Your Teacher Today Is Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown

Jack Sterne, a freshman, had planned on skipping class. He was tired, his comparative politics lecture was early, and his professor’s hints at a “special guest” next class were not enough to lure him from bed. “I had no idea who it was, and was like, whatever, I won’t go, I’ll sleep,” says the freshman.

But an otherwise casual email from a TA changed his mind. “Remember to think of good questions on the UK and G-20 for Gordon Brown,” it read. This was the day before the lecture. Jack decided he would not be staying home the next morning.

While Gordon Brown, the former British Prime Minister, has already spoken at NYU this year, his every appearance becomes a spectacle of its own. A force of security guards accompanied Brown to the lecture hall on West 4th Street. And “not NYU PSO,” Jack clarifies, “but like, men in suits and long jackets who look like they would gladly take a bullet, pull it out of their chest, and then shoot you with it.”

Accordingly, Brown began by lightening the atmosphere in the classroom. “He started the lecture off with jokes to break the tension in the room, which was effective,” says Raquel Montagne, a freshman, another student in attendance. Our favorite Gordon Brown-ism of the day?

“I was a university student and lecturer once, so I know universities stand for truth, honesty, and the pursuit of knowledge. When I became a politician I had to abandon all of that.”

Returning to the role of lecturer, Brown addressed the influence of government on national and global scales. Brown posed “two big questions” to the class: “What makes a nation rich or poor, and what is going to make the world economy a success story in the future?”

He concludes that only through global cooperation can we achieve a strong, global economy. From NYU’s “Distinguished Global Leader in Residence,” and a personal friend of John Sexton, it’s an expected sentiment, one that raises more questions than it answers. Indeed, Brown’s lecture draws some student criticism for being “vague and general” and for leaving too many open-ended questions; his speech this September was similarly described as leaving much unresolved.

But Brown is here not as a politician or a scientist, some purveyor of empirical answers. He works at NYU as a lecturer, here to pose these issues to our next generation of leaders and law-makers. In a sense, Gordon Brown is making surprise appearances in freshman lectures to pass the torch. Certainly that is reason enough to get out of bed.

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