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April 20, 2006 [feather]
Pot calls kettle black

InsideHigherEd.com can be pretty cagey sometimes with its daily links to academic blogs. Today is a classic example. InsideHigherEd.com is linking to Anonymous Professor, who has posted a rant entitled "I Hate My Students." Anonymous Professor complains lustily throughout the post about the arrogance and illiteracy of students, who can neither write a coherent essay nor accept the grades that their incoherent essays earn. That's a familiar rant, and the post is not interesting insofar as it trots out a standard gripe of disgruntled academics everywhere. But Anonymous Professor becomes positively fascinating as an example of the sort of blithely self-absolving finger-pointing that has become--for reasons a sociologist such as Anonymous Professor might find intriguing--associated with a certain type of academic personality.

Anonymous Professor is unrelenting in his contempt for both his students' pomposity and for their weak writing skills. But AP's post is also unrelentingly arrogant and rife with examples of his own shaky command of language. He describes how a number of students "blatently plagairized," and invents a new idiom when he remarks that "low and behold" his students noticed that he had retained a T.A. to do the grading for his course. He berates students for confusing basic homonyms-- "Hey, moron, no one will give a fuck about what content you have when you don't even know the difference between than and then or weather and whether. They will just laugh at you. So shut up and sit down and fuck yourself" -- even as his own poorly edited prose invites exactly the sort of mocking laughter he anticipates for his linguistically-challenged students.

Anonymous Professor enumerates the insultingly entitled complaints his students registered when they realized he did not grade their papers himself--"We have no idea who this person is, and it is unfair that she had complete say in what grade we got"; "You have fundamentally disappointed me"; "I can't believe that you got a stupid grad student to grade these papers. That is so unfair of you. I pay tuition so to have a professor grade my papers. Not some T.A. out of college"; "I don't understand how you could grade more on structure than on content. I mean, this isn't english comp. I think this is ridiculous"; ""I am really interested in becoming a sociologist and I feel ripped off that you gave not a single comment on my thoughts of sociology." But he also supplies ample if inadvertent evidence that he's hardly a role model for either compositional competence or an appropriately respectful attitude. If he doesn't like the way his students behave, and if he deplores their outrageously bad writing, he might do well to consider whether his own smoldering hatred (his own term) for his students, not to mention his sloppy manner of self-presentation, do anything to help matters. Students can smell it when a teacher holds them in contempt. They can also readily spot hypocrisy in their teachers. As infuriating as teaching can sometimes be, teachers only harm themselves when they give in to the sort of self-righteous incensed posturing that Anonymous Professor displays here.

AP had best hope that the publicity his blog is getting does not lead to someone at his school figuring out who he is. If he's quoting students, he's made it easy for anyone who wants to out him to do so. And if someone outs him, he's going to wish he never wrote that post.

My larger point here has less to do with the etiquette of teachers blogging about students than it does with the ethics of academics blogging anonymously, however. AP is using his anonymity as a screen to protect him from precisely the sorts of repercussions that his post about hating students would bring if he blogged under his own name. But this is short-sighted and self-defeating. In other words, AP knows very well that his posting style is unprofessional and self-discrediting, and that's why he won't put his name to his blog. But if AP--and other anonymous academic bloggers like him--respect themselves and their profession, and if they want the respect of others, they won't yield to the temptation to put up posts such as this one. At a moment when academics are under fire for not doing enough teaching and for putting politics and personal convenience ahead of expertise and hard work, personae such as the Anonymous Professor only make the professoriate look worse to the general public than it already does.

posted on April 20, 2006 9:31 AM


Erin, I'm quite happy to see you writing over here again!

As for the AP, I doubt he'd recognize the irony of the situation even if it stepped up and spit in his free trade coffee.

Posted by: RP at April 20, 2006 12:29 PM

At first I felt humorless and pollyannish because my reaction to that blog was a mixture of anger and irritation. Basically, I wanted to say, "So get the fuck out of academia, asshole. Not everyone is as prematurely burned-out, self-loathing and cynical as you are." But I had to suspect this is exactly the reaction the blog is looking for, that it's an elaborate form of trolling. I'm glad that you were willing to write about it, though: it makes me feel less like someone who just doesn't get the joke, and more like maybe there are others who found that blog depressing and aggravating.

The only thing I would say vis-a-vis the general professoriate is that there is something pretty ordinary about AP's blog in the wider context of professional life: it's "Office Space" for the tenured set. Since I think "Office Space" is hilarious, maybe that's why I hesitate to immediately voice anger when it's my own world being attacked. But then I realized the different: "Office Space" has a sense of proportionate humor about itself. AP is more like the newscaster from "Network", except that the newscaster is defending an older, more authentic vision of his profession, and AP isn't defending a damn thing.

