Students reexamine Moore’s term as College professor

After the revelation of former assistant visiting professor Bernard Moore’s fraud schemes last week and his subsequent dismissal on Monday, his current students, former students and those with whom he developed personal relationships through mentorship have had to reexamine their experiences with him during his two and a half semesters at Williams.

Moore at Williams was both an instructor in the classroom and a mentor to several students. He was known particularly for his connections in Washington, D.C., which he used to bring prominent figures to campus and to arrange summer internships for many students.

His students widely reported Moore’s hands-off professorial style, and while some appreciated his casual classroom manner, most offered details that point to an unusual lack of academic engagement with students. At the same time, Moore’s fall from grace has been seen as a hit to the several students, especially black students with an interest in politics, who worked closely with him outside of the classroom and saw him as a role model.

Students spoke on the record about his presence both inside and outside the classroom, and many of them asked that the Record maintain their anonymity, for reasons ranging from sensitivity for Moore to a desire not to be linked publicly to the matter.

In the classroom

Moore taught five courses in the 2008-2009 academic year: in the fall, Political Science (PSCI) 201: “Power Politics, and Democracy in America” and PSCI 304: “Race and the Criminal Justice System”; and in the spring, PSCI 217: “Constitutional Law II,” PSCI 307: “Black Politics” and PSCI 320: “Judicial Politics.” This fall, he was teaching a seminar, Africana Studies/PSCI 303: “Black Leadership,” and was slated to teach a Winter Study course on federal courts and a seminar on congressional leadership in the spring.

When asked about Moore’s teaching style, many students described a quiet professor who relied heavily on his students to teach each other course material.

“I found him to be a rather disinterested and unengaged professor,” said Hanna Gisel ’10, who took “Race and the Criminal Justice System” in fall 2008. “While it was apparent that he was very well-informed on the subject matter, he never seemed to have a lesson plan and instead designed each class meeting to be student taught.”

David Marsh ’12 described his experience in the constitutional law class as frustrating. “I felt like we weren’t really able to get at the issues we were supposed to cover in class,” he said. “Most classes consisted of very untraditional discussions, and I think when students realized that, they really had to adjust their expectations for the class.” Marsh’s classmate Peter Drivas ’11 offered a similar take on Moore. “He was very free-form with his lectures,” Drivas said. “He definitely wanted students to essentially run the class as much as possible.”

Ifiok Inyang ’11 is currently enrolled in the black leadership seminar that Moore taught until last week, and detailed what he believed were the merits of his hands-off approach to his professorship. “I thought he was a lot more laid back in the classroom,” he said. “He tried to set up good discussions in classes. Other professors often have their own agenda about what they will teach in class and they advocate their own views, but Professor Moore didn’t try to preach to us. He just tried to spur class discussion. Taking a class with him was definitely a different experience.”

Kevin Dewar ’10, who took both “Black Politics” in the spring and “Black Leadership” this fall, called Moore’s teaching “rough around the edges,” but noted a general trend of improvement, even suggesting that Moore had been spoken to by his department about refining his pedagogy. “I would say the class this year was 10 times better than the class last year,” he said. “The difference was huge, and you could tell that somebody talked to him and must have pulled him aside and said, ‘These things have to change about the course.’” Dewar said that in Moore’s course this year he had been stricter about his expectations and taken a more active role in guiding class discussions. “He said that his grades were too high from last year, and that this year he needed to crack down and give people the grades they deserve,” Dewar added.

“I’ve had better professors than Professor Moore, but it’s very hard to say if I’ve had more honest and real professors than Professor Moore,” Dewar said. “I don’t know who he was in reality, but he was real, and our classes were real. People sat in class talking about very controversial topics that we never would have spoken about in other classes and we were speaking it from the heart, and that’s so rare in a Williams College class, where people are often hell-bent on fitting norms and saying and doing what they think people wanted to hear.”

One student who took a class with Moore last fall sent an e-mail to his classmates to encourage them to express their support for Moore while he was applying for a tenure-track position at the College.

