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September 23, 1987 - Image 28

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1987-09-23

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Teaching through mesmerization: Barbara Jordan at the LBJ
cle Physics that is a choice in the core curriculum for under-
graduates. Students rate him a solid and even entertaining
instructor, but Glashow says he finds the experience frus-
trating at times. "I find it more exciting to work on my own
research than to teach undergraduates who are a somewhat
hostile audience," he says, noting that while 500 students
jostled for places in his introductory course the year he won
his Nobel, the number is now down to 50 to 100. "Fame is
very fleeting," he observes with a grin.
have become the leading patrons of literature, sus-
The Writer: Almost by default, American colleges
taining many writers who teach while they practice
their art. School after school employs literary
lights: E. L. Doctorow at NYU; Pulitzer Prize-win-
ning poet Rita Dove at Arizona State; novelist Lee Smith at
North Carolina State. The University of Chicago's Commit-
tee on Social Thought permits Nobel Prize-winning novelist
Saul Bellow to lecture on just about anything he pleases.
Colleges have also nurtured Joyce Carol Oates, the author of 18
novels, 13 books of short stories, 8 of poetry, 5 of essays and
literary criticism and 2 off-Broadway plays. Now at Prince-
ton, Oates returns the favor with a firm commitment to
teaching. She recalls the first time she ever taught, at the
University of Detroit in 1962. "As soon as I walked into the
room, I felt a really pleasant sensation. Ijust felt that I liked
the students, that I was going to get to know some people by
way of their writing, and they would get to know me."
Oates conducts her creative-writing classes as a round-
table discussion. "I very rarely give written notes to my
students," she says. "It tends to freeze or fossilize some
remarks and makes them seem too important. I would
rather talk with somebody very seriously over a period of
time and let the significance of what I'm saying sink in,
rather than saying, 'On page three you have a dangling
modifier'." Students clearly appreciate the personal atten-
tion from such a prolific and well-known writer. At first,
says senior Jean Paul Faguet, "it's a huge ego boost, with
stars bursting all over." Later it becomes more routine. "It's
coming from someone who knows her craft extremely well,"
Faguet says. "I don't think it's the Joyce Carol Oates whom

you see in The New York Times.
It's your professor giving help."
The Orator: The scene re-
peats itself every Septem-
ber: Barbara Jordan begins to
speak, and 16 worldly
graduate students at the
University of Texas move from
nervousness to intimidation to
awe. At first it's simply the voice,
that chillingly resonant tone that
earned the former congresswom-
an distinction as the finest orator
in America. But there's also some-
thing frightening about the inten-
sity of her classroom manner. "I
can be fairly intimidating, don't
you think?" Jordan once inquired
of former law student Brett Camp-
bell. Campbell nearly snapped to
WILL VAN OVERBEEK attention as he instantly respond-
School ed: "Yes, ma'am!"
To a generation of Americans,
Jordan is synonymous with one of the most mesmerizing
moments in the debate over whether to impeach Richard
Nixon. In less than 15 minutes, the previously obscure
congresswoman from Houston riveted the national atten-
tion, speaking on the sanctity of the Constitution in a voice
so profound that many later remarked it had seemed to
come from heaven: "My faith in the Constitution is whole. It
is complete. It is total."
Jordan's manner makes her classes "a personal challenge
more so than an intellectual challenge," says Ann Gill, who
is completing her master's thesis under Jordan this year.
"I've seen her in the classroom when students weren't pre-
pared," Gill recalls. "They weren't treated very sweetly."
After the initial shock, however, students grow intensely
fond of the woman who tests them so rigorously. She was
recently voted the best teacher at the Lyndon B. Johnson
School of Public Affairs; dozens of students queue up for a
place in the two 16-student seminars on ethics in govern-
ment that she teaches every semester. Third-year law stu-
dent Paul Begala is one of the lucky ones; he got into
Jordan's seminar after only a one-year wait. "Obviously the
perspective she has is unique," says Begala. "Taught by any
other politician," he continues, "[ethics] would be a very
short course."
Jordan's intimidation has its purpose: to force her stu-
dents to think on their feet, to confront their values and to
mold them into problem solvers who are able to withstand
the inertia of bureaucracy. Forced to use a wheelchair by an
illness she declines to disclose, Jordan has shunned publici-
ty in recent years. However, in a final interview with the
campus newspaper in 1982, Jordan explained how she sees
her mission: "Now I believe, and I believe this sincerely, that
if we here at the LBJ School can get enough of these students
there in the public sector, they will turn it around." The
interview confirmed what many had always suspected: Bar-
bara Jordan's faith in her students is as profound as in the
TODD BARRETT in Washington, D.C., SHAWN DOHERTY in Cambridge,
LISA BROWN in Austin




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