Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Oh no she di'int

I was just reading an article on AOL called "Informal E-mails Have Professors Pondering Etiquette" which is part valid concern about the informality of student emails and part professorial whining about the fact that we have seen their clay feet and no longer worship them. As I was reading the article I remarked to my husband that this paradigm shift to students treating professors like providers of a service instead of Gods of Intellect is due in great part to the fact that higher education is being treated more and more like a business - so in response students are acting more and more like consumers.

Everything was going along swimmingly (whining about how their job is changing should be expected) until I got to the last two lines in the article.

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.

Oh, you did NOT say that. Less powerful? LESS POWERFUL?? What the $!&$# mindset is that? If you have the same thought please drop her a line at Make sure to point out how powerful you are so that she can decide whether or not she needs to write you back.

Thomas Jefferson, I would think, is rolling in his grave over such a statement. The man who first pushed for public education to empower the people of America, and had a habit of answering his own door while resident in the White House (yes, the President liked to answer the door and scuff around the White House in his slippers) would be quite put out. In case you've never been to Charlottesville, we should all have WWTJD? bumper stickers. But especially when it comes to education I really do ask myself, what would TJ do?

In our own lives my husband and I have been alternately bemused and insulted by the amazing egos of professors. We are perhaps a bit too egalitarian to be brushing elbow patches with the academic elite in our midst. As I read the above article to my husband and expressed my irritation over Dr. Worley's attitude he recounted his own experience comparing education and competence, and how he assigns respect to each. He spent four years studying fish populations on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. He knew that some of his professors had spent years on their subjects, including hours upon hours of field research, literature research, and the analysis and publication of findings. They were, however, abysmal at predicting where a particular fish population might be. My husband, ever a practical man, searched for people who could better guide him on finding what he needed. He talked to the fishermen. They shared their knowledge, told him what he needed to know and shared some additional insights that he hadn't considered. And they never once insisted that he call them "sir."


  1. If she'd just said "students should be polite to teachers, and respond to their messages..." it would have been all right.

    But powerful? Considering how hard the faculty get stepped on by the administrations at most colleges, this is a classic case of "shit rolls downhill."P

  2. Well, it was, after all, an English teacher making the comment. Maybe its just me but this seem right in character.

  3. I've been lucky enough to have some really good English teachers in my time. But she does remind me of the total bitch-face that taught one of my classes in college.

  4. According to the story "Meg Worley, an "assistant" professor of English at Pomona College in California".
    Get it? "Assistant" professor. Perhaps she is having some self-esteem issues and feels she must point out that she, of course, is much more important than mere students. However, by that logic, she is, of course, much less important than an actual professor.

  5. Yeah, I noticed that. Since I work at a University I've considered trying to convince some full Professors to email her...

  6. she is a total bitch and never got any flack for making that comment which she swears she was misquoted on.

  7. Nine months after the original post, I -- the total bitch in question -- just found it, quite by accident.

    I just wanted to say that I was misquoted by the reporter, a wild adventure that I documented on my own blog (the most detailed post is

    This is the email I sent out to the thousand people who emailed me (both hate mail and love letters):
    Thank you for your email. When I agreed to be interviewed by the NYT, I had no idea I would be misquoted or that those misquotations would cause such indignation in the readership.

    For the record, what I actually said was that I suggest to students that
    1. When they have asked a prof for something and the prof has supplied it, they say thank you, and
    2. They should not ignore email