Professor: Antony Aumann
Interviewed by:Tracy Pickering
Part One: For the interview, I chose Professor Aumann, an associate professor in the Philosophy Department, partially because he was the professor outside of the English Department with whom I felt the most comfortable conducting it, and partially because, as with many of the soft sciences, clarity in one’s writing is pertinent to the comprehension of any given philosophy, and I felt he would provide concise and well thought-out answers to my questions. Prof. Aumann agreed without hesitation when I asked him for the interview, seeming open to the topic and eager to help, and it was held informally in his office following class on the 21st of September.
Part Two: Due to the fact that Prof. Aumann teaches within a small department, the classes he has lectured since starting at Northern in the fall of 2010 cover a broad range of topics, from Existentialism, to World Religions, to Intro to Logic. When asked, he stated that he used writing assignments in all of his classes (usually take-home essays, as opposed to in-class tests) as he felt that such projects were necessary “to hone the ability to think critically about the subject matter and express their opinions” and that he felt that in order for a student to truly digest the material, it was easiest for them to do so in a low-stress environment, hence the informality of the writing assignments.
In terms of the writing ability of the students he’s encountered, Prof. Aumann felt that there was a broad range of students, from those who struggled to articulate their thoughts to those who were so accomplished that they sometimes overcomplicated their work accidentally. This was an important point for him, as he stated that the first thing he looked for within a student’s writing was clarity. He looked primarily to see if their ideas were well organized, if the information had been scrutinized for relevance, and if each point was well connected to the central topic.
Professionally, Prof. Aumann said he wrote frequently, mostly peer-reviewed articles on topics within his field, the ultimate goal being acceptance of a piece into a well-respected journal. “It’s constantly a work in progress; you struggle to get better, for clarity, and to keep in mind that you’re writing for an audience that might not have read all the things you have, so it is important to be wary of gaps,” he said, and explained that he often recommends writing a paper, sitting on it for a week, and then coming back to it so that gaps are easier to spot.
When asked about the importance of good writing, Prof. Aumann agreed that students sometimes underestimate the need to learn good writing skills now, even if their intended professions were less writing intensive. “The ability to summarize large parcels of information is universal,” he said, and felt that the development of portable writing skills was a component of success for any job. When asked about the writing center, he said that he often encouraged students to use it, and understood the distinction between the common perception of the writing center and our actual purpose (helping the students to become better writers by monitoring things like structure, style, organization, etc.) The only recommendation he offered was to launch a second advertisement campaign at the end of the semester, to remind those students who might be struggling with final assignments that we are a well-endowed resource, ready to help.