Many students’ descriptions, however, centered on Moore’s tendencies that included boasting about his Capitol Hill connections and a general lack of attentiveness both in the classroom and in giving feedback on coursework. “In class, I think he took advantage of his knowledge of the Hill – he told a lot of anecdotes about what he knew from his connections, and he also had a tendency to name drop, as well,” Drivas said.

An anonymous source described this classroom bravado, as well. “He often bragged in class about the connections he had and there was this sense that if you did what he told you to do, what he wanted you to do, that he would be able to get you great opportunities on the Hill,” the student said.

“I think he essentially created two classes within a class,” Marsh said. “There were definitely a few people that for some reason he picked to focus on, and that he would give opportunities to.” Marsh added that Moore invited Marsh to accompany him on the trip to pick up members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) last November, giving Marsh an opportunity to speak privately with the congressmen before they arrived on campus.

Another student who had taken multiple courses with Moore but wished to remain anonymous described Moore’s distracted classroom manner. “I think his priorities were clearly not about teaching the class or adding any intellectual value or anything else that a professor should give to his students,” the student said, adding that Moore would often answer phone calls during class, even when other students were speaking. “This was fine for the first semester because I figured it had something to do with the election, but during the second semester when we had presentations which supposedly counted for a significant portion of our grade, he would walk outside of the class in the middle of people’s presentations to talk on the phone for an extended period of time. Other students would tell the presenter to stop talking because it was so disrespectful for the professor not to be there.”

The student added that Moore would often fall asleep during class, particularly during three-hour seminar meetings. “He literally did nothing in class,” the student said. “He didn’t speak. He literally sat there and did nothing.”

Students in his classes said that Moore assigned few assignments, which included short book reports and longer independent research papers. “We were strongly discouraged from doing anything other than summarizing,” said the anonymous student who took two courses with Moore, in reference to the book reports.

“He gave practically no written feedback on the reviews, besides an occasional check in the margin,” Gisel said.

In terms of the feedback that students gave Moore, many said they gave him negative reviews, but the negativity was not universal. The e-mail written in support of Moore getting a tenure-track position claimed that students wrote him positive end-of-semester reviews.

“I did not give him positive feedback,” Gisel said. “Although he did seem knowledgeable and like a nice person, he did not have the level of commitment and passion that I think Williams expects of its professors.”

“I gave him awful reviews for every sector, and I can’t imagine I was the only person who gave him abysmal ratings,” said Grant Torres ’12, a student in Moore’s constitutional law class last spring. “I’m glad people don’t have to take his classes anymore.”

“I wrote ‘extremely poor’ on the scantron and I know that the other students graded him in the same manner,” said the anonymous student who took two classes with Moore. “Seeing as the school was celebrating him left and right, there was no way I could speak up. If everyone else is going to turn a blind eye then I will turn a blind eye too and get my good grade and get out.”

Outside the classroom

Moore was well known at the College for bringing high-profile figures to the campus. He helped arrange for the first public convening of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) after President Obama’s election to take place on campus last November, and had made arrangements for the black leadership panel, featuring Bill Cosby and Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), that was scheduled to take place on Monday but canceled after Moore’s dismissal from the College faculty.

The Record wrote a feature profile on Moore last fall (“Prof. transitions from Capitol Hill to classroom,” Oct. 29, 2008) in which Moore spoke about his relationships with Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, among countless other politicians. “Senator Obama has been extremely influential for me,” Moore said in the article, also detailing his basketball rivalry with the commander-in-chief.

Moore was also instrumental in bringing famed athlete and activist Jim Brown to campus two weeks ago. In a Q&A session with students, Brown said that it was his wife’s friendship with Moore that prompted him to come to the College, according to an article from the Office of Sports Information.

“Professor Bernard Moore can teach you so much,” Brown said in the article. “He goes to Washington all the time and works on laws and knows everyone. Use him.”

Moore indeed regarded mentoring students as a high priority. His profile on the Africana studies Web site reads: “He believes that communication, relationship building, and mentoring communication are key motivators for students in their quest for knowledge in academia.” In the College press release announcing visiting professors for 2009-10, Moore wrote, “My favorite extracurricular activities are cycling, mentoring students with an interest in legislative affairs, and photography.”

