Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Speechless in Seattle Gets Some Snowflake Mail.

I got an e-mail today that has rendered me speechless. And I’m never speechless.


Dear Professor,

I hope you are having a good spring break.

I've signed up for Intro to College-Level Basket Weaving with you next term. I decided to write to you because I am concerned about a couple of things and am considering maybe dropping the class, but I wanted to know your opinion before making any decision!

I will have to miss a week of classes in the middle of the term due to a family event. I also work full time and am in training for a Marathon to raise money for a Fill-In-the-blank disease fundraiser. This takes up a lot of my time.

I have a very good GPA and until last term I was able to have straight As in all of my previous Weaving classes. I really cannot lower my GPA, so this is worrying me a bit. I was wondering what is your opinion on missing a week of classes (if you think it's possible to keep up afterward or it might get a little too difficult?).

Also, this is kind of delicate, I really don't want to offend you, nor be disrespectful, but I thought I should be sincere and mention this concern of mine. I was (as many students do) checking your reviews at the Rate my Professor website, and there were quite a few really bad reviews that made me afraid of taking this class. I know there were some good ones too, but I just wanted to know how would you describe yourself as a teacher and the way you like to teach. Do you consider yourself a picky teacher as described in some of the reviews?

In the past I've had one professor that had an amazing review and other two that didn't and they all lived up to the expectations. For this reason I am concerned, because in the two last cases I ended up having to teach myself at home and it sure was not an easy, nor enjoyable experience. But please feel free to not answer me this question if you think that you shouldn't.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this long email, I appreciate that! Have great weekend!

-Hailey Chutzpah


Isn't this taking the customer service model of academia to a whole new level? At what point did it become a bad thing to maintain the standards of you field and make sure students do the same? Isn't that my JOB?

I honestly don't even know where to begin with a response.

- Speechless in Seattle


  1. Dear Hailey,

    please feel free to drop my class. Missing even one class will make it impossible for you to catch up. Drop! Drop early! Drop often!

    Warmest regards,
    Dr Speechless

  2. The answer is, you don't begin. You ignore the email.

  3. Easy reply is to answer without answering anything:
    You may miss a week of class at your own discretion. However, as a profesor I can not recommend this action for obvious reasons.

    Don't deal with the RMP bit...this girlie is a fucktard for ever bringing RMP up with a proffie. It's like guy code for students....you just don't do it.

    1. This ^^ but refer her to the syllabus regarding your attendance policy.

  4. It sounds like the student doesn't understand the professional boundary that should exist between faculty and students. There are simply things, like RMP, that are out of bounds. This is akin to asking a colleague, "I heard a rumor that you are a real pain to have on a committee. Is that true?" The question itself is not illegitimate other than it violates standard professional and social behavior. Just ignore it.

    I guess my standards have eroded to the point that if the student asks even a dumb question nicely and writes in a mostly grammatically correct manner, I'm inclined to answer politely.

    "Yes, you should drop the class if you place your vacation and hobby as higher priorities than this class."

  5. I would begin with the "delete" button.

    1. She'll probably take lack of reply as approval. Better to play CYA.

  6. You've named the student appropriately. What balls. Ignore it.

  7. Dear Hailey,

    Yes, yes, everything written there about me (and more!) is true! And yes, I am especially a stickler on attendance. I will be extra sure to test the class on material covered when you were absent.

    Go flunk yourself! I don't know what else to you.

    1. This. "In fact, RMP is way too complimentary. I wouldn't take a class with me if you paid me."

      However, I'm with Froad; delete. Do not begin to engage.

    2. @Merely: I believe you're confusing me with F&T.

      In fact, I do reply to e-mail like this. Here's by reply to the last one:

      "As you can see, [my physics course] will be a rigorous, demanding, mathematically intensive course in which I will never use PowerPoint, because we have better things to do. I hold my students to a very high standard, and the ones who can meet it learn a lot."

      Next time, I may add:

      "So, if you do doubt your courage or your strength, come no further, for death awaits you all with nasty, big, pointy teeth..."

      (What an eccentric performance!)

      It helps enormously that I have tenure. I wouldn't have dreamt of saying this before I had it.

    3. P.S. Remember, my field is physics. I get no shortage of crap about "Oh, I hated physics." My snappy comeback is:


    4. Thanks for the idea, Frod. I'll probably use Tim the Enchanter's speech for the first day of my o-chem class in the fall, as opposed to the image of a little girl drinking from a fire hose.

    5. I really don't mind drinking from a fire hose, if the water sparkles.

  8. I'm interested that people see RMP as a "name that shall not be spoken" between students and faculty.

    During the first class meeting each semester, I spend a bit of time going over the main points of the syllabus, and then I spend some time talking about my teaching philosophy, so that students know what to expect from me, and what I will and will not accept from them.

