Wednesday, May 15, 2013

On the Transformation of Shit into Diamonds.

Once upon a time a certain horrible, mean professor walked into a shared laboratory at Mega State U to find a grad student drinking a soda. This is, of course, a serious no-no in a lab, even IF no-one in the lab is currently stirring boiling pots of poison. The HMP strongly chided the student, insisting that the soda leave the lab, never to return. The student snarked back at the HMP, who gave that student a loud-ish verbal reaming, not knowing that hidden away in various corners were other timid student-souls; i.e., the HMP had humiliated the student in front of peers (something the HMP normally avoids).

The student spent his remaining time at Mega State U being more horrible than the HMP, behaving just on the edge of disruptive in classes, writing scathingly dishonest evals, bad-mouthing the HMP whenever possible. The HMP sure was glad to see this student graduate and get the hell out of town.
About ten years later, the HMP, busily working in the office, is visited by the student (!)

“Hi, remember me?”

(Holy shit, YES, I remember you, you fucking little shithead) “Yes, Hi Student. What brings you by?”

Follows 10 minutes of student personal and professional history update. Then:

“Well, I guess you are wondering why I stopped by?”

“Actually, I WAS kind of wondering….”

“I wanted to come by and tell you. I was a total DICK when I was here, and I was wrong and you were right. You were to only person who held me accountable for what I did, and though it took me a while, I have really come to appreciate it and needed to tell you this face-to-face.”

“Wow, Student, that took courage and integrity. I can’t tell you how much I admire what you just did. Thank you!”

Hand shake.

The end.

- Horrible Meanie Prof


  1. Round of applause! Thanks for the reminder that they do eventually grow up. (Most of 'em, anyway.)

  2. Hear, hear!

    I had a somewhat similar experience. A student (same university, different program) I met at a conference took me up on my offer to field some mentor/advising type questions about the profession, careers, etc. Inquiries have always been genuine and thoughtful though the student apologizes for asking them.

    I responded to a recent inquiry by letting the student know I would much rather be answer questions like those than grappling with whinefests over whether it matters if the last page is labelled "Works Cited" or "References" or debating if 75% unoriginal content in a paper is plagiarism.

  3. Yes, this is nice. It's happened to me and I appreciated the guts it took the student to come forward and admit that they were wrong. Admitting your mistakes and asking forgiveness requires humility and self reflection - good qualities to practice. The former student is less likely to do it again and we all benefit from that. In my case, I was so startled to see the student that I graciously accepted his apology and we parted on good terms.

    But you know what? Screw it. The damage is done. Four years of bad course reviews, disrespect and disruption in the classroom by one student is reason enough to feel unforgiving. The damage done by the student is compounded by other students adopting the same bad behavior and administrators who see the student's actions as a reflection of my poor teaching. That doesn't go away with an apology.

    They are adults and although they are not very good adults, they sure as hell aren't kids either. If the student wasn't bright enough to know that poor behavior has consequences, then it's about time to learn. You want to apologize and seek forgiveness because now you feel some regret? Poor widdle baby. Fuck off. No forgiveness for you. Get out of my office.

    1. Yeah, I tend to be very cynical about these things in general. Such apologies I always take with a grain of salt--often they're more about making the one apologizing feel better about themselves more than they are genuine contrition.

      Long ago, a colleague fucked me over and essentially cost me my job. I don't think he's remotely sorry, but if he were, and approached me, and apologized, I'd tell him something like, "My life worked out just fine despite the fact that you ass-fucked me and nearly wrecked my career."

      I don't admire people for apologizing for their shitty behavior. Why should I admire someone for doing what they're supposed to do? Line up, assholes. Apologize, and I will nod and give you a sanguine smile and tell you that things worked out well for me despite your best efforts.

  4. Since even a cursory apology is likely all we ever get, I'd take it at face value and agree that, indeed, he was a total shit and that you're glad he recognizes that now.

  5. Maybe I'm overly soft and/or optimistic, but I'd be cheered (hey; I was raised and remain in the Calvinist tradition. We believe in the inevitability of human frailty, and in repentance). I might still steer clear of any context in which the student held significant responsibility (at least until and unless I'd had a chance to verify that the transformation was more than skin deep), but I'd be cheered. Hey; maybe there's sometimes something to that developing-frontal-lobe stuff.

  6. Well, this is what I tell my first-grader: apologies are easy. Now, figure out how to make it right.