As I have mentioned elsewhere in my memoirs, Oberlin turned out to have been an excellent choice to enable me to develop both as a student and socially. I have also mentioned how, due to an altercation with my father about which I felt very ashamed, I took a year off from college as penance and went to work for brother Martin who was starting out in the home building business.
But in looking back, despite in the ’50s Oberlin was rated the second best co-ed college in the country, I had lost confidence in two of my professors and considered questions in my final exam by a third to miss the point of the course.
My first complaint was with the head of the Economics Department, Ben Lewis. who gave me a ‘B’ or ‘B-‘ in Economics 1B and yet I was confident that I was one of his top students. I was later to be a straight ‘A’ student at Cal Berkeley as an upperclassman including a graduate course while majoring in the subject. (More on that elsewhere.)
I respected visiting professor Robert Pettingill (sic) but, when he assigned a take home exam in Labor Economics asking us to describe labor’s top ten goals in negotiations, I considered the assignment to contradict the essence of his course, I threw my likely ‘A’ into the ashcan and simply wrote the simple sentence “Get all you can” and handed it in.
It showed a lot more sophistication than appears to someone unfamiliar with the subject matter, since this was what distinguished the apolitical US labor movement from its socialistic party roots in Europe. It echoed the reform approaches of Samuel Gompers and George Meany. It deserved either an ‘F’ or an ‘A’, depending on who was doing the grading. I don’t recall checking back to find out.
Then there was the highly touted and gushed over English Literature department chair who I thought was a pompous ass. We were told to write a three hour exam, in class,on two topics: “How to read a book” and “How to read a play.”
I handed in my paper within ten minutes. On the first topic I said something along the line of “Get a good chair, not too hard as to make you want to get up and not so soft that you will become sleepy. Have a good light over your shoulder, not too bright or too dim, less it cause your eyes to water. Read a few pages. If they interest you, then continue. If they don’t, put down the book and pick up another. You don’t want a book of no interest to discourage your reading habit.”
Then for the second topic I said “See above.”
I didn’t dare check my marks for that class! But I would bet that a good portion of the younger faculty in the department would have had a good laugh and been generous in their grading.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I was ready to move on from the hothouse atmosphere of the small college to a world class university where silly exams and pedants weren’t “suffered gladly” .