Last Lectures feature Berch, Hurlbert, Wolfthal
Michael Berch is one of three ASU professors selected to speak at the 12th annual Last Lecture Series this month. The honor is based on students' nominations and the nominees' lecture proposals, and in both categories, Berch's was top-notch.
“Professor Berch is an insane genius,” writes Kolby Granville, a law student who nominated the longtime professor in the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law. “No student who has ever had him forgets him. He rants, he yells, he does at least a half-dozen things per class that you'd think would get him fired – and yet, 30 years later, he's still teaching at the law school, influencing the minds of future lawyers.”
Free and open to the public, Berch's lecture is at 7 p.m., April 10, in the Pima Room at the Memorial Union on the Tempe campus. Berch will join Diane Wolfthal, an art history professor in the Herberger College of Art, and Glenn Hurlbert, an associate professor of math in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, in the series. Wolfthal's presentation is April 18 and Hurlbert's is April 23, both at 7 p.m. in the MU's Pima Room.
ASU's Faculty Recognition Committee and three staff members of Memorial Union Programs and Activities, sponsor of the lecture series, waded through 35 nominations and proposals, searching for the most compelling topics and the most fascinating faculty members.
Berch, the first professor to be chosen from the College of Law, stood out, says Megan Pearse, the committee's adviser.
“His enthusiasm shined through,” Pearse says. “And his lecture is not something that people will expect. It's different from what we've seen in the past.”
Berch's lecture will focus on whether legal method and processes and the rules of law they produce function accountably or whether the rules vary, depending on factors such as race, wealth, accidents of birth and luck.
However, his presentation, “A Defense Plea for Leniency at the Mitigation Hearing – State v. Raskolnikov,” will have a theatrical flair, as Berch creates a summation based on the trial of Rodya Raskolnikov, the central character in Fyodor Dostoevsky's “Crime and Punishment.”
“Law and legal principles govern the behavior of all of the participants to this crime: murderer, prosecutor, prostitute, jurors,” Berch wrote in his proposal. “In the Last Lecture, the audience members sit as the jurors who convicted Raskolnikov. They must decide the fate of the man: life or death?
“What factors should the defense attorney canvass; how should she respond to the prosecutor's case; what pitfalls await in rebuttal? How far dare (or should) the defense attorney go in recounting Raskolnikov's life? Is he the worst of the worst?”
Berch declined to provide details about his lecture, other than to say, “It's going to be theater at its height.”
In his nomination letter, Granville says, “Trust me on this one, have him give a last lecture. Assuming he doesn't scare everyone off, it will be a night they will never forget.”
Wolfthal's presentation on April 18 may hold equal fascination, focusing on how ideas about conjugal and illicit sex have been portrayed in the visual arts throughout history. Her topic is “In and Out of the Marital Bed: Picturing Marital Sex from the Arnolfinis to Elizabeth Vernon, Countess of Southhampton,” exploring two famous paintings that differ in their conceptualization of sexuality.
Jennifer Pendergrass, a graduate student who nominated Wolfthal, says “she is filled with knowledge that she wants to share with her students. She is humorous, detailed and organized, and she has an undying energy that allows her to be the most influential professor I have ever had.”
Hurlbert's talk on April 23 will probe the idea that math is not merely a utilitarian discipline but a way of thinking about life and the universe, in “Is 42 Really the Answer?” He plans to explore how contradictory truths may exist, how some questions have several answers, and the existence of paradoxes about motion, time and even God. Hurlbert is a passionate, professional, inspiring teacher, says John Martin, a graduate student who nominated him.
“I am amazed by how he can make a 400-level math class seem like a sixth-grade science class, fun and interesting,” Martin says. “He puts extra effort into relating our lives and experiences to the material, and his enthusiasm for math and his students is infectious. Every class has an energetic feel, and his sense of humor, comments and stories really brighten his students' day.”
For more information, visit the Web site www.asu.edu/studentaffairs/mu/mupa/last_lecture.htm.