By Eunji Kim
He curses at his students. He walks out of his lectures. He makes insensitive remarks about race during his philosophy classes. Some may regard professor Laurence Thomas as controversial, but he himself begs to differ.
“I am the most fiercely independent person you’ll ever meet,” he said, but he didn’t choose to be that way. “It’s the way I am. It’s like you don’t choose to be tall, you are just tall.”
While it is true that profanity does get used very often in his classes, Thomas finds offense that some may say he is cursing at his students. He reasons that it isn’t integral to his teaching style; it’s just something that emphasizes his lessons.
“Cursing doesn’t define who I am,” he said. “Chris Rock uses profanity in his speech. That doesn’t mean he’s cursing at his audience. I’m like Chris Rock.”
And he’s not entirely sure why his profanity draws so much attention, stating, “It is the least interesting feature of Laurence Thomas.”
For 20 years, he has been teaching at SU, and as far as he knows, nobody has taken his courses to hear profanity.
“He’s different,” said Jason Burger, a junior finance major. “He has a completely different approach to teaching. He tests you for bullshit.”
One way in which he is a different professor than many is that he chooses the Marshall Square Mall as his office. Burger said that Thomas chooses to have office hours here because classroom settings are dull and boring. In class, however, Thomas has been known to say it is because he does not want to be accused of sexual harassment.
Controversial or not, Thomas is one of the most popular professors at Syracuse University. Christina Giaquinto, a freshman television, radio, and film major, was unable to register for one of Thomas’ classes.
“His philosophy class was gone in 0.4 seconds during registration period,” Giaquinto said.
Giaquinto wanted to meet with Thomas bad enough that she went to his office hours and sat down for coffee with him, especially after hearing that he was supposedly leaving after this semester.
The meeting went well. Giaquinto found herself laughing throughout their talk, and wishes to take his class next semester, which luckily she can. Thomas is not leaving Syracuse University.
“I’m not going to leave right away,” he said. “But I might later. Who knows what the future holds? Maybe the world will fall apart. Maybe I’ll die in a plane crash.”
But if the world doesn’t bring on his demise, he wants to do “something wonderful.”
“I’m writing an awful lot,” he said. “Maybe I’ll be a novelist.”
Although he may one day want to be a novelist, students and teaching are his passions.
“Teaching for me is some version of heaven,” Thomas said. “Give me at least two students. A class. And I will create a intellectual development.”
He engages with students and develops strong relationships with many of them. He and his students exchange playful conversations and ultimately become friends.
“I have some amazing students,” he said. “End of story.”
Teaching hasn’t always been his passion. Before, Thomas was an evolutionary biologist.
“I didn’t even think I knew I was going to change,” he said.
Thomas doesn’t know how he got into the field of philosophy, and says that it was just one event leading to another. But he is happy it did, and says that teaching the field of philosophy is “tremendously lot of fun.”
In the end, his career change turned out to work for the best. Thomas has talent in teaching, evidenced by his routinely closed 400 person lectures. He recognizes this too, and says he would not teach if it were not the case.
“But if I get bad at teaching, I’ll stop.”