Getting Intimate With the Classics

Worse than the “naked in front of the class” nightmare is, for professors, having no class at all. This was
By Arielle J. Cohen

Worse than the “naked in front of the class” nightmare is, for professors, having no class at all. This was Assistant Professor of the Classics James Ker’s shopping period reality. “Everyone warned me that shopping period was a bit strange,” Ker says. “But where were the shoppers? It would have been okay had people come and left, but virtually no one came!”

Latin 114, “Horace and Seneca, Epistles”—a class that most readers probably had on their shopping list right alongside Justice and Ec 10—has a registration of just two students this year. Not shocked? Even classics courses of this sort usually have an enrollment of about 15 students.

As a new professor, with a brand-new course, Ker was a bit disappointed with the turnout during the make-or-break week of course sampling. In his first semester at Harvard, Ker had developed an entirely new curriculum for this class and was quite excited for shopping period when he first arrived in Cambridge.

The Berkeley Ph.D. has now learned of such things as the CUE Guide and has come to understand the nuances of attracting shoppers. “Sexier course titles!” proclaims the professor in his New Zealand accent.

Apparently Marisa W. Green ’04 and Alessandra B. Sulzer ’03 found “Horace and Seneca” sexy enough. These two Classics concentrators have taken advantage of the intimate class size and enrolled as some of Ker’s first Harvard students. “Because of the smaller class we have been able to really mold the curriculum,” says Green, who is joint concentrating in music. “Professor Ker has been willing to tailor the syllabus to our interests.”

Small classes also offer motivating forces that most big classes do not. “You really need to do the reading,” Sulzer says. “This keeps me from slacking off and falling behind.”

It doesn’t seem like Sulzer should worry too much. “Hey, I’m just stoked to have students,” Ker says. “During the first week people were wishing me luck and to have a good class, but I would respond, ‘All you need to say is to have a class!’”

Best of luck, Professor Ker. May the CUE Guide be kind.

For The Moment