Connect with us

All Articles

The Great Wet Butt Debate

It’s no fun to be stuck in a sweaty classroom while those of us who skip class the rest of the world frolics outside in the sunshine. Over the past week, Bwog has reached out across academic disciplines, to professors young and old, to assess their stances on teaching out of doors. While some highly respected figures remain staunchly opposed, we’ve learned that not all professors who teach outside are chumps (Oh hai Professor Foner!)–even Law professors do it too!

Up For Debate – Slade vs. Brinkley

Carole Slade: “I occasionally teach class outside, but very occasionally, when I have spring fever myself. Usually, I petition the weather gods for a cool, damp spring that warms up just after the last day of classes. I find it difficult to accomplish much outside, given that it’s hard to hear one another and there are so many distractions. I don’t take the class outside more than once, sometimes twice, and only when the day is too delicious to miss. Sometimes I quote a professor of mine who used to say, ‘Serious people do not hold class outside.’ I probably don’t say it with quite his seriousness, because it doesn’t work as well for me as it did for him.”

Alan Brinkley: “I don’t know why, but I’ve never taught outdoors. I have no objection to it in principle, but for whatever reason I haven’t done it. (Nor have students ever proposed moving outdoors in any class I’ve taught as far as I can recall.) I certainly don’t assume that professors who teach outdoors are any less serious than those who don’t.”

Foner, Awn and Katznelson after the jump!

Foner vs. Eisenbach

Eric Foner: “I have occasionally held classes outside on lovely spring days (seminars, obviously, not lecture classes) and am not averse to the idea although it does make note taking a little inconvenient for the students. I don’t object to it in principle, but it probably should not be done very often. If a student requested it, I would probably take a vote of the class (by secret ballot).”

David Eisenbach: “I’ve actually given the whole class outside debate a lot of thought. In the decade I’ve been teaching I have never held class outside. Three reasons: 1) Distraction: How can I expect students to concentrate on ‘Jane Austen and the Birth of the Modern Novel’ when frisbees are flying over our heads? 2) Energy: This might sound New Agey but energy is a very important part of a good class.  In a classroom, the students’ energy, laughs and banter bounce off the walls and generate more energy.  When you’re outside whatever energy you generate just disappears.  Have you ever noticed how quiet classes are when they’re sitting in a circle on the grass? Everyone looks bored and awkward.  Seems like fun but it’s not. 3) Self-consciousness:  When you’re sitting in a circle on grass you’re thinking about passersby looking at you. And face it, you look like you’re playing Duck Duck Goose. The closed world of the classroom allows everyone to escape the outside world and liberates them from outside judgments… Can you imagine Eric Foner or Alan Brinkley sitting on the grass? Enough said.”

No way José say Mercer, Awn and Katznelson

Christia Mercer: “You cannot do philosophy if you have a wet butt.”

Ira Katznelson: “I taught outside once, my first year as an assistant professor. My seminar and I gathered outside Philosophy Hall. Within five minutes, a dog came by and relieved himself on my briefcase. Ever since, I have kept my teaching confined indoors.”

Peter Awn: “I laud your embrace of nature’s essential role in the educational process. I, however, am no Buddhist and can do without engaging non-human sentient beings unless forced to do so.  Students I tolerate; grass I do not.  My allergies are bad enough indoors.  In 32 years on the faculty, I once experimented by holding a Lit Hum class on the lawn and vowed never to do it again.  It was impossible to have a serious discussion; students were more interested in people watching than professor watching, and my legs fell asleep.  That was many decades ago, however, and the lawns were half dead, rats scurried around under the bushes, and one worried about the contagion and occasional needle lurking among the few remaining blades of grass.  Now that the grounds are quite spectacular, I, unfortunately, have reached the state of genteel decrepitude.  Consequently, were I to sit on the lawn, I would find it impossible to get back up.  Like a beached whale, I would flounder about until I succumbed to exhaustion. Give me an air conditioned classroom with no windows and no plants, and I’m in pedagogical paradise.  I guess this means I’m not very keen on teaching outdoors.”

The sheer glory of it all…

Anya Kielar’s T.A.: “I don’t know which is more cliché right now–that I’m smoking a cigarette and drinking an iced coffee while instructing you, or that you are all sitting in a row on the steps drawing Greco-Roman architecture in charcoal.”

Write a comment

Your email address will not be published.



  • BC 2012 says:

    @BC 2012 hahhahahahha Peter Awn I love you!

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous Mercer is a baller. fact.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous Prof. Mercer wins this article.

    The last time I had class outside, I sat and watched a red balloon float up into the sky for like fifteen minutes instead of talking about Don Quixote. True story.

  • true happiness says:

    @true happiness On Thursday my Art Hum class sat in the courtyard in front of Schermerhorn and painted impressionistic trees with oils and watercolors. The core has never been so fun!

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous Who is your Art Hum prof? That sounds like so much fun

  • Ron says:

    @Ron This is one of the best articles Bwog has every run. Ever.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous “Ira Katznelson: “I taught outside once, my first year as an assistant professor. My seminar and I gathered outside Philosophy Hall. Within five minutes, a dog came by and relieved himself on my briefcase. Ever since, I have kept my teaching confined indoors.””


  • I like Peter Awn says:

    @I like Peter Awn but his response is a little overwrought.

    1. innocent bystander says:

      @innocent bystander he tries to be funny (and sometimes is) by being maximalist. zadie smith, pynchon, that sort of thing.

    2. Oh you. says:

      @Oh you. You must have never had a class with Prof. Awn before, thats a pretty standard Awnist response. Maybe his sense of humor is to be overwrought, but i find it hilarious. I wish I had him for lit hum.

  • Have Your Say

    What should Bwog's new tagline be?

    View Results

    Loading ... Loading ...

    Recent Comments

    Anyone can go online and take a virtual tour all without accruing 250K in student loan debt. (read more)
    The MoMA Through The Eyes Of Someone Who’s Never Gone To An Art Museum Before
    September 27, 2020
    >irrational fear of Covid I had Covid 10 weeks ago. It was literally just the sniffles. Still waiting for so-called "long (read more)
    Exploring Irrational Fears During Quarantine
    September 27, 2020
    Numerous universities across the country have opened up. Where are all the bodies? (read more)
    Club Roundup Fall 2020
    September 27, 2020
    This is why people go to Columbia, to become truly educated. You can’t find this anywhere else. (read more)
    The MoMA Through The Eyes Of Someone Who’s Never Gone To An Art Museum Before
    September 27, 2020

    Comment Policy

    The purpose of Bwog’s comment section is to facilitate honest and open discussion between members of the Columbia community. We encourage commenters to take advantage of—without abusing—the opportunity to engage in anonymous critical dialogue with other community members. A comment may be moderated if it contains:
    • A slur—defined as a pejorative derogatory phrase—based on ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation, ability, or spiritual belief
    • Hate speech
    • Unauthorized use of a person’s identity
    • Personal information about an individual
    • Baseless personal attacks on specific individuals
    • Spam or self-promotion
    • Copyright infringement
    • Libel
    • COVID-19 misinformation