Q&A / 

Ken Caster Historical Geology Professor

I had the distinct pleasure to meet and be taught by Dr. Kenneth Caster at the University of Cincinnati (UC) between 1972 and 1974. He's one of a small handful of college professors that left an indelible imprint in my brain, fortunately for the better.

ken caster

This is Dr. Caster. Fair Use as the image is owned by a public-funded agency.

The first and only class I took from Dr. Caster was historical geology. This is a class about the millions and millions of plant and animal fossils that are to be found in the geologic record.

It's a topic deeper than the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean, and it gets deeper by the day as more new information about the historical record of animals and plants is discovered.

King Caster

One of my most profound memories of Dr. Caster was his royal demeanor. He was a world-renowned geologist by the time I got to UC and he knew it. He had an entourage of graduate students that followed him down the hallways hanging on his every word.

As an undergraduate student I don't ever recall him saying "Hello" to me while passing in the hallways going to and from class. It's as if I was invisible. That's okay because he was probably contemplating more behavioral discoveries about horseshoe crabs.

Dr. Caster was an authority on these amazing creatures.

Authority & Intimidation

When he'd come to teach each class of mine, he'd have an 8-inch pile of books, papers, and folders in his arms. He'd place them down on the desk next to the lectern.

I now think it was just a clever prop he used to intimidate us.

He'd immediately begin to teach and completely fill all of the blackboard space with impossible Latin names of the fossils. To keep up, you had to know shorthand.

When it came time for a test, Dr. Caster would walk into the room head held high, he straighten the test papers on the lectern and gaze slowly across the entire class and utter these words, "Today we're here to test the depths of your ignorance."

It was the most intimidating thing I've ever experienced from a professor. He wasn't kidding when he said it.

But it was true. We were ignorant.

The Sharp Lens of Time

Years later, I finally understood what he was saying. Here I was, a junior still ringing wet behind the ears, not having a clue about what existed in the written record concerning everything about fossils.

Even if I understood and retained every word of what Dr. Caster taught in the historical geology class for the entire year, I might have only known 0.00001 percent of all there was to know at that time about fossils.

Yes, I was indeed ignorant.

Each time I turned in my test, I knew I had failed it. Dr. Caster made a point to ask lots of questions, most of which there was never time to answer. I'd estimate he had no less than thirty questions on each test. You had 90 minutes to answer thirty questions. Each one was an essay question.

Hah! There's no way you could write a detailed answer in three minutes much less ten. 

There was no such thing as a multiple-guess question on a Caster test. You brought several blue books with you and you would fill one or two for sure. them. At best I maybe could only answer eight of the thirty questions.

How could I possibly pass the class if I didn't answer lots of test questions?

That's the magical side of Dr. Caster. He knew we were Padawans. He knew we had no chance of truly understanding what he knew.

Test Scores

I have no memory ever of Dr. Caster returning graded tests. I have this sneaking suspicion he threw them in the garbage after skimming through them never lifting a finger to grade them.

Each quarter when my report card came in the mail I was astonished to see I had received an A for the class. Surely he had made a mistake.

No, he didn't.

Dr. Caster was measuring performance based on attendance and attitude. If you gave him your attention in class, watched him add to the air pollution level in Cincinnati by creating chalk dust, and you had the guts to show up for tests, you got an A.

attitude pin

I think Dr. Caster would have given one of these to each of us in his class, but that would expose his softer side. RIP Dr. Caster!

I hope you had the good fortune to be taught by such a magnificent human being. I'm so very grateful to have been in his classroom.

Rest in Peace Dr. Caster. I wonder if you're chasing horseshoe crabs up in Heaven!

Want to know about another UC professor that had a profound impact on my life? Then you need to meet Dr. John Alexander.


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