Talk of the Quad: Remembering professor Morgan
I came to Bowdoin for two reasons: the food and the professors. I wanted a place with small classes and brilliant faculty. I wanted professors who would know not only my name, but my aspirations, and who would, however slightly, let me into their world. I also wanted a place where dining halls would serve pad thai. Bowdoin was perfect.
Professor Morgan, whom I first met during Constitutional Law I in the fall of my junior year, was just the sort of professor I had in mind when I came to campus. He would arrive promptly to class at 10 a.m. in a tweed jacket, the chain of his pocket watch dangling from his breast pocket, looking as if he had just stepped out of a Spencer Tracy film.
I remember being astounded during the first few weeks of that class by the obvious breadth of his knowledge about what seemed to be the entirety of constitutional law. Having opened the textbook at the beginning of class, he would proceed to ignore it almost entirely for the next hour and a half as he told us anecdote after anecdote about Chief Justice John Marshall. I remember the look of excitement that would come to his face as he told us a particularly good story, and how he would start to laugh a sentence or two before he reached the punch line.
I didn’t speak much to Professor Morgan those first few weeks—I never had occasion to. But when he handed back our midterm test, I saw that on the back of mine he had written “see me,” with no further explanation. The next day, as I climbed the three staircases to his office at the very top of Hubbard Hall, I wondered what lay in store for me at the end of my ascent. And so when I arrived, I asked him whether I had done anything wrong.
“No, no,” he said. “I just wanted to know who you were.”
And he did want to know. For the next hour, he asked me to tell him about myself: the courses I was taking and my extracurricular activities. We talked about politics, about Bowdoin, and at the end of our conversation, he shook my hand and said, “I’m going to expect to hear from you more from now on.”
I did begin raising my hand more, and he called on me. I don’t recall ever stumping him, but I do remember his smile of vaguely exasperated pride when I would ask a particularly good question, or answer a hard one of his.
As I began to listen to him more closely, I began to see individual court cases not as disparate elements, but as chapters in a larger, fluid story. I started making the trek to his office more frequently and quickly stopped being surprised at how generous he was with his time.
Unfailingly kind and patient, he would discuss his lectures with me and the cases currently before the Supreme Court justices, whom he collectively called “The Supremes.”
Only once did he ever kick me out of his office. I had arrived at 4 p.m., and we had spoken for almost two hours. It was completely dark outside.
Professor Morgan gently rapped his knuckles against his desk and said, “I think I am going to head home soon. I can hear the sound of ice cubes clinking in a glass.” I understood myself to be dismissed for the evening.
I don’t remember all, or even most, of the cases that he had filed, encyclopedically, in his head over the course of decades, and which he valiantly attempted to impart to me. But I do remember being consistently and supportively challenged by him, being pushed to think deeply and support my positions.
From Professor Morgan I began to learn patience and nuance and the value of an obsessively detailed study guide. I began to learn how to make an argument without being argumentative, although I did not, perhaps, employ this ability as often as I should have.
Still, these are lessons I will carry with me the rest of my life. He gave me many of my proudest moments at Bowdoin and when I graduated, comfortable and largely confident in my future, it was to him that I owed much of the credit for these emotions.
When I learned that he had passed, I was amazed at all the things I didn’t know about Professor Morgan. His life outside of Bowdoin had always been an abstract concept to me. I didn’t know, for example, that he was a veteran, or a certified Maine guide. I didn’t know that he hunted or fished, although if pressed I probably could have guessed these last two.
I didn’t know these things about him. But I knew Professor Morgan. And I am glad and I am grateful to have had that opportunity.
Talk of the Quad: A bathroom pitch: networking in the stalls
There is a Spartan feel to the men’s restroom in Smith Union. It has three reddish-brown stalls, three sinks and two urinals. The floor is an industrial sort of teal and remarkably clean for one of the most heavily trafficked bathrooms on campus. The walls are almost bare—unadorned except for the sheet of paper hanging above the leftmost urinal, advertising Sustainable Bowdoin’s strategies for being green.
Last time I used one of those urinals, I was reading that piece of paper for what felt like the third or fourth time. The poster boards in other parts of Smith are a veritable orgy of ever-changing color.
They advertise poetry readings and lectures, parties and candidates for student government. Yet despite this flashiness, these posters are rarely read.