Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Nutty Professor

[EDIT: The original version of this post included my professor's name. After thinking twice, I have now replaced it with "Prof. A". Seems silly, but slowly my blog is starting to climb in relevance on Google searches, and I'd rather not have someone important stumble across a post and get me in trouble. Though my name never appears on this blog, a few clicks can easily unveil its creator.]

I’m enrolled in a course called Church and State in Europe. It’s something of a seminar meant to discuss contemporary legal issues that lie at the intersection between state and canon law. This is, without a doubt, my favorite class this semester for one simple reason: [Prof. A].

[Prof. A] is my professor, but he’s as much Belgian pop culture personality as academic. Talk about a renaissance man, this guy’s does it all. Between frequent appearances as a commentator on television and radio shows, he writes regular columns for De Standaard, one of the biggest newspapers in Belgium. This year he was a guest judge for the Miss Belgian Beauty 2006 competition. No joke!

In addition to his dabbles in Flemish pop culture, he’s taught in Belgium, Holland, France, and South Africa, but he’s called K.U. Leuven home for most of his academic career. Last year he ran (but unfortunately lost by a mere 20 votes) for University headmaster. Bear in mind K.U. Leuven is one of the most prestigious universities in Europe and is known for its outstanding faculties in law and canon law, to both of which [Prof. A] is connected. So basically he’s somehow managed to become a pop culture figure as well as a top-tier academic. Plus, he’s only like five feet tall.

But all that aside, it’s his jokes that make lecture so much fun. True, the subject matter is challenging and rigorous and all that stuff, but this guy’s a riot. Driest sense of humor ever. For example:

First off, he is always at least 20 minutes late (sometimes 30!), and he often ends lecture early after giving a solid 20 minute break in the middle (lecture is only scheduled for two hours to begin with).

Second, he prepared a reader for the course (which is taught entirely in English) filled with all his own, un-translated articles regardless of whether he wrote them in English, Flemish, or French.

Third, he scheduled our final, oral exam for a 15 minute slot (yes, the entire final exam is 15 minutes!) before the end of the last lecture and suggested that if we couldn’t make it he was just too busy to reschedule so he’d be happy to meet with us at the airport while he waits for a flight.

He refers to his lectures as his “classy performances” as in “I’ll have to end my classy performance a little early today.”

When I asked what we should read and prepare ahead of class: “Nothing. I don’t really know what I’m going to talk about, so there’s no use preparing for it. You can read if you want. (Referring to his classy performances…) This is all improv anyway.”

When asked what material we should present for the oral exam: “Whatever. Just make it interesting. I don’t want to be bored. Don’t come in and talk about religious freedom in Vatican City.”

Later, answering the same question: “You can prepare whatever you want. But you can’t just answer the question as it pertains to your home country. It’s no fun for me if you know more about it than I do.”

Speaking on a law meant to prevent people from wearing religious symbols: “This is meant to prevent headscarves. This is not meant to prevent little, tiny crosses… on necklaces… that little girls wear to school… underneath their dresses (with a creepy smile). Maybe if the crosses were as big as their heads then they would be banned, but I don't really know anything.”

Discussing a case in which the Italian High Court essentially refused to reverse a ruling of the Catholic Church despite the fact it was a severe violation of European human rights law: “Can you blame the justices? It’s only fundamental human rights at stake here. The defendant is the Holy Roman Catholic Church. Would you rule against the will of Jesus Christ?”

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