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See? I do so have a sense of humor!

When I was an undergrad, I was taking this "biological anthropology" class (it was about the science behind the development of theories of evolution), and the teacher was just amazing. Best teacher I ever had. His name was Jonathan Karpf. (Unfortunately, he was only a guest lecturer, and wasn't offered a permanent position. Stupid school. I guess he currently teaches at SJSU. If anyone reading this is a student there, take one of his classes. Run ... don't walk.)

Anyway, it was a huge class, in a gigantic lecture hall, but Prof. Karpf had this neat little system set up, where you could sign up to eat lunch with him. Every week, he would have lunch with a group of about 4 students, so that -- over time -- everyone who wanted to would get a chance to actually get to know him a bit. So I did this, and had a great time talking with him over lunch. Really nice guy, and extremely interesting.

At the next class meeting, I got there early (as always) and settled into my seat. Prof. Karpf showed up and began drawing a cell nucleus on the chalk board, including little diagrams of tRNA (which we were studying at the time). He was mostly facing away from us while he drew on the chalkboard, but I kept thinking, "He looks weird. I just had lunch with this guy. Why do I not recognize him?"

He was dressed the same as always, with these funny suspenders. And he has very recognizable hair, extremely curly and balding. I just kept staring at him and trying to figure out what was different. I was only about half-way back in the lecture hall, so I could see him pretty clearly. It was very weird and disconcerting.

So eventually it was time for class to start, and Prof. Karpf started lecturing, same as always. He started talking about tRNA, mostly just summarizing what we'd discussed in the previous lecture. After a couple minutes, he asked if anyone had any questions about the stuff he'd already covered. No one raised a hand. He nodded and turned around to go to his diagrams on the chalkboard, and then someone in the last row spoke up and said really loudly, "I have a question, professor."

We all turned to look, and the person in the last row stood up ... and it was Professor Karpf! WTF? He came walking down to the front of the class and explained that his identical twin brother was in town for a few days, and so he'd thought it would be funny to dress him up and bring him in to fool us.

See? Now that's the kind of prank I actually find amusing. No students were hurt in the making of this prank, but -- almost 15 years later -- I still remember every detail. I still remember the tRNA diagram on the chalkboard. I still chuckle when I remember that moment when he stood up in the back of the class. Everyone was so shocked!




( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 1st, 2003 08:19 pm (UTC)
DUDE! That professor rocks, yo. So does that prank.

My favoritest professor gave me a B+ or something on a final paper (didn't get it back, but I had a C+ on the first paper which was 50% of the grade, final paper was other 50%, and I ended up with a B for the class), even though it was a few pages short. I ended it by basically saying, "I can't write any more; I'm going out to play in the snow." (It hadn't snowed much at all that year, and there was finally a few inches on the ground that had just fallen)

How's that for a run-on sentence?
Apr. 1st, 2003 08:38 pm (UTC)
Neat story! Great prank :) Harmless, too.. yeay!

would you please post more tonight. I'm horribly bored ;)

Apr. 1st, 2003 09:03 pm (UTC)
<---- What she said!
Apr. 1st, 2003 09:14 pm (UTC)
Kind of ironic that you used the Nicholas Brendon pic for this post, since he has a twin.

Reminds me of the Buffy episode where Xander was split into "ambitious" and "lazy" Xander. Setting that up seemed so easy..."first, you get the actor's identical twin."

Great practical joke.
Apr. 1st, 2003 09:45 pm (UTC)
I loved that episode of Buffy: "Kill us both, Spock!" Heh.
Apr. 2nd, 2003 05:41 am (UTC)
Heh - now see, *those* are the kinds of pranks I like!

And it was an introductory biological (physical) anthropology course that got me hooked on anthropology for the rest of my degree :)
Apr. 2nd, 2003 10:00 am (UTC)
It's like the old Jewish folktale...
"The answer to that question is so obvious that even my coachman can answer it!"

