Charles McNamara

Dec 2020

Ok vibes are super good. Charley is super fun, cares a lot about his students and will go above and beyond to help you with whatever you need! If you put the work in, you will do fine. He's a tough grader, but it helps you rise to the occasion. The first B- was a bit of a shock to the system, but ended up getting an A both semesters so it's all good. He does assign more than other professors, but in my opinion, it's worth it. He's a Columbia professor gem!!

Dec 2020

Charley is a nice guy, but there is absolutely no reason to do this much work for CC, only to come to class and not be listened to. Charley very clearly uses notes to guide class discussions and is determined to stick to them. That means that if you bring something up that is slightly different than what he wants to hear, he simply does not hear it. He won't refute your point or anything but instead will repeat what you said back to you and completely change/misinterpret your point in order to fit what he wanted you to say. I genuinely don't think he does this on purpose or even realizes he is doing it, but it is infuriating and makes it feel pointless to talk in class. On the flip side, Charley will not openly correct people when they wildly misinterpret things. And I don't mean super nuanced points, but rather really fundamental parts of the texts/basic definitions. He leaves it up to students to essentially correct one another but never confirms who is correct. I've heard a lot of people say that if you are a "serious CC student" or are super into the texts that you should take this class with Charley, given that he is so enthusiastic (which he is). But honestly, I think that if you are truly looking to get a lot out of CC you'll be disappointed. I was really looking forward to this class and tried really hard but it sucked to not be listened to and to feel like nothing I said mattered.

Oct 2019

Before reading this review, I think it is important for you to get a sense of my expectations and desires for the course. I wanted to take CC and had been looking forward to it ever since I arrived at Columbia. I like hard classes and I don’t mind spending a significant amount of time reading and writing for a course if the teacher is excellent and the subject matter interesting. I expected CC, with the right teacher, to be a valuable experience. Based on the other reviews of Charley’s class, I expected his section in particular to be challenging, rigorous, and rewarding. At the end of the semester, I did not feel that my expectations had been met. Here is what I wish I had known before enrolling in Charley’s section: -If you read everything Charley assigns (and, to his credit, Charley does assign reading and always makes the text the center of class, unlike some other CC teachers) carefully and critically, and if you feel like before you go into class you have a halfway decent idea of the concepts discussed in the reading, you will probably come into class one day and ask yourself “Did Charley and I read the same book? This didn’t happen to me until Tocqueville, but looking back, I can see that there was reason to feel this way from the beginning. Charley likes to ask what I think he believes are thought-provoking questions. Here are some examples: “Did equality create Cleveland, Ohio [asked during a discussion on Tocqueville]? “Is Wollstonecraft just trying to turn women into men? “Are we [i.e., students of Columbia] the colonized intellectuals [discussed in Fanon]? “What would Fanon think of Brexit? “Is it worth it to have double-consciousness [as described by Du Bois]? If you have carefully read any of those texts, the absurdity and irrelevance of these questions should be apparent. Charley misses the main point of nearly every text and, as a result, fails to ask genuinely thought-provoking questions. -He is not very good at guiding discussion. He comes into class with notes, so he isn’t totally unprepared. But there were countless times when a student would raise a point or ask a question and Charley’s only reply would be “hmmm or “I don’t know. For example, when reading Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions, the question came up as to what changes Einstein had made to Newtonian physics. No one in my class knew the answer but neither did Charley, or if he did, he never shared it. The idea of the shift from Newton to Einstein is a central idea in the text and it would have been extremely useful to have the actual scientific facts in our discussion, but Charley didn’t have or refused to share that knowledge. He just let the question hang in the air and then moved on to a new student who had a new question. This method of refusing to answer students’ questions and refusing to challenge anything anyone says provides for very boring and scattered discussion. It rarely felt like there was a point to anything we talked about. -In a similar way, there was no perceptible through line that connected the texts. In my LitHum classes, my teachers always brought the new ideas that we were discussing into conversation with ideas that we had previously encountered. This made the curriculum feel cohesive and progressive. Charley did not do this much at all, and when he did, it was superficial at best. For instance, there were numerous times when we would read someone who could be considered a social contract theorist or read something about social contract theory. Every time this topic arose, without fail, Charley would ask “Who should we be thinking about? and someone would dutifully answer “Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau and then we would move on to another question/topic. The conversation about social contract theory rarely went deeper than that. -Charley does not play Devil’s Advocate. He does not take the side of the text and defend it against students’ criticisms. Rather, he is often the instigator of questioning a text for any and all reason. If you aren’t careful, you will leave class thinking that Kant, Marx, Wollstonecraft, Nietzsche, Arendt, Woolf, etc. were all utterly foolish. -He does not leave room for nuance in his questions or discussions. For example, when discussing the Communist Manifesto, after reading aloud a particular passage, he asked something along the lines of “Okay, so what is Marx getting rid of here? Students responded with “property, individuality, freedom, etc. Charley wrote those words on the board and then moved on to his next question, without taking any time to discuss the fact that Marx makes an important distinction between property, individuality, freedom and bourgeois property, individuality, and freedom. If Charley had brought this distinction (which is clearly articulated in Marx’s text) into the conversation, the class could have had a fruitful discussion about how Marx’s conceptions of those ideas differ from the conceptions held by others and whether or not we thought those distinctions were accurate or warranted. It could have culminated in a conversation about whether or not universal concepts such as freedom really exist, or if they are just situational, which could have had ties to numerous other authors in the syllabus (particularly Kant). But Charley failed to note Marx’s distinction, so the class was left with the simplistic idea that Marx advocates for abolishing all notions of freedom, property, and individuality. Charley is young and modern and is beloved by the Core Office. He knows what a meme is and can use “woke in a sentence. Those qualities were charming to many of my fellow students. If you want to have a teacher who assigns a significant amount of work but who does not challenge your intellect more than a peer (and often challenges it less than that), and are enticed by the idea of having an Internet-literate teacher, Charley’s class may be enjoyable for you. But if you want to learn about CC’s texts in a deep and nuanced way, Charley is not the teacher to provide that experience.