The other vague sympathy I suppose I have is that academia is so full of itself at times, so dishonest in its modes of everyday self-presentation and conduct, that I can almost appreciate a kind of powerless rage boiling up. It's when he turns it on the students that it becomes unforgiveable: they're more or less innocent bystanders.

Posted by: Timothy Burke at April 20, 2006 1:06 PM

Well, he presumably got his comeuppance, if he's reachable at all. It's remarkably similar to the laws of probability which dictate that internet posts flaming others for bad spelling will themselves be misspelled.

Posted by: Barry at April 20, 2006 2:29 PM

I can't remember who it was, but a general (I think from the WWII era) wrote something along the lines of: "You will never be a successful commander if you don't really *like* soldiers. And they can tell whether or not you do."

Probably applies to all professions, with substitutions as appropirate.

Posted by: David Foster at April 20, 2006 10:43 PM

if AP has that attitude, i'm sure he gets ripped in his student evals (not that that necessarily hurts him substantially). i can't imagine the class dynamic. erin's correct: students know if you don't like them, and they will hate you, too. nobody learns in that situation (in a good class teacher and students learn).

like timothy, i can almost sympathize. sure i get fed up with student shenanigans, BUT i realize that they come from a minority of students, and that most students aren't bad folks at all. AP may not realize that his class isn't his students' number one priority. many different interests struggle for our students' attention. it's something anyone who teaches must accept and deal with. it means that the teacher must have the same level of maturity he/she expects of the students.

Posted by: Jason at April 21, 2006 9:09 AM

Not that it's worth a great deal, but perhaps he could have pre-empted a few problems with full disclosure? As in, "These papers are a writing-mechanics assignment. They are going to be graded by another individual. She is a graduate student in English and I am convinced she is competent to grade the papers in terms of grammar and style. I will be providing her with a list of guidelines of what I am looking for, and I will also vet her grading after it's done."

I mean, that's what *i'd* do. (Not that I generally have a grader). And I'm in the sciences and my students know that I consider being able to communicate clearly (i.e., use correct grammar and a readable style) is as important as the content of the paper.

I will say though I can feel some of the frustration he feels - I see people with the same inflated sense of their own ability. I see people who think coming to class 1/4 the time should be sufficient to earn themselves a decent grade. I've had students who treated ME with contempt. (And as hard as I try to be thick-skinned about it, it still hurts to have a student be out-and-out rude to you.)

However, I also have students who write in their evaluations of me, "I never liked science before I took this class" or people who come by my office to tell me "what you taught me last semester is really important to all the classes I'm taking now, that class with you is really paying off" I've also had people thank me for "going the extra mile" to help them complete the class material when they were having problems beyond their control (like having to attend to a terminally-ill aunt for whom they are the sole caretaker).

THOSE are the ones I'm teaching for - not the people who come to class and pretend I can't see them reading a novel under the table. And I hope I never lose sight of that and become as bitter and angry as AP. (And I also hope that if I ever write a tirade, that I bother to spell-check it first

But yeah, I can feel where AP's anger is coming from. Maybe it was foolhardy to post it in public. But I can tell you, as a college professor - April IS the cruelest month. It's the month where everyone's idiosyncracies stop being funny and start being annoying. It's the month where all the semester assignments come due. It's the month when all sorts of problems crop up, and people demand unreasonable things of you.

Posted by: ricki at April 21, 2006 1:19 PM

"We have no idea who this person is, and it is unfair that she had complete say in what grade we got"

Is that really insultingly entitled? Lots of students have to keep their grades up to maintain their scholarships. I can see a person being pretty irritated about having his scholarship dependent on grades given by an unknown person rather than the one who had been lecturing and giving assignments.

Posted by: Laura at April 21, 2006 9:26 PM

Students know when you don't like them? Baloney. I just had a 45 minute conversation with a student I can't stand and she thinks I'm the greatest thing since sliced bread. I can't stand my grade-grubbing, money hungry, illiterate students with a huge sense of entitlement and I've won 3 teaching awards! Why? because I give as many As as I can whether they deserve them or not.

Posted by: howard at April 25, 2006 10:19 AM

if you're honest, they know when you don't like them--if you treat them with contempt they know. sure, you can lie and give them grades they haven't earned and they will think you like them (if they even care).
congratulations, you can fool students and buy teaching awards with grades.

Posted by: Jason at April 26, 2006 1:56 PM