It’s true. I slept with my professor. My relationship with Nicholas Leither began on September 15th, 2015. I had just moved into my dorm early, four days before move-in day, with my roommate Gary Schlatter to prepare for a camping trip. The camping trip was through a school-sponsored program called, “Into the Wild,” which takes Santa Clara University students on outdoor activities ranging from surfing and skiing, to hiking and camping.
Gary and I had spent most of the day stocking our room with peanut butter pretzels and posters of women with beautiful personalities. At 4 o’clock we left our dorm and walked to a recreation room underneath SCU’s dining hall to meet the crew that would be joining us on our adventure. Gary and I were the last to arrive, and all the seats except two had been occupied. The seats were arranged in a large circle, so Gary and I proceeded to leave each other and take the last two seats on opposite sides of the circle.
“Okay everybody,” said a blonde-haired, blue-eyed guy sitting next to Gary. He was obviously too young to be anything other than a student, but looked like he was in charge. “My name is Wright, and that over there is Nick.” Wright pointed directly to the seat on my left at a dashing young man who couldn’t have been older than 25 years old. “I’m a sophomore, and Nick is actually a teacher here. He’s the faculty member that will be joining us on our trip to Big Sur.” Everybody in the circle, including Gary and I, gasped and started mumbling to one another. This man was way too good-looking to be a teacher. The girls whispered to each other as they eyed Nick, and started giggling like they had each just said the funniest thing in the world.
Nick knew he had an effect on people, and had experienced things like this throughout his entire life. It didn’t bother him. “Yes, yes, settle down everyone,” Wright said. “Now we’re going to play a little icebreaker game I like to call, ‘Who Knew?’” Wright explained he would randomly pair each of us with another crew member, and the object of the game was to find out three things about ourselves that we had in common. Wright proceeded to randomly pair people up until Nick and I were the only ones left. “And Sean, you go with Nick.” I could feel everyone’s jealous eyes burning holes in me. But I didn’t care; I got to talk to the coolest-looking guy ever.
Nick turned to me, as we were already sitting next to each other, and stuck out his hand. “Hi, I’m Nick.” It took me a second to snap out of my trance and stop staring at him before I nervously replied, “H-h-hi, my name’s Sean. It’s soooooooo good to meet you.” “Sean?” he asked. “Sean Driscoll?” “Yeah,” I said, slightly shocked. “How’d you know?” “You’re in my class!” And that was how I met Nick Leither.
Nick and I had a great weekend in Big Sur, and ended up sleeping next to each other in the men’s tent snuggling for warmth. And that was how I slept with my professor.
Nick teaches several Critical Thinking and Writing classes at SCU, which all satisfy a core requirement every undergraduate student is responsible for. To be completely honest, I thought the class was going to be a breeze. I had spoken with an upperclassman before school started, and she had all told me her CTW class was a joke. “Yeah, mine was pretty boring, but all you have to do is be nice to the teacher and write essays that aren’t completely terrible, and you’ll be fine.”
I can now confidently say there is no way the handsome devil I had as my professor could have possibly been the same professor she had. Nick’s CTW class is by far the most intellectually stimulating course I have ever taken, as well as one of the most influential. The topics we discussed in his class were mind-boggling, and definitely kept me wide awake in bed a few nights. Aside from the logical and philosophical aspect, Nick taught techniques of researching, studying, understanding, and arguing the ideas we discussed in class that were equally as fascinating.
The six months I spent with Nick consisted of a diligent and intense exploration of an area of study that can be categorized into the following subjects: eating animals, sustainability, and violence. While I did accumulate a ridiculous amount of knowledge and become surprisingly qualified on these subjects, the content we learned was not the point of the course. What I really learned in Nick’s class was a method of developing my own understanding of a subject, and using it to argue, educate, or further my knowledge. A common theme of Nick’s class was to, “show instead of tell.” It would be incredibly difficult for me to cram 6 months of learning into this single paper, so instead I will just show you several examples of how we studied in Nick’s class.
The first thing we did in Nick’s class was read a book called Eating Animals by Jonathan Foer. Foer was relatively straightforward with his writing in the sense that he exposed us to the awful truth about eating animals very quickly. Almost every single person in our class, including myself, had rationalized eating slaughtered animals in some ridiculous way. I had told myself it was okay to slaughter and consume cows, chicken, fish, and other animals because they don’t feel pain. That is completely false. Foer discusses the only reason we eat certain animals, like cows, but nurture other animals, like dogs and cats, is socially related (Foer 15-18). Foer argues there is a social stigma that surrounds certain animals in certain cultures. It just so happens that in the United States it is socially acceptable to eat cows, and in parts of China it is socially acceptable to eat dogs (Foer 15-18).
