Seth Kimmel

This professor has earned a CULPA silver nugget

Jan 2021

DO NOT TAKE A SPANISH CLASS, ESPECIALLY YOUR SENIOR THESIS SEMINAR WITH SETH KIMMEL. This review is specific to the experience of taking a class with Seth Kimmel on zoom during the COVID-10 pandemic, but I believe that the problems noted are relevant to students considering taking his courses in any semester. Taking classes virtually during a pandemic presented unique challenges to my education. Writing a thesis exasperated this experience; however, Seth Kimmel went beyond any other factor in making the fall semester of my senior year unbearable academically. I have never experienced a less supportive professor, who bullied students in the class, showed no interest while we presented our research (and was visibly bored), and gave no leeway in understanding that we were living through a global pandemic in which we had lost family members and were dealing with mental health struggles. He shows no leeway in terms of writing style - unless you write like he would, you are not doing a good job, and your grade will suffer without any way to improve it (unless you compromise your own voice and writing style). Seth Kimmel clearly did not want to teach this class but had to as the DUS. I would recommend taking the senior seminar at Barnard instead. What should have been the culmination of our studies in the department and in college turned into an unnecessarily stressful experience with Seth Kimmel. If he’s a difficult teacher usually, that’s fine, even excusable. But to have behaved cruelly and have treated his own students the way he did during a global pandemic is the lowest behavior from a professor. Do not take any class with Seth Kimmel.

Jan 2018

This class was like pulling teeth. I’ve had Seth before in another class and he was intelligent, accessible, fair, and rigorous. This class was completely different and I’m not sure why. Every good professor has flaws, and it seemed like Seth’s were just at the forefront of this class. I would say his flaws are a of underlying his teaching that can make things a bit inconsistent and unpredictable or can make some days or activities meaningless; expecting that people know much more than they do about the things we are reading, which can make discussion frustratingly unuseful; Seth’s own personal academics can kind of get in the way of his ability to understand his students and where they are coming from; his grading can be inconsistent and confusing; sometimes he seems downright depressed and he loses command of the classroom or some people remain completely unmoved or uninterested. I say this class was like pulling teeth because the structure of it was very bad; students were expected to write a specialized paper on something from the Inquisition with very little prior knowledge of the topic itself. The texts we read as background and introduction were very specific and not helpful for choosing a research topic. Seth can be a bit childish on a personal level, meaning he sometimes acts like he’s a student still,. He told the class on the last day that he had conducted the class like a graduate seminar; there were no graduates in the class, and many people seemed very confused throughout the semester about what was going on. Many people were extremely behind. It seems he should have explained more about where the class was going from the beginning, because it definitely was not clear why we were reading what we were reading or where we were supposed to be in our own thinking. And often, class was boring. I wasn’t planing on writing a review, but I’m back in classes with other LAIC professors this semester and honestly I’m feeling relief. My professor this semester doesn’t have many of Seth’s neuroses and is overall more appropriate and compelling for undergraduates. I was extremely confused because it seems like Seth could have just been going through a hard time in life In general this semester, or just trying something that didn’t work, but he didnt seem secure enough in his own teaching to be forthright about what he’s doing. Finally, he cares a lot about petty details of attendance etc, and will keep track of them to a T and let you know he’s doing it. This is annoying. He’s interested sometimes in a kind of evaluation that’s boring and infantilizing while at the same time he will expect a lot of your work. He’s also a bit awkward and uncomfortable during office hours. Overall the experience left me feeling weird. But in the past, I enjoyed his class a lot and learned a lot from him; I would say I sill learned quite a bit from this class even though it was a thoroughly blasé and often unpleasant experience. I’m left confused.

Jul 2015

Seth is a really smart person and a really good professor. He will take the time to read your essays thoroughly and cares (sometimes more than students care) about helping students become better writers and thinkers. He asks challenging and interesting questions in class. One of the best things about having Seth as a Prof is visiting his office hours. He takes time to talk through writing ideas, will "hash out" books with you outside of class, has interesting life advice, and is interesting to talk with. Some people thought his class time could get boring and his grading was too harsh but I disagree. I would take his section again in a heart beat. He deserves gold. Plus he lets you call him Seth which is cool. Also you get to know your class well and he takes y'all out for dinner instead of doing academic extracurriculars like the other sections of LH.

May 2014

Congratulations! You were randomly placed into Professor Kimmel’s section of Literature Humanities. Please, call him Seth. My advice is to stay. Why? Cause I liked the class and think you will too. Seth is certainly not the lecture-at-you-professor, telling the class everything you "need" to know about each book that you read. Instead, he spends roughly half the amount of time we speed on each book (so about a day) listening to what the class thinks is important. Then, he spends the other half of the time pushing us towards what he finds important in each text. He is rarely interested by such things as Shakespeare’s renowned knack for inventing words or the definitions of terms such as kleos, hamartia, and ubermensch. Seth makes the class think about what these texts mean now. He lead us to ponder Montaigne’s pursuit of a universal system of judgment and Cervantes simultaneous warning against and defense of ideals. These are Question! You will not necessarily come away from this class feeling that you know more about "literature" in the scholarly sense, but I feel that I came away from this class knowing for the first time how to successfully read a text, how to critically reflect on it, and how to write a thoughtful and meaningful analysis of it. Seth emphasizes close reading, and originality of thought. He places a greater emphasis on the philosophy aspect of western literature than the literature aspect of it. But, even I (anonymous voice on the internet) did not always think it would be this way. I wanted a Lit Hum class where my professor would tell me all the answers: what this book means, how it answers the problems that it raises. Professor Kimmel’s class is the antithesis of the class I envisioned being in, but after a year, I am glad to have taken it and would definitely take it again. Apart from being a great teacher, Seth is pretty cool dude. Get to know him! Now that I’ve convinced you to stay in the class, here is a survival guide: Seth does not seem to like: verbosity, long-windedness, redundancy: Both in writing and especially in speaking in class. This is not to say that he is impatient, but he does quiet repeat offenders efficiently. He also does enjoy silence in class. Seth does seem to like: words such as “tension, pedagogy, epistemological”, sharing good places to eat in Manhattan and the other boroughs, “concision and originality of thought.” And please, read the books. I’d say it is the one thing you really need to do to do well in his class. Seth would add, “turning in your papers on time is all you have to do to become a Harvard professor.”

