Grades & Priorities

Photo: The Tech, 10 Feb 1965.
My freshman schedule allowed only one elective. I chose M100: Elementary Number Theory, under Professor Philip Franklin (1898-1965), partly because of an interest in the topic and also because Professor Franklin was Norbert Wiener’s cousin, and I didn’t have the prerequisites to sign up for any of the courses that Institute Professor Emeritus Wiener was offering. This was as close as I could come. Enjoyed the course and the professor (he seemed older than his actual sixty summers). Managed an A, but only followed up this line of intellectual endeavor once, as a senior in 1964-65. More about that in that subchapter.

So now maybe it’s clear that I harbored (then and now) great feelings of warmth and appreciation for most of my teachers. As for my 8.01 freshman physics author/lecturers, well…
I never met Bill Kraushaar. Wouldn’t recognize him today, if I did. For his rôle in that freshman abortion, I’ll just let Professor Hardy’s judgment stand. I’m sure he was a pleasant fellow, a diligent researcher, and a prolific publisher: that’s how one gets to the position he held. Maybe he also played a wicked game of tennis, as I’m assured Uno Ingard did. As a major course-managing teacher, each of them gets a D from me, and that’s generous. And I’ll have more to say about Ingard in the subchapter about my senior year, when I encountered him once more as a lecturer and as an author of course material. For now, it suffices me to say that his 1958 foibles don’t qualify as aberrations from his extended performance, as I suffered under it.

The Institute, bless its corporate heart, makes a big deal of its efforts to strike an optimal balance between research and instruction. It argues, and I argued on its behalf through thirty years as Arlington, Massachusetts’ member of the MIT Educational Council, that the best teaching happens in the messy environment of real, cutting-edge research. Were it not so, why would anybody want to be a student in such a demanding, disconcerting setting?

That said, and granting its truth and relevance, the fact remains that the best lecturer I encountered at MIT was a young South African named Richard Lemmer. With a charming accent (sounded sorta British, to me) and a scintillating sense of humo(u)r, Mr Lemmer made some potentially humdrum corners of physics sing and dance for us, with clarity and joy. Toward the end of our term together, he started a session (in 10-250, I think) by announcing that “…the bawstuds finally got me; I won’t be getting tenure.” Then he continued, as if nothing untoward had happened. Seems he hadn’t published enough. I understand that Dr Lemmer is now pursuing a medical career in Swaziland.
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