Prof. David Sipfle taught the best class I ever took in college, and also one of the most difficult. Early Modern Philosophy was required for all those like me who majored in philosophy. It had the reputation for being a fearsome challenge, and we prepared for it as for a strengthening ordeal. In the class meetings Prof. Sipfle was intimidating. He required us to know the text we were studying, but also to think about it in ways that went well beyond the words on the page. We were encouraged to discuss the text but he always demanded that our statements about those texts be precise and based on clear evidence in the text.
I remember that one day, rather than open the floor to questions, Prof. Sipfle started the class by summarizing a point in the reading and then calling on a student (I’ll call him John) who hadn’t yet spoken in the class. It was immediately apparent that John had not done the reading. As John struggled to put together a coherent remark, some of the rest of us discreetly raised our hands, hoping to end his misery. Prof. Sipfle waved us off, making John feel the full shame of not doing the work for the class. Yet in person, Prof. Sipfle was as friendly and helpful as he could be. When I visited him, I remember staying well past the time I expected, because he was so caught up explaining to me a problem in set theory that he had studied in graduate school.