Brian Matthew Kessler
XXXX Carol Road, Union, New Jersey 07083
(908) 687-XXXX, email@example.com
4 May 1999
Daniel Bronson, Ph.D.,
Montclair State University
Upper Montclair, NJ 07043
Dear Dr. Bronson,
As you are aware, during the Spring 1999 semester, I was enrolled in ENWR 310 - Writing: Drama. In the undergraduate catalog, this course is described as "Writing and evaluating dramatic dialog with consideration of the problems of form, characterization and action. Usually students will complete a one-act play." Even without having read the course catalog, the astute student would have guessed nearly as much upon reading the name of the course alone.
Unfortunately, the course as Ted Price saw fit to teach it, should more accurately been described as "Students will be humiliated. Class time shall be wasted on discussing proprietary formats for papers and notes. Cultural trivia shall be stressed as very important and your education will be considered lacking if you walk into the room not knowing such arcane data as 'Who was Elia Kazan?'"
I realized early on, having heard the warnings of other students and having seen the material handed out in class, that this class would not be what I expected it to be. But I stuck with it for two reasons. One, I did not wish to alter either my course load nor my schedule. Two, I did not feel a reputable institution was likely to employ a professor who was not only incompetent at teaching his subject, but also incapable of sticking to the point or making it through a period without attempting to lower a student's self esteem.
For your reading pleasure, I have included a nearly complete stack of the handouts we were given in class.(1) You may explore these handouts to see how relevant they were for our class and it's proposed purpose.(2) Note, for example, the barely readable handout on Bill Inge - can you imagine anyone ever successfully writing a drama who does not know this? But in an early quiz, we had to answer questions proving that we took the time to read this.
You will take note of his "Me!" cards where Price attempts to pry into a student's private business and penalizes you if you are not open enough with him. You will note the meticulous details of the formatting for this project and others: a format which is an unnecessary hassle, which is useless outside of his class, and which requires more information than he should be concerned with and that we should not have to provide. One could not imagine nor exaggerate the amount of time we have spent in class discussing these formats. You will also note that for this assignment he handed out two slightly different versions of the same assignment. He also promised to eventually give us personal feedback on our cards, but this was never done.
The paper due 3/15 arguably would have some validity, if Price seriously took any class time to prepare us for the paper, but in fact, he did not take much time. Nor should such a paper weigh for so much of the grade. We took this class to learn to write drama, not to study how others have done it before. If we wanted to study drama from a literary perspective, we would have taken a literature class, not a writing class.
Special notes should be made of Price's Special Handout for Spring of '99. Section 4 outlines his method of grading. How few of these seem relevant to the art of writing drama? And how vague Price is about how much anything other than the 3/15 paper shall count - he does not not even say how much the final play counts for. See Sections 5 and 6 where Price puts information that should be private between the student and the professor into print for all the world to see; some students felt Section 6 was especially humiliating. Note Section 7 where Price lists obscure details from a television show he could not even share with us.
Also look to our instructions for the final exam, handed out in three different versions and admittedly by Price, very much a repeat of the 3/15 paper we already handed in. Does any of this seem as though Price took the time and effort to work with us upon our skills for writing drama?
Of course, there is more to the class than just the papers that the professor hands out, but in this case, that more is exceedingly limited: For Price is not one to pass a stack of papers around with the goal of quick and easy distribution. Instead, he took 15 minutes to hand out any given paper, whether it was a handout, a quiz, or a grading sheet, one by one, to each individual student. In the later instances, he had already put our names and course numbers on the sheets and then hands them out to the specific students, making the process even more arduous.
Of the time we had left, after handing out papers and discussing formats, a good deal was spent asking us if we know "Who is Paul Robeson?", "Who is Julie Harris?" and other such trivia questions, of the importance we are constantly reminded. When hands are not raised (or sometimes even when they are), he slowly went around the room asking people if they knew and forcing them to individually confess, as though to a crime, if they did not. Were it not that I have a strong ego and not the least interest in trivia, I might have been humiliated, as Price surely intended, when he stated to me personally, "I like to have you down on record for not knowing." However, I can tell by the expressions on my classmates faces that they generally did not take his probing so well.
He has made a few other attempts to humiliate me, mostly because of the way I dress, asking how often I change my clothing and whether I know anything about the Trenchcoat Mafia. Though his comments did not get to me as he surely would have them, I think there is something very wrong in employing a professor who might make such remarks, among others that are even more insensitive, to more fragile students.
The bulk of the remaining class time was very much divided between, taking attendance (done in the traditional style of an elementary school where every student says "here" after listening for his or her name), watching a couple of videos of only marginal relevance, and listening to Price babble about the discussions he enjoyed in his other classes. I have listened to Price ask a student to outline her weekly schedule to prove why she could not meet with him at nine in the morning. I have listened to Price threaten a student with a poor reference when she did not speak loud enough for him. I have listened to Price drivel about school politics and spending; when directly asked to justify this tirade in relation to our course, he would not.
I did manage to get the class some reprieve from his inanity. Price agreed to allow me to have the class read my play, so I could hear what it sounded like, which is important for a play. Before I pushed the point with him, he had no intentions of having us read to each other and told us in so many words that he did not believe in such a thing. How can a drama professor not believe in such a thing, particularly for a Writing Drama course? So I ran off copies and we read. Price did not seem to pay any attention and offered no useful feedback, nor did he direct any discussion on the material, although he did allow me to ask a few questions to my fellow students which they, and not he, usefully answered.
Seemingly inspired by his ability to hold class and do nothing, Price had a change of heart and pushed the other students that they should now read to the class, but he made no perceivable effort to pay attention or direct useful feedback to the students. The plays we were writing were the entire point of the class AND PRICE DID NOTHING FOR THESE PLAYS!
HOW DARE MONTCLAIR STATE UNIVERSITY CHARGE US FOR THIS? HOW DARE MONTCLAIR STATE UNIVERSITY PAY HIM FOR THIS? Should students have to check with the Better Business Bureau to find out if classes are falsely advertized? Need we give new definition to the "class action" law suit?
As far as I can tell, only one student in the class refuses to file a complaint against Price. This should not be misinterpreted for quiet support or apathy - rather taken for disgust since his complaints against other professors were ignored by the system and because no other students backed him on those complaints. He wishes to quietly receive his "A" for the course, uncaring that Price will waste the time, money, and energy of other students.
Although I should not mind financial restitution for the services not rendered, and though the time and energy spent dealing with Price can never be restored, I do not momentarily ask for those things, though I reserve the right to later ask for that which may be possible. Right now, I ask only one thing:
THAT NO OTHER STUDENT SHALL EVER ENDURE PRICE'S USELESS INANITY AND HUMILIATIONS.
Brian Matthew Kessler
1. Notiably absent from the pile are top-sheets and grade-sheets for our papers, MSU's Standard for Formal Written Work, and handouts on punctuation and spelling.
2. Areas crossed out in black ink were notes specifically for ENGL-106-05 which Price did
not take the trouble of putting on a separate paper. In order to best parse his "Important
handouts", I found it easiest to block off the irrelevant information.