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Focus on Faculty: Brent Koplitz

Publication date

October 08, 2018 8:15 PM


Tess Martin

Professor Brent Koplitz has been the chair of Tulane’s chemistry department for the past 13 years. This fall, he is teaching an Honors Colloquium course on music and social change. Professor Koplitz first had the idea to teach “Social Commentary in Popular Music from 1965-1985” eighteen years ago, inspired by his passion for music and interest in helping students write better.

When he first taught the course 18 years ago, he met with the students five hours each week to listen to material, write, and discuss what they heard. Back in 2000, there was no way to share music other than listening to the radio or playing the physical CD, tape cassette, or record, which meant that everyone had to listen together.

With the introduction of free, music-sharing software, Professor Koplitz wanted to redo the course in 2018. Having created a playlist of over 500 songs that he knows are of social and historical value, students have an extensive collection to listen to on their own time. They can then come to class prepared and ready to spend time writing and discussing the social commentary in music from when Bob Dylan “went electric” in 1965 through Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” tour in 1985 (which Professor Koplitz personally attended).

Why is the chemistry department chair teaching a class that he describes as “music, history, sociology, and politics all in one”? He believes that “college is for you to learn things,” which includes diving deeper into topics you find fascinating. College, Professor Koplitz believes, should be different from high school. Students should spend their college career independently pursuing knowledge, exploring interests, and ultimately worrying less about grades and more about how much personal and intellectual growth they are experiencing. Koplitz’s course arises from his personal interest in the subject, not anything related to departmental responsibilities or his research in chemistry.

Ultimately, Professor Koplitz hopes that his students “get a lifelong interest and advancement in what they listen to,” having experienced the way that music has made his life richer. He also uses the course to work on students’ writing skills, since writing is an important common thread across all disciplines. With “Brent’s Writing Tip of the Week,” he gives the students simple advice to make their writing stronger. Through his feedback on writing exercises and the class discussions, he hopes that the students can leave with knowledge and skills that add value to their lives.

With a scholarly career in chemistry and a passion for music and its socio-political history, Professor Koplitz demonstrates the balanced, intentional, and sincere approach to the pursuit of knowledge that the Honors Program encourages for all students.

All faculty interviewed recommend a book that they find compelling and important.

Professor Koplitz’s reading recommendation is The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. He believes the storytelling and originality in this book makes it one of the best fantasy books written in the last twenty years.