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Goldberg's Variations
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Summer 1999
Goldberg's Variations
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That logic was apparently lost on a colleague who saw an overabundance of "A"s and "B"s posted on Goldberg's grade sheet. He complained that Goldberg was giving easy grades to win points with students. Goldberg was asked to defend himself before a faculty committee. He swears he would have quit before changing his ways, but his students intervened. "A bunch of them heard about this, went into the chair's office and said, "You're out of your mind. This was the hardest class we've ever had, but the guy forces us to learn," he recalls. Goldberg later received an apology from his accusers.

Ironically, the myth about Goldberg's courses today is that they're impossible to pass. "He demands a lot of his students," says Annie Alpers, student affairs manager in the Division of Life Sciences. "They don't dare come to his class unprepared, because he calls on everyone to participate." But most students eat it up, and Alpers says written evaluations of Goldberg are among the most reverential she's seen. "Many refer to the course as a life-changing experience," she says. "They say he changed not just how they study, but how they feel about themselves. They now feel there's no challenge they can't meet."

One student whose career path was altered by the Goldberg experience is Pei Yun Lee, who came to UCLA intending to major in communication studies. After spending a freshman quarter in Goldberg's HC 25 course, she was hooked on science. "I was overwhelmed at first by the syllabus and his teaching style, which I wasn't used to," Lee recalls. "But he challenged us, and I ended up surprising myself with what I was able to do." By her senior year, Lee was working in Goldberg's lab and serving as an HC 25 teaching assistant. She was recently selected one of 100 outstanding college students nationwide to present their original research on Capitol Hill, received a National Science Foundation Predoctoral Scholarship and will enter Caltech's biology program this fall.

Ever the visionary, Goldberg looks to spread the scientific gospel and pass on his knowledge to the next generation. "My goal, now more than ever, is to teach students how exciting it is to be in science," says Goldberg. "We live in a technological society, and unless we train people to be able to do the basic research, we're in deep trouble. People don't understand the crisis that we're facing. Bright kids are going to medical school; very few are interested in becoming scientists."

Back in the classroom, Goldberg makes the students a promise. "I and my TAs will work as hard as we can to give you the absolute best class that we can give you," he says. "I can assure you that 10 weeks from now, you won"t say that you have ever had a class like this. This is not a class; it's an experience."

Dan Gordon is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer.


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