Actual Wisdom: Richard Pious

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It’s the weekend! Our suggestion to you on this snowy Saturday is to forgo Butler and curl up in your bed by the window to do your studying as the snow falls. To help you along the path to enlightenment, we bring you the wisdom of Richard Pious, who’s “just a humble professor.”

Justify your existence in 30 words or fewer: I think that question would be more properly addressed to my parents, as they made the procreation decisions. As for me, I agree with Henry Ford III advice about justifications: “Never complain, never explain.”

Claim to fame: The question presupposes that I am famous and special. I think this might better be addressed to the Bollingers and Sachs of the university. I’m just a humble professor at Barnard, trying to make my way in the universe.

What’s your most valuable or unexpected college experience? Finding out in my second year of teaching in Morningside Heights that I had things to say in my courses that would interest students.

Back in my day… Very little [has changed]. When I was a grad student here the atmosphere was too competitive, too chilly, too lacking in community. At one point an enterprising student created a group called “warmth” to bring about a nicer and more welcoming atmosphere. I’d like to see it revived.

The biggest change is the demise of the student run course evaluation system. It held faculty accountable, rewarded those who put in the effort, and penalized those who just mailed it in. It was a survey of all students in the course and not an internet take-down from a few trolls. I’ve been trying with no success whatsoever to get Barnard to adopt a system of on-line course evaluations open to the university community.

What’s the craziest student excuse/extension story you’ve heard? Every excuse would be tied for the craziest in my book.

Would you rather give up oral sex or cheese? I thought oral sex was cheese. Silly me.

Three things you learned at Columbia:

  1. Nothing changes.
  2. Nothing changes.
  3. Nothing changes.

What’s your advice to students/academics/the human race in general? Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.

If your friends reassure you that it’s OK not to get something done, get yourself some new friends.

Don’t go to bed with anyone who has more problems than you have.

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  1. Mike  

    I had Pious for environmental politics, and he was a boss - this little interview is more proof of that.
    What a champ.

  2. why  

    are all these professors guys?

    • female

      omg can you just stop

    • dontstop

      dear "why,"

      please don't stop asking your questions. in fact, ask more. why stop there? 24 professors have been interviewed for "actual wisdom"; 18 were men and 6 were women. by my rough estimate judging only by their photos, 4 were people of color and none were african-american. so the question we should all be asking is not just "why doesn't the bwog team interview more professors who aren't white men?" but also "why doesn't the university hire more professors who aren't white men?"

      i hope you keep asking these questions despite the people who will tell you, politely or no, to stop.

  3. CC Poli-Sci major  

    Pious' class was the best I've ever taken. Dude is a boss.

  4. CRA

    Dick Pious was my friend long before he became a professor. He suffered, and still does, from undue modesty and sought consistently to overcome his doubts with persistent hard work. He succeeded, and others with a more exalted sense of their self-worth might want to see a lesson to be learned here.


  5. Anonymous

    I'm always impressed with professors who manage to give individualized attention in huge lectures. Professor Pious met with everyone in Environmental Politics individually to discuss our research paper topics: there were probably 100 of us! He is an adorable and kind guy, extremely experienced and knowledgeable, and you should definitely take a class with him (Don't be scared off by his seriousness about tardiness!)

  6. I don't know this guy  

    but his humility is refreshing (albeit borderline saddening, I almost wish he
    d cheer up a bit in this!). We need more professors like this in the Columbia community--dedicated to their students and their teaching and humble despite their obvious accomplishments.

    Rock on, Prof. Pious! Keep doing what you do.

  7. BC '11

    One of the greatest professors and an absolutely incredible human. Pious cares so much about his students and pushes them to learn to their potential. This man taught me so much and I am so grateful to have taken some of his courses, even if they were hard. Sincerely wish that I could have taken more. Please take "The American Presidency" if you haven't, or just take anything he's teaching. It's challenging, but completely worth it. Brilliant and fascinating lectures.

    Also, best answer to the cheese question ever.

  8. CC'13  

    Professor Pious is, undoubtedly, one of the best professors I've ever had at Columbia. Bravo, Professor Pious.

  9. Dear Pious  

    James Shamus is also trying to make the evaluations open. You know if you want to work together.

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