses to “The University of Georgia has Many Distinctions.”

  1. Bill Gleason Says:

    Yes it does…

    The legendary (and late) Berkely chem prof, George Pimentel, had a saying the source of which I’ve never been able to find. Sounds like Casey at the Bat, but it isn’t.

    “He went to the ballpark every day, and he let them know he came to play.” So states the self-chosen epitaph of George C. Pimentel

    So obviously it is the teacher who is important here. We all know this and that is a little frustrating as administrators and politicians try to find “the answer” (apologies) to the riddle of higher ed. And there are many successful methods for teaching

    The important thing is to be yourself and have a respect for your material and students.

    At any reasonable place the students know who the good teachers are whether it is Chuck Ojala at Normandale Community College or Tom Clayton at the University of Minnesota.

    Thanks for this piece, UD. Every once in a while we need a little respite from athletic scandals and the business of higher ed. We need a little inspiration to do our important jobs well.

  2. Margaret Soltan Says:

    You’re welcome, Bill.

  3. Margaret Soltan Says:

    I’m posting this comment for UD reader Jeffrey Rosinski — WordPress is making it difficult for him to post it himself.

    “I find it remarkably sad that many, many college students (and countless high-school students) will graduate never encountering such excellence. The best teachers in my life, and UD is obviously one of them, change lives. Not in the ‘inspirational talk’ way — they alter thinking, reading, writing and research patterns that result in original, exciting work.

    It is absurd that so many crummy teachers end up in classrooms and remain there for decades without an expectation to improve.

    Think about it this way: we have an opening for an English teacher in my building. I know a candidate that wants to teach, has a degree from the fanciest of fancy schools and comes with several years of experience. But, because she isn’t certified by the state our district cannot hire her or we risk losing federal/state funding.”

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