Inyang explained his belief that Moore filled an important niche as a role model and adviser to students. “A lot of people generalize and say he was just a professor or that his only contribution was bringing big-name people to campus, but I definitely think he acted as a role model and mentor to a lot of students,” he said. “If you reached out to him, he would always try to help you out the best that he could.” Inyang detailed how Moore helped him talk through his confusion about what to do with his junior year. “We had a really good discussion and he really helped me decide without pushing me in either direction,” he said, adding that Moore was better in one-on-one interactions, since he was more reserved in larger group situations like the classroom.

Dewar said that while Moore served as a mentor to students of all races, many black students took a particular liking to Moore, and vice versa. “You could tell that he took a very strong interest in making sure that the black males in particular were firstly psychologically stable, taking care of themselves, making sure they were getting their work done, and helping them with things outside of the classroom and outside of school in general such as getting jobs,” Dewar said. “He certainly took a strong interest in that.”

“What was really bad about Professor Moore leaving is that over the course of this last year he grew so much and he was becoming such a good mentor,” he added. “I feel bad for the students, like myself, who began to really develop close relationships with him.”

Marsh described a similar sense of disappointment. “I definitely had considered getting recommendations from him in the future and had hoped to use his contacts on Capitol Hill, but that is obviously no longer the case,” Marsh said. “I guess I feel sort of betrayed, but more so just abandoned.”

An off-the-record source reported being asked by Moore to write him a recommendation for a post on the Howard University board of directors – after the student had turned in his final paper, but before final grades had been posted. “I sort of felt like I was backed in a corner because we hadn’t been graded yet,” the student said. “I just felt like him asking me for that recommendation put me in a bad situation.”

Another off-the-record source described an instance in which the student felt Moore exploited his position as a close mentor. “He’d invite me to his office to talk and even help him with his job on Capitol Hill,” the student said. “He asked me to edit his press releases and even framed it as if I were being tested.”

Moore was also known for using his connections in capitol politics to get students summer internships. According to John Noble, director of the Office of Career Counseling (OCC), Moore contacted Dawn Dellea, assistant OCC director, for assistance in alerting students to internship possibilities in Washington, D.C. “Apparently, he had connections in several government offices where he could make introductions for interested students,” Noble said, adding that Moore held three workshops for students in Weston last spring. “He explained how to obtain internships and how he might help students in the process,” Noble said.

Moore had funding from the OCC to support five student interns last summer, but also notified students of over 20 positions on the Hill through an e-mail, sent to an OCC listserver by Dellea, according to Matt Law ’10. Law applied for numerous internships through Moore, and said that Moore helped him in the process of securing a job and summer housing. “He was very friendly, but also just very disorganized and aloof,” he said. “Sometimes after I met with him I felt satisfied, others frustrated.”

According to Law, Moore was difficult to get a hold of throughout the process, since he was usually in the capital when he was not teaching. Law eventually turned down the internship he acquired through Moore, which he was not offered until mid-June.

Most students who worked with Moore on Capitol Hill or acquired internships through his guidance were reluctant to be interviewed for this article. However, Law said that several students worked directly with Moore on projects associated with Williams on the Hill (WOTH), a programming series that Moore helped start this past summer.

According to Law, WOTH consisted of three major events that Moore arranged for students interning on Capitol Hill: attendance at a symposium on federal sentencing policy, featuring members of the CBC, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer and Attorney General Eric Holder Jr.; a WOTH reception with CBC members and Rep. Chris Murphy ’96 (D-Conn.) that Interim President Wagner attended; and a lunch meeting with Sen. Mark Udall ’72 (D-Colo.).

According to a College “Faculty Notes” press release, which called Moore an assistant professor, Moore organized the Sentencing Symposium this summer with Pierre Meloty-Kapella ’10. At the symposium, Law said that both Holder and Breyer praised Moore in their remarks. “He usually just stayed on the sidelines with his camcorder,” Law said. “He only nodded briefly when people would praise or acknowledge him.”

Additional reporting by Jonathan Galinsky, Katy Gathright, Lisa Li and Jamie Pickard, Record staff.

Comments (2)

  1. Pingback: Best of the Record – 18 November 2009 : EphBlog

  2. i’m disgusted that students would let behavior like this go on for so long.

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