Isn't this embarassing. My favorite, and most annoyingly difficult Professor at CWRU (Case Western Reserve University) is the one I can't even remember his name! I can remember what he looked like, how he talked, how he held chalk, how he chuckled dismissively at our younthful exuberance. But I can't remember his name. I've tried looking him up but have come up empty.
Anyway, let's call him Professor X. Professor X was teaching Middle Eastern political science before it was "cool," let alone important, to do so. He had been the assistant to the Ambassador to Iran during the Iranian hostage crisis. He had (luckily) been out of Iran when the situation took place Nov 4, 1979.
He was retired from the US State Department, and teaching us as an adjunct. I took two years with him, as I'd switched my degree as far away from anything to do with engineering as humanly possible to political science (which is amusing that I'm back in engineering in silicon valley). I was especially interested in Europan studies, with a special focus on Germany. I had some vague notion of being in foreign relations when I graduated.
Professor X's classes had nothing to do with anything I was studying other than they were in my general major, but his classes sounded interesting. He was not theoretical at all. Purely practical and realistic. Not even 'realism' in any theoretical or political science capacity - just "this is how it is, here is how the system operates, and here is how you manipulate, or try to at least, to move incrementally towards your end goals." He'd been there, so how could anyone argue?
Political strategies and moves can be astronomically quick and have worldwide impact (hostage crisis etc) or they can play out over decades, possibly even centuries. Failure was inevitable, due to the fact that humans were involved. This was one of his basic premises.
One question he asked us in his first class was how much we know about the Middle East. Middle East? Isn't that where oil and camels and turbans come from? I had a narrow special interest because of Israel and the Holocaust and its relevance to Germany, but outside that I had no idea that parts of Africa were even considered Middle East. I certainly wasn't alone. Once when visiting home I checked my younger sister's social studies and history books to see how much attention was paid to the Middle East. Out of those huge highschool textbooks maybe a few pages would cover this vastly varied and nuanced, complex area and its history.
Professsor X was the first to call me out on my writing's poor organizational skills. My papers, which would have earned me A's from any other professors for their convoluted plots and theoretical overtones, never garnered higher than a B+ from him. Always the same comments in his evil red pen in the margins:
X What is your point?
X How is this relevant?
X How does this tie in with the thesis?
X Where is your support for this assertion?
He made me so mad! And he was ruining my perfect 4.0 (after I'd taken freshman forgiveness and failed/expunged Advanced Chemistry and Theoretical Calculus my first year). But I knew he was right. My writing is not concise, it's not precise; it's messy, it meanders and it's a lot easier for me to write 20 pages than to torture me to be concise for 2 pages.
I hated organizing my arguments logically. I liked to just write as my mind branched off. I struggled to not learn in his class, but rather to figure out what HE wanted and just give it to him. Meanwhile I was absorbing a lot of data without even realizing it. I was learning more about the Middle East than most people at the time. I only realized this later when crises in the Middle East had such direct impacts on the US that its citizens were forced to learn the differences between Afghanistan and Pakistan, Egypt and Syria, Palestine and Lebanon.
I got a B in his first class. This was unacceptable so I took his second year determined to prove I could get an A. I got a B+ with "noted improvement" but still too much "wandering".
I graduated summa cum laude with a dual MA/BA (I wrote my thesis and finished the MA requirements in my senior year), Phi Beta Kappa, accepted early in law school - and had only 2 B's in my gpa. Both from Professor X. Both black marks on my otherwise spotless record. I seethed about it for years aftwerwards, sure he had it out for me. Why couldn't he just give me A's for my hard work like all the other professors did? Why did he, alone, think I was unworthy of an A? Twice?
What I looked at as a "failure" was all the things that I remembered long after forgotten conjugated german verbs or Logic or Philosophy. As the Middle East is a major world player affecting our every day lives now, I realize so many years later how much I learned from him.
So thanks Professor X, for not letting me just sail smugly through college. I just wish I could remember your name.