For our last Actual Wisdom of 2013, we bring you Jeffrey Lax, who wants you to keep your standards high (yes, even this week).
Justify your existence in 30 words or fewer: Do footnotes count against the limit? Graphs? If you can’t read my handwriting, does it count? I love what I do, hope my enthusiasm is contagious, and usually mean well.
Claim to fame: As a scholar, my work on courts and on public opinion. In the kitchen, my duck meatballs, challah with cardamom, kung pao chicken, and spatchcocked turkey (picture on demand). On the dance floor, my foxtrot. In my office, my collection of historic opera recordings, which I try to only blast on Saturdays. In the classroom, helping students know it’s ok to be wrong on the way to being right.
What’s your most valuable or unexpected college experience? Long story short – doing the right thing. Yes, I can be brief, shut up.
Back in my day (what has changed since you’ve been at Columbia?)… Hopefully, me. And also, hopefully, not me.
What’s the craziest student excuse/extension story you’ve heard? The ones I used for pretty much every assignment when I was an undergrad. I’m a huge hypocrite in that I now don’t accept excuses.
Would you rather give up oral sex or cheese? (In the spirit of discretion, you can instead answer: “Would you rather give up tenure or cheese?) I’m lactose intolerant, but both eating cheese and not having tenure cause similar gastrointestinal effects. Hmm. Maybe it would have been more discreet to talk about oral sex.
Three things you learned at Columbia: Most people feel like frauds, so it’s not just me. Most people don’t know that nearly everyone feels that way. The ones who don’t are more likely to be.
What’s your advice to students/academics/the human race in general? Keep your standards high. Remember that things are more often gray than just black and white. Try to remember the good parts of people. Don’t just take classes you’ll get good grades in, and don’t only do things you are good at. Don’t let anyone change your eccentricities, in writing or in real life. Always use duck fat if you have it, always have it, and always use the Oxford comma. And if you’ve taken my class, don’t forget the “muffin test.”