Hofman, now 90, exemplifies that rare combination found in all the great teachers. He was a lion on the stage who commanded a crowded auditorium without a microphone, yet he somehow conveyed a hint of his sly sense of humor and joy in teaching. He was a drill sergeant who exerted total authority over as many as 600 squirming near-adults, and he made it clear that he cared about each individual and wanted above all for each to succeed in his class.
Eric Wieschaus ’69 remembers all the students being terrified of Hofman. Wieschaus, now a professor at Princeton University, won the 1995 Nobel Prize in Medicine for his pioneering work on the way genes in the fruit fly determine the formation of body parts. Still, he was overwhelmed to be invited the next year to give an annual lecture named in honor of his former teacher. That was only his first surprise.
“He was such a figure in my life,” Wieschaus says. “I can almost still hear his big, booming voice. When he asked, I said, ‘Of course. Wow. Me?’ I was honored.”
After the invitation, Hofman decided to look up the grades Wieschaus earned in freshman chemistry. When Hofman saw that a Nobel laureate scored a B in both semesters, he marched into the Registrar’s Office and asked how a professor could retroactively change a student’s grade. Here’s how Hofman recalls the scene:
The office clerk asked, “For what semester would you like to make a grade change?”
“For both semesters . . . of the year 1965,” Hofman said.
“OK,” said the surprised woman. “What do you want to give as the reason?”
“I will accept the Nobel Prize as extra credit earned,” he said.
Then Hofman took the stamped form and presented it to Wieschaus in the introduction to his lecture. When Wieschaus returned to Princeton, he proudly held the form up to show the students in his chemistry lab.
“This, ladies and gentlemen,” Wieschaus pronounced dramatically, “is what it takes to get an A at the University of Notre Dame.”
Random: A Great Story About a Legendary Notre Dame Professor
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