Monday, August 16, 2010

Larry Temkin changed my life, too.

One of my favorite professors from Rice University, Larry Temkin, now teaches at Rutgers.  The Rutgers home page is featuring a salute to Larry (here) for the next two weeks. Although I hated to see Larry leave Rice, I was happy to see him courted by the best philosophy program in the country.  (Oh, and Harvard courted him, too.)

What made Larry so good, in addition to his obvious desire to get his students excited about using their brains, was his ability to tease out--even from shy folks like me (and yes, I was shy!) a willingness to sink our teeth into difficult material.  He didn't teach down to us, not even once.  And like anyone else who's at the top of his game, his talent made us want to be better students.  He was vibrant in class, engaging outside class, and downright inspiring.  I can still see him bounding into class each day (and "bounding" is the correct word), ready to get the discussion started.  Best of all, he put the lie to the fiction that really great teachers can't be great scholars as well.  He was superb in both arenas, and he made everything look effortless, even though it wasn't effortless at all.  Rutgers is very lucky to have him.

And while I'm thanking Larry for his remarkable contribution to my education, I should thank some other Rice profs as well.  (I owe Bob Weisberg, Tom Jackson, and Jack Friedenthal, among others, thanks for my education at Stanford Law School, too, but that's a post for another time.)

Larry, along with folks like Baruch Brody (here), Dennis Huston (here), David Lane (here), Hank Hudspeth (here), and Harold Hyman (here), kept Rice's promise to provide an excellent undergraduate education.

Baruch Brody did give me a scare during my first semester, though.  I'm from a small town in deep East Texas, and although my parents were from "up north" (New York and Toronto), I had never heard a rich Brooklyn accent before.  I spent the first month of Dr. Brody's lectures wondering what he was saying and hoping that I didn't flunk his course.  After I was able to translate his accent into "Texan," I figured out that I was getting what he was saying, after all.

Dennis Huston taught me that good professors could cuss up a blue streak without shifting our focus away from the material at hand.  I took every course that he taught, and I'm still a member of his unofficial fan club.

David Lane turned me into a statistics geek, to our mutual amazement.  He even let me take some graduate-level courses in statistics while I was an undergrad.  Through him, too, I got to design my honors thesis on the effect of time of day on teaching performance, which is my own personal explanation for why my students fall asleep in class when I teach in the 3-4:30 slot.

Hank Hudspeth, who was kind enough to hire me for my first summer law job, was demanding without being demeaning, and he modeled how a true gentleman behaves.  When I worked for his firm in the summer of (gasp!) 1983, I saw his commitment to professionalism first-hand and began to model my own professional life after his.  I wish I could find his book, A Baker's Dozen of Torts, somewhere, because I lost my copy and I sure loved that book.

Harold Hyman scared me to death at Rice.  He had an imposing presence and a booming voice, and his face reminded me of a real-life Sam the Eagle.  He's also the first person I told about my getting into Stanford, and I remember him coming out from behind his desk to congratulate me.  When Jeff & I came back to Houston in 2000, Harold and Ferne became our fast friends.

All of these folks contributed to my love of learning (which actually started with my mom and dad--there were more books in our house, and more time spent reading them, than I ever noticed in any of my friends' homes).  I owe them big.

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