I’d always wanted to be a teacher. This was important to me. And Bob was sort of teaching me how to be a teacher in a way. A couple of years later, I remember being quite aware of it as a method. Just in the practice of being a colleague and talking about students, about syllabuses, about exams, about colleagues, about classrooms, everything. Well, lessons about books, what’s a good book, what’s not for a course: A guy has to have a thesis, has to have some experiential component, a point of view.

Good size for the table. Well, here’s the example. The Alumni House on Main Street, the old Alumni House, had a room that some people sometimes could use for a seminar. It had a big mahogany table, oval table that was about 10 feet long and 4 feet wide. It could seat about 12 to 14 people around it. So our discussion was whether everybody had to sit at the table or not, whether that was important or whether you could have some people kind of sitting behind and in the spaces between and whether that inhibited the conversation or helped it, and what on balance was the margin at which it became hard for people to get into the conversation. Our 301 classes, the political philosophy classes, would run about 18 to 25. And so in a room like that there would be people sitting away from the table. Would that affect them at first?

And the answer was: up to about 20 you can do it. Because the people can kind of scoot in and you could point out to them, “You ought to come up in this chair this time.” Don’t get in the habit of letting them sit in the same chairs in back all the time and you could manage that. If there were a larger number or a smaller table it would not be manageable.

We had our little hierarchy of rooms, what were the best rooms to teach in, what were the worst. The best were some rooms down in Greylock after the dorm was built there, good seminar rooms. The rooms in Griffin were hard to deal with–the worst were the ones with the chairs bolted to the floor. It was hard, that Griffin library room with the shelves and it went up two stories and the table, the center table was always too big, too big, and the janitors complained fiercely if you separated them. The big center tables that were shoved together to make a big table that all the full professors could sit around for faculty meetings. The janitors liked to keep those, keep the integrity of the big table, and we’d come in and I don’t know about others, but I would get there early and shove two tables back and arrange the chairs around the remaining two tables to make it a size you could deal with. Otherwise you’re yelling at people who are 20 feet away.

Craig Brown,
Former Political Science Professor