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March 17, 1988 - Image 42

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The Michigan Daily, 1988-03-17

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E A T II

Teachers With Lots of

fessor at any given col-
The most popular pro-
lege may teach poetry.
Or political science, or
phys ed. The subject
doesn't matter; the spirit of the
teaching does. What students
look for is a demonstrated com-
mitment to them. NEWSWEEK
ON CAMPUS asked its reporters
at a dozen schools to search out
faculty whose packed classes
have become campus legend.
The professors they wrote about
were, on the surface, very differ-
ent: easy graders and tough
ones, men and women, teachers
of small seminars and huge
lectures. Some cared most
about challenging their stu-
dents; some, about making
them comfortable. Many used
humor to leaven learning. All
believed they had a mission.
What the professors also had in
common was the kind of tribute
their admiring students ren-
dered. "He's so enthusiastic."
"Her door is open." "He lis-
tened to me." Here are profiles
of a half dozen of these celebrat-
ed teachers.

Driven by passion: Weil surrounded, as
usual, by Northwestern students; Zinn
on the campus of Boston University

The Showman
Beloved traditions at Northwestern
include painting messages on the
boulder that serves as a campus bul-
letin board, complaining about the lack-
luster social life and taking Prof. Irwin
Weil's Introduction to the Soviet Union.
Last spring 814 students signed up, and
the course met in the biggest hall on cam-
pus. What packs them in? Weil's passion.
"One guy said that I love Russian culture
so much I'd make a Russian patriot out of
Joe McCarthy," Weil jokes. He speaks
Russian fluently, even dreams in it; after
close to 30 visits, he knows parts of
Moscow "as well as Evanston." In class
he gestures expansively. His voice rises,
his bow ties quiver. ("I'm the well-

dressed man of 1943," he says with a
laugh.) Dignity doesn't matter: "When
you talk about exciting things, it's OK to
be excited." Says student Tom Wells:
"Mostly I've had people who lecture like
they're reading off a script. He doesn't
seem like that."
A single class isn't nearly long enough to
contain all his enthusiasm. Take one ses-
sion last spring. Weil's bow tie that day was
orange with red dots. Be honest on your
exams, he told the students, even though
"I'm not the KGB. If the KGB depended on
me, they'd be in trouble." Then on to Rus-
sian holiday customs. "On Easter, people
greet and kiss three times. It's a popular
custom-especially among men who are
going after certain women." Leo Tolstoy
was next. Weil interrupted himself to remi-
nisce about raising his children-then re-

turned to the great novelist. "'War and
Peace,' a book about adultery, love and
human existence ends with a pair of dirty
diapers," Weil said. "What a way to end a
novel! Leo, you shouldn't have done it."
Then he sang a Russian folk song about a
soldier marrying Death. The students hoot-
ed, and one held up a sheet of paper scoring
the performance: "9.9."
When the hour ended, the students
trooped out, bubbling with energy they'd
caught from Weil. The campus humor
magazine poked fun at the partylike at-
mosphere in a parody course evaluation
last year. "The professor told many hilari-
ous jokes. I'd like to spend ... my life with
him," read one mock comment. The man
himself downplays his popularity, but
says he'll never limit class size. "The most
exciting thing," he says, "is when you feel
large numbers of students react deeply to
what you react deeply to."
The Activist
Each Tuesday and Thursday morning at
11, more than 300 students jam into
an auditorium to learn from a gray-
haired guru of political science. Boston
University offers classes with other emi-.
nences, such as Elie Wiesel, the Holocaust
survivor who won the Nobel Peace Prize in
1986, and former Boston mayor Kevin
White. But Howard Zinn, who is virtually

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26 NEWSWEEK ON CAMPUSA

APRIL 1988

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