    One of the things I do is ask them how many of them have read my Rate My Professors page. Usually somewhere around half the hands in the class go up. I then tell them, honestly, what information from my RMP reviews is accurate and what is not.

    I tell them that I will expect them to read every week, and that I will expect them to participate in class discussion. I tell them that, while quite a few of my reviews complain that I assign too much reading, the amount that I assign is typical for my Department, and is actually less than I would assign in an ideal world. I don't go out of my way to scare or intimidate anyone, but neither do I sugarcoat my expectations and my standards for them.

    I find that an upfront approach to my teaching philosophy, and a head-on confrontation with RMP reviews, actually serves me quite well. It lets the students know what they're in for, and it usually also has the effect of causing two or three students to drop the class. I generally assume that those students would have been a pain in my ass anyway, and with the current budget situation and cutbacks, there are nearly always other students eager to add the class.

    1. Yes....I them the 4-pepper hotness rating is the only thing about me that's true!

    2. RMP is so completely ridiculous, why would you give it credence by talking about it? One of the top comments on my page is that I "ruined" American Hamster History for this student, except I have NEVER EVER taught that subject.
      My husband once had a student say she picked his class because of his RMP rating, which, okay, but he doesn't HAVE one.
      That's why I wouldn't bother.

  9. I actually quite appreciate this type of student. Early revelation!

    If I may make a parallel to dating... Imagine you are on a date, the third date actually, and your date brings up sexy times. Your date really likes this one kinky thing that you aren't so into. This causes a problem as your date loses control and calls you a prude, makes a scene, and leaves all huffy. This hypothetical date didn't go poorly because you didn't have a similar kink. The date went poorly because the other person was an unstable ass.

    Now imagine the same date, but the person keeps the discussion on superficial matters. You do not find out about the temper or the kinks until you're already 18 months in and invested emotionally, possibly financially. This creates a much more difficult situation as you begin to draw away. It dominates your life and wreaks havoc on your social decisions.

    My parallel here is to emphasis that we ought to be grateful for knowing who the problem students are before it happens. Without this obvious display of fuckwittery, you might have to deal with this student in all her snowflakery glory during the whole of the semester. However, since she outed herself early, you now know what you are getting into. You can break off the relationship, recommend she drop, and act accordingly if she stays.

    Many thanks to Dan Savage for helping me realize what a blessing early revelations can be. Saves you time, energy, and emotional involvement in the arenas of love AND education.

    1. I like this analogy. And if you have an in-demand core course (the one upside of teaching many, many sections of required courses), the obvious response to this sort of email is to do whatever it takes to scare this sort of student off, knowing that (s)he will be quickly replaced by someone else (who may, of course, be just as bad, but so it goes).

    2. This is why I always have sex on the first date.

  10. I'd be tempted to ignore/delete, but I usually end up replying anyway (after all, the person is already on my roster). Fortunately, for this one, if the class were a hybrid or online one (a popular choice for such uber-busy students), I could just send along a copy of my standard "welcome to the class" email, with a note calling particular attention to the section on setting aside sufficient time for the class. Our university also has a handy (if much-ignored) section in the catalog that discourages students who work more than 20 hours a week from trying to take a full load; I cite that in the welcome letter, and so can easily direct students toward it in other situations.

    Even though I'm now monitoring my RMP page a bit more than I used to, I wouldn't engage on that subject. This is definitely a time to cite policy (your own or your institution's), and perhaps to offer a bit of sage advice about getting out of college what you put into it, and the appropriate ratio of out-of-class to in-class work. If I were feeling really pissy, I might actually tell this student that I do, in fact, expect students to "teach themselves" (or, rather, discover concepts and develop skills on their own); I consider it my job to set up the framework for the learning process. But honestly, I don't think it's worth the energy to engage this student on that level.

  11. Dear Hailey,

    I've done some poking around myself. Judging by your facebook page and things people are saying about your father's plumbing business on Craig's List, I don't think you'll be a very good student. I've had students with lots of "friends" on facebook that did well, but you have far fewer friends than I do. How would you rate yourself as a student? Do you consider yourself a lazy-ass student?

  12. Geez. It started out with a typical over-indulgent explanation (Blah blah. Just ask about the attendance/missed work policy, Hailey. It's already assumed you'll be missing class for a personal flakey reason; no need to confirm and explain).

    The RMP thing is new though. It's got a weird chummy quality to it, like "I came across your RMP page and, as a friend, I wanted to point out that you've got some bad comments. Just between you and me, do you think they're accurate?"
    If her high GPA claim is true, she may be misinterpreting previous professors' reactions towards her; that is, confusing You do your work and have not made my life hell, so I'm ok with you with You are super smart and sophisticated, so I consider you a special personal friend-colleague!


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