May 2014

Seth is a good teacher for lit hum. I wouldn't call him great (if he made some small changes, I think he'd be perfect) but as it stands, this class was good and I would take it again. Don't get me wrong. The class seems a lot more enjoyable than other sections that my friends took, where the teacher drones on and the class is constantly behind. But that's not to say that it was perfect for me. The best part about this class was the emphasis on discussion. I know some of you will hate that. Some people like to listen to someone drone on about metric economy or whatever you talk about in each book. I personally found it much more enjoyable to have a teacher that emphasized class discussions, even if it did come down to only a few of us actually having this discussion. But really being able to get a sense of ideas and where people stand on issues was really, really helpful when it came time to write my essays. Though there were some painful moments, Seth did try to really to keep the discussion lively. However, there are some times where I felt that Seth could be a better teacher. Often, I felt that his expectations for essays were too high. I understand that this is Columbia and it should be difficult -- but he was never clear from the beginning about what he wanted to see/did not want to see, and expected you to figure it out more or less through the semester. His comments were sometimes very precise (especially the ones regarding style, which I will comment on more later) but other times were very, very, very vague. He once wrote that I had a "good style" and left it at that. It was difficult for me to determine what made my style good in particular, and what he liked to see. That's not to say the comments were entirely useless. Often he'd point out stylistic or organizational flaws, particularly passive voice (seriously, just avoid it at all costs -- even constructions like "X is characterized as Y by use of ..." WILL be noted) padding (use of phrases like "also," "similarly," "in other words," etc.) or adverbs (he doesn't seem to mind these as much, though). By the end of the class I was not sure what made my writing good, but rather what made it bad and what I should avoid. That's something, I guess, but I'd rather know what to focus on improving and making shine rather than what to remove entirely. Another notable aspect where I think there could be some room for improvement is knowing who wants to participate. I know I said he does a great job at getting people to participate, and I still hold by this. He achieves this mostly by getting out of the way and directing people to talk not to him, but to one another. However, that's not to say that *everyone* participates in these discussions, or even that everyone should. As we all know, not everyone does the reading or even reads the SparkNotes. But Seth still expects everyone to participate -- which I think is a fine expectation, but in reality, I'd rather he not call on people obviously not prepared and have the class sit in utter silence for (literally) thirty seconds to one minute. Honestly, I did not feel embarrassed for that person, but I felt embarrassed that they were put on display in the first place. I also felt that some of his behaviors in class were rude or downright unprofessional. Once, he interrupted a student to ask another to stop snapping in support. Regardless of what you think about snapping, it would have been much more professional to send that student an email or talk to them during break or something else -- stopping a student entirely to reprimand another in front of the whole class not only disrespected the student he interrupted but also everyone who was listening to her. In addition, he also commented that Ovid "raped" Homer and Virgil by adapting their stories, a comment which I will leave to stand for itself. That being said, don't think I hate Seth or even dislike him. He is a very talented teacher (seriously, look him up. He speaks like four languages and got tons of honors) but he isn't without flaws. He took Lit Hum as a freshman, too, so he knows what it's like and tries to space out the reading to be easier for the class (i.e. most of a book will be assigned over a weekend). I also liked his class for his laid back personality, vibrant discussions and his office hours. Speaking of, seriously go to office hours. He is super helpful and will schedule additional office hours if his don't work for you, even if you just want to talk about essay ideas! Since he is grading your essay, definitely ask him as he will help you choose the best idea and develop it a bit. He will also have good restaurant suggestions (I've noticed a lot of them are in Brooklyn), though they may be lost on first years as they need a dining plan. Oh, he also lets you use laptops in class AND has a break in the middle :) Which you may or may not enjoy. Personally I didn't mind it as most people took notes by pen and paper and those on computer generally paid attention. The breaks were always welcome though. All in all, if you get Seth Kimmel as your Lit Hum teacher, you probably lucked out. While he may not be perfect, I think he is one of the best instructors and you will probably not regret staying in his class.

Apr 2014

Seth is a great Lit Hum professor. He's little tough on the grading and doesn't always seem forthcoming about his criteria, but he's very good at encouraging meaningful and deep discussion in Lit Hum. He's a very nice guy, and you can always feel comfortable going to his office hours or just chatting with him after class. He's also pretty understanding about the stress that students feel at certain points in the semester but continues to expect that all the readings have been done.

May 2013

Seth, or SK, currently teaches LitHum. He is honestly a really great teacher and facilitates the class really well. As a class mostly of first-years he really helps you bond and at least in our experience we actually became a really solid group of friends. He is a very likable guy and easily becomes more of a friend than an instructor. He's pretty flexible with how far you get in the readings and is willing to fill gaps in the conversation and spark new topics of interest. If you get Seth for LitHum you are one lucky son of a gun. You won't regret staying in his class and maybe even some of his coolness will rub off on you.