-- Alan Bostick (http://www.spicejar.org/asiplease/)
Feb. 19th, 2006 10:10 am (UTC)
Kimberly's nostalgic memory
Hey Kimberly,

This is Jonathan (Prof. Karpf) who is indeed at SJSU. I'm debating a proponent of Intelligent Design tomorrow in San Jose, and after I googled him (in preparation for the debate) I thought I'd google myself to see what he might find about me. I was so pleasantly surprised to find your site, with your memory of that class (Anthropology 2B as I recall), and the day I had my twin begin the lecture. Memory is such a funny thing; I could have sworn that the topic that day was twinning events, but transfer RNA and translation sounds about right.
How are you doing? From the look of your site our politics are pretty identical. I'm a union activist in the faculty union for the CSU, and was very active helping defeat the Governator's special election propositions. I have such fond memories of my year and a half at UCI; I miss the high percentage of engaged students I encountered there. I teach 4 or 5 courses a semester at San Jose State University, and am a long-term lecturer in the Dept. of Anthropology.

Thanks so much for sharing this memory of 1988 or 1989.

Take care and keep raising hell!

my best regards,
W: 408-924-5721
Feb. 19th, 2006 09:33 pm (UTC)
Re: Kimberly's nostalgic memory
Professor Karpf -

It's so nice to hear from you! I have many very fond memories of your class, as you were -- as I mentioned at the beginning of this journal entry -- the best teacher I had as an undergrad. I find it amusing that you found this 3-year-old journal entry by Googling yourself, especially since I found out that you were at SJSU by Googling your name. Google is such a ubiquitous thing these days! I was interested to find out where you were teaching these days, in hopes that someone had been smart enough to hire you as a full-time professor. It always bothered me that UCI was dumb enough to let you go after such a brief time.
Mar. 19th, 2006 09:28 pm (UTC)
Re: Kimberly's nostalgic memory
Hi Kimberly,

Jonathan Karpf again. I don't exactly live online, and I just now checked to see if you had repsonded to my entry on your blog. I just wanted to clarify your misconception that UCI was dumb to "let me go".

I was brought to UCI as part of the Student Recommended Faculty Program, whose aim is to bring professors to UCI with academic specialties not addressed by UCI faculty. I was hired for this established one year position because the students had voted for someone who could teach primatology classes. In all fairness to UCI, this program is limited to one year, but due to an upswell of student support of the classes I was offering (and, I suppose, my passion for teaching) UCI did something that they had never done before, which was to extend my year contract another two quarters. This allowed me to teach a primate lab class 3 times, a primate lecture class 3 times, a class on the hormonal and neurological bases of behavior twice, and the course you had from me - Introduction to Human Evolution - 4 times.

So it wasn't an issue of UCI "letting me go", since it was a self-defined visiting professor position from the outset. As for me not having a tenure-track job at SJSU, the CSU system is different than the UC, and maintains budget felxibilty by having 40-60% of the faculty off the tenure line as lecturers, who can be let go simply for budgetary reasons when the state suport tanks. I happen to be in about as secure a lecturer position as possible, which translates into defacto job security, if not institutional job security. I've been teaching at SJSU since 1987 - other than my 5 quarters at UCI where you met me - and barring a complete state budget meltdown, I expect to retire from SJSU in about 17 years. We're a unionized faculty, and ALL faculty are on the same pay schedule and receive the same good CalPers health benefits and pension. The plus side of being a lecturer is that we're only hire to teach, which means we are not required to participate in all of the committee work that drives my tenured colleagues crazy. That said, one reason why I'm in a more secure position than most lecturers is that I choose to participate in shared governance, student advising, and university service even though I'm not required to, nor do I get paid for it, unlike tenured faculty. But this means that I can choose which ones interest me, as opposed to being assigned them. Also, there is no requirement to do research, although many lecturers do, and I too am professionally active. But it again means greater flexibility and choice, and many Summers Kathie and I travel rather than being bound to administration and/or research demands like our colleagues. So there are some material advantages to being a lecturer, if one plays ones cards right. For example, my wife Kathie - a cultural anthropologist who is older than I am - will be retiring next year having spent her entire academic career as a long term lecturer.

Thank you again for your kind words and positive memories of my class. I have nothing but extremely positive memories of my time at UCI, and in terms of sheer joy of teaching that was the highlight of my academic career.

my best regards,
Jonathan Karpf

( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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