Rachel Hastings, Contributing Writer
Every University of Dallas undergraduate has a mystery professor – that one faculty member he or she wants to know more about. Maybe it’s Dr. So-and-So the philosophy professor, who writes side-splitting commentary in the margins of your term papers, or that elusive member of the history department who possesses an unparalleled sweater collection. A student could go years –sometimes even their entire college career – without ever getting to know their mystery professor.
Fortunately, through Student Programming at the University of Dalls (SPUD) Academics’ new “Most Interesting Professor” event, students finally have the opportunity to get to know their professors on a more personal level.
Based on the “Last Chance Lecture Series” of years past, which allowed UD professors to give public lectures on subjects of their choice, the “Most Interesting Professor” events allow professors to give mini-seminars on whatever subject they choose. These short question-and-answer sessions are meant to give students the opportunity to converse with their teachers outside the classroom.
Professors are selected by senior Vallery Bergez, head of SPUD Academics.
“I asked [English professor Dr. Brett Bourbon] first,” she said, “because he was a mysterious presence on campus that a lot of people had heard about but didn’t really know.”
After Dr. Doyle was recommended to Bergez by many of his students, he was selected to give the November seminar.
The economics professor proved an excellent choice and seemed to enjoy the experience.
“What professor could pass up the opportunity to conduct an extended ‘rant’ about anything that currently fascinates [him] without getting slammed on [his] teaching evaluations?” said Doyle.
The atmosphere of the event was casual. Wine and refreshments were served, Doyle’s discussion of the television series “Breaking Bad” was relaxed and amusing, and attendees were encouraged to ask questions.
Thaddeus Howard, a junior physics major, was impressed by the familiarity between students and teacher.
“It was really chill,” he said. “He was just hanging out with the students instead of giving a stiff lecture.”
Howard also commented on the variety of the discussion itself.
“[Doyle] would break off into tangents about English, movies he liked, what makes a good story and so on,” he said.
Among the many subjects Doyle discussed were the television series Breaking Bad, theodicy, Shakespeare’s King Lear, the “inherent tension between justice and mercy,” the Rolling Stones and unrequited love.
“Life,” said Doyle, “is much deeper and more complicated than can be encompassed within a single academic discipline, or even within the purely academic part of the entire ‘college experience.’”
Students expressed surprise at the connections drawn by an economics professor between a popular television show, literature and philosophical issues.
“I wouldn’t have pinned him as someone to bring up a Wallace Stevens poem,” said Bergez. “It was a very pleasant surprise, and it makes me excited to have a class with him, because I think I’ll view the class differently.”
A student in one of Bourbon’s English classes, Bergez noted a change in her attitude toward the professor since his participation in the “Most Interesting Professor” series.
“Whenever I’m in class I’m extra-observant because I now have so much more respect for him,” she said.
“It enriches the experience in the classroom when you know your professor personally,” Howard agreed.
Events like these are beneficial for faculty members as well.
“They’re giving us grades in the classroom,” Bergez said, “but when you’re able to interact in these more casual environments, we become like people to them, too.”
SPUD hopes this series will help bridge the gap between professors and students by offering a platform on which they can get to know one another outside of the classroom.
“I had a blast and would definitely do it again if anybody still finds me interesting enough to invite me to participate in a similar event in the future,” said Doyle. “I strongly encourage my colleagues to participate in such events, if for no other reason than that they are incredibly fun.”
The “Most Interesting Professor” events are held on the first Wednesday of every month and will continue through the spring semester. The next event will be held Dec. 4; the time and speaker will be announced by SPUD in the coming weeks.