Thursday, June 23, 2011

Evening Cocktail Thirsty on Impulse Control

Dear CMers, I have a question for you, arising from a discussion I have just had with a colleague. The discussion is based on the phenomenon (with which I am presuming at least some of you are familiar) of a student writing or typing something utterly inappropriate on a piece of work and then explaining it as a prank by his (I would write "or her," but I think this is an exclusively male phenomenon) roommate.

In my colleague's case the student's essay had "Fuck you" at the end, whereas my student's essay had a racist and sexist epithet appended under his name, next to my name, on the first page. My colleague's response to the student's explanation was "Oh, my, he needs a better roommate." Mine on the other hand, was something along the lines of "I believe in the Douchebag Roommate as a phenomenon rather like the Great Pumpkin."

What say you, learned colleagues? Is Douchebag Roommate really there, lurking in students' rooms, waiting for an opportunity to write "Prof X is a Nazi Whore" on their papers?

Extra credit: Have any of you ever called a student on this by, say, asking to see the roommate? If so, what happened?


  1. I think this is a student trick to see if we're actually reading the papers... I wonder how many papers get returned with just a grade and the prof didn't notice the naughty words...

  2. I've hear of something like this with regards to a thesis of a trusted source. It could happen. PF could also be right. The least likely explanation is that the student really wanted to insult you. Why do that on a graded paper when he could start rumors among classmates or rip you a new one on Facebook. It would be fun to call the roommate in and pretend it's a big sexual/racial/unprofessional harassment issue.

  3. Anybody who is enough of a douche to write something like that on their own paper is almost certainly enough of a douche to write it on their roommate's.

    Meanwhile, it's easy to imagine a student who thinks it's funny to do that to somebody else but wouldn't do it to themself.

    I think the odds slightly favor prank!

  4. As a student let me just say that this type of thing does happen. A person on my floor thought it would be funny to add a few choice lines to my research paper when I was away from the computer. Luckily I caught it before I had to hand it in. Also on my floor a few students dared each other to write something into a paper just to see if the professor actually read what they wrote. Not sure if they ever tested it though.

  5. If I had a student in this situation I would tell them to freaking proofread before they hand it in. Especially if the bad stuff was on the cover, there is no excuse.

    On the other hand, students can be assholes to each other. I think we forget that because of how often they are assholes to us. The thing is, they are pretty much equal opportunity assholes. They might have really been pranked.

    As for leaving things in to see if people are reading, well... there were a few bad puns and in jokes between me and my committee in the first draft of my dissertation. It took them a year to mention them. I strongly suspect they didn't read for a full year... but, that's not why there were there. They just sort of functioned that way. :/

    Also? I'm really drunk right now. All mistakes courtesy of Maker's.

  6. It would be a little difficult for my students to sneak things like that in to any assignment they submit to me. Calculus and statistics keep them at least a little honest.

    And, to be completely honest, I don't look at their assignments unless I've already had at least a couple of Bombay gimlets. Actually a couple of doubles. I have to deal with both mathematical nonsense and grammatical nonsense.

  7. Pat, it does happen in the non-humanities. In the fall I had the first student in the row write such a douchey phrase under the second student in the row's name. I was shocked and dismayed.

    Btw, apparently "sexting" is in the Apple autocorrect when you fat finger "second" so beware fellow proffies. Wouldn't we love to be the douchey "roommate".

  8. We actually did have something like this happen during our heady undergrad days—our then-consort-apparent changed one of our rather dull examples in a paper to deal with gnomes.

    No, seriously: we think the paper read something like "if one were to become aware of the gnome's awareness of one's own self . . ."

    Naturally, we kept it. The prof knew our consort apparent, and was rather amused by finding gnome references sprinkled throughout our paper.

  9. I must confess that, back in my undergrad days, I did this to my roommate. He had been going nuts trying to think of a title for his thesis, and someone suggested "My Fucking Thesis: Eat It." We all had a good laugh, and that night he stayed up very late writing an unrelated Latin paper.

    After he went to bed, my other roommate and I thought it would be hilarious to replace his cover sheet with one that read, "My Fucking Latin Paper: Eat It." So we did.

    But that's where our douchiness differs from these students'. We wanted our friend to see the paper and chuckle. We did NOT want him to hand it in with the new cover sheet. So we deliberately made the font GIGANTIC so that there was no way he could miss it, and we left his original cover sheet nearby so that he could easily find it and re-staple.

    So, yes, it's possible for immature undergrads to do shit like this. I've never seen it on a paper I've graded, but maybe someday.

  10. I suspect that sometimes they are, indeed, testing to see whether the proffie is actually reading the whole thing (and I will admit to occasional fantasies of inserting excerpts from the phone book into the middle of my dissertation, which I'm still not convinced anyone would have caught -- in other words, I'm pretty sure my advisors didn't read it all, and I have no reason to think anyone has read the now-complete version either, though I could be wrong about that, since it's recent enough to be downloadable in PDF form, and, according to google scholar, has been cited a couple of times, though not in any very impressive way). I notice that students seem to be disappointed when comments become fewer later in a paper (which often happens naturally when a professor follows the well-accepted practice of commenting on a mistake or other issue the first time it comes up, and telling the student to find and apply the same advice to future instances). In fact, I now make it a practice to put some kind of a comment on the last paragraph or the bibliography, just to make it clear that I really did read all the way through.

    But also, yes, they can be mean to each other. I haven't had a roommate insert something into a paper, but I did have a case where a student plagiarized her final paper from her roommate, who was in my class at the same time. The plagiarizer denied everything, and was apparently unaffected by being caught, while the plagiarizee was in a tizzy, and seriously distracted in the middle of finals. Though her roommate's actions didn't affect her grade in my class, I suspect they did affect her grades on final exams in other classes.


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