Nick exposed our class to what goes on behind closed doors at farms with no warning. The second week of school I was assigned to watch a video titled, “Meet Your Meat.” I was assigned to watch this video through our school’s online homework assigner, so I had no idea what to expect. You can view it below.
The important thing to know about Nick’s class is that he never explicitly tried to convince us of an opinion he held as his own. All Nick did was present certain information from certain sources, and almost every single student in our class ended up developing the same outlook on meat: eating less of it would be best for everyone. Nick successfully convinced our class of an argument implicitly. The idea behind this is to show instead of tell. That way, the audience will end up deciding on an opinion for itself. If an opinion is shoved down the audience’s throat, it will be much harder for the audience to sit contently with it.
The next subject of our course, sustainability, was linked very closely to meat. As it turns out, animal agriculture is actually terrible for the environment. According to a New York Times article, “Beef turns out to have an overall water footprint of roughly four million gallons per ton produced. By contrast, the water footprint for “sugar crops” like sugar beets is about 52,000 gallons per ton; for vegetables it’s 85,000 gallons per ton; and for starchy roots it’s about 102,200 gallons per ton” (McWilliams 1). It makes logical sense that animals consume more water than plants since they are moving around and expending more energy than the plants that just sit still. Animals are also significantly bigger, so it will almost always take more water to raise an animal than a plant.
Aside from the water issue, there is a completely separate problem concerning emissions emitted by cows and horses. It’s been no secret for some time now that cows and horses release methane, a greenhouse gas significantly more destructive than the carbon dioxide emitted from cars. A United Nations report from 2006 stated, “The livestock sector generates more greenhouse gas emissions as measured in CO2 equivalent – 18 percent – than transport. It is also a major source of land and water degradation” (Matthews 1).
Santa Clara University is located in California, which is still in a state of emergency due to a massive drought. As an undergraduate student I have been persecuted for my showers that last longer than 5 minutes (we have community showers in most of the dorms. There’s no hiding it), leaving the sink on too long, and for pretty much anything else that involves water usage. But I have never been scolded for eating a double bacon cheeseburger. If one ton of beef is worth four million gallons of water, then by simple arithmetic you can determine that a one-pound beef burger is worth approximately two thousand gallons of water. If you don’t believe that this is accurate, google it.
This study on sustainability with an emphasis in animal agriculture presented another theme of Nick’s course that transcends concrete course material. Almost everyone we knew, including ourselves, was trying to fix a massive problem at hand while completely ignoring an obvious solution. This concept is illustrated beautifully in the clip below.
Our class smoothly transitioned from this idea of obviousness into the final subject we studied in Nick’s course: violence. We began this portion of the course by reading Dave Cullen’s novel, Columbine. Cullen is a psychologist that dedicated over a decade of his life to studying the most notorious school shooting in history that occurred at Columbine High School in Columbine, Colorado. To describe it bluntly, two students named Dylan and Eric planned a school massacre for a whole year. Had they executed their plan successful, it is likely every person in the school would have been killed. Several of the boys’ bombs fortunately malfunctioned, so they compromised by walking in and shooting a bunch of people before shooting themselves. The interesting thing about this event was the variety of conclusions people in the local community began to draw. Some solely blamed Dylan and Eric’s parents for raising their kids into monsters, the local pastor blamed the devil, and some blamed the police department. Cullen ends up describing a multitude of different people jumping to obvious and easy conclusions immediately following the shooting (Cullen).
As one of my fellow classmates put it, “The witch-calling effect that took place in the community was more interesting than the kids deciding to murder as many people as possible just for the hell of it.” Cullen, the individual more qualified to discuss this event than anyone in the history of the world, disagreed with any easy or obvious explanation. In fact, Cullen never actually pinpointed any single cause or ultimate blame-worthy entity for the tragedy (Cullen). Cullen shows that the answer is not always easy to understand.
Nicholas Leither’s class may as well have focused on the history of underwater basket weaving. It probably would not have been as interesting, but no matter what we studied or wrote about Nick always found a way to teach us something about generalized critical thinking, reading, and writing.
Cullen, David. Columbine. N.p.: Twelve, 2009. Print.
Foer, Safran, and Jonathan Todd. Ross. Eating Animals. Place of Publication Not Identified: Clipper, 2011. Print.
Matthews, Christopher. “Livestock a Major Threat to Environment.” FAO Newsroom. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 29 Nov. 2006. Web. 15 Mar. 2016. <http://www.fao.org/newsroom/en/news/2006/1000448/index.html>.
Mcwilliams, James. “Meat Makes the Planet Thirsty.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 07 Mar. 2014. Web. 15 Mar. 2016. <http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/08/opinion/meat-makes-the-planet-thirsty.html?_r=0>.