21 February 2006

ah, the insecurity of the untenured

[[EDIT EDIT EDIT -- for what it's worth, tim burke says what i foolishly attempted to say in five minutes much more clearly. (here's hoping he didn't write his in five minutes; that would be really embarrassing.) more interestingly, meg worley has a rejoinder up on her blog. if she was as stunningly misquoted and/or decontextualized as she claims, then: wow, nyt sucks. then again, i guess that shouldn't be surprising. they do like to confuse their mountains with their molehills.]]

so it's been more than a month! guess what: i'm not sorry. sometime soon, i will update you all on the total suckiness that is failing a field exam. (i will also expound upon the implications of the fact that i have just admitted to the internet [=posterity?] that i failed a field exam.) on the whole, i am surviving quite well, although any and all pity/righteous-anger-on-my-behalf/gifts will be accepted.

but what i'm actually pointing to today is this amazing article on faculty -- mostly junior-faculty -- responses to student emails.

get this:

[[Meg Worley, an assistant professor of English at Pomona College in California, said she told students that they must say thank you after receiving a professor's response to an e-mail message. "One of the rules that I teach my students is, the less powerful person always has to write back," Professor Worley said.]]

i suppose that we can thank professor worley for making the nature of the undergrad/prof relationship abundantly clear -- but do her students really need that? i have been an undergraduate, and i really do not believe that there are undergraduates who do not understand the professor's position of power. this sort of high-handedness, it seems to me, is often the result of some factually incorrect feelings of powerlessness on the part of the powerful. how is professor worley feeling about her colleagues and her tenure process when she drafts missives that inform her undergraduate students of their subordinate position?

more generally: setting out rules that are about power, or about who is authorized to make demands, misses the point entirely. is your purpose as a teacher of undergraduates to assert power over those undergraduates? no -- your purpose, one might hope, is to educate, inform, enlighten, blah blah blah. in order to do this, both of you need to be courteous to one another. that's a good basis on which to make rules. no, students are not just like other consumers. no, teachers are not expected to market their bending-over-backwards abilities in place of their academic expertise. but i'm pretty grossed out by the assertion that many of the profs in the article are making, which is that they have little or no responsibility toward their students as people, and/or that students have nothing useful to offer the relationship.

anyway, read it and weep. or giggle at the insecurity of the junior professor (or lecturer, in another case). which insecurity i will giggle at for another three years or so, at which point i'm certain i will write something reflecting my own need to pull rank on a bunch of nineteen-year-olds.