Jan 2018

Charley is an amazing professor, particularly for CC. He is very passionate about the texts and, as a result, wants to make sure we cover all themes and important ideas in class. I really liked how structured his classes are and how he demands effort and application from his students (not by being a harsh professor, but by his mere love of the class texts). After a semester of CC with Charley, I feel like I have actually learned a lot in this class and have a good grasp on all of the readings--despite the magnitude of the syllabus. He is a great guy, but a harsh grader. If you go to his office hours and speak to him beforehand about your ideas and then carefully read his comments after he returns your essay (he spends a lot of time grading papers and gives excellent feedback), then you'll definitely receive a grade above a B/B+. If you want an easy CC class where you can bs your way through discussion and get away with reading less than half of the texts, then this is not the class for you. But if you take CC seriously and value an exceptional professor (that will definitely mark your university experience) over an easy A, take Charley's section.

Jan 2015

Charley is incredibly intelligent, knows the material inside and out, and is very good at explaining the more abstract concepts. He will go out of his way to make time to meet with his students and really wants to get to know them. This is, however, the most work-intensive CC class that I've heard of and, on top of that, he is a very tough grader. I'm all for working hard, but in this case, I found the workload ridiculous and unnecessary. A huge chunk of our class switched out for second semester. Hopefully he'll respond to the critiques and adjust his syllabus, but fair warning: if you're in this class you have to be prepared to work HARD with no guarantee that you'll be rewarded with a good grade.

Nov 2014

One of the better CC professors, Charley is actually a grad student. Appears to put a lot of time into studying the texts. He even offers to meet you outside of class at lunch or something to talk about your problems. Pretty laid back and tries to call on people equally. Studied Latin extensively and brings in his training. Class goes by fast with hardly any silence. Someone is sharing or he is giving his interpretation. If you don't like to analyze texts, he gives opportunities to just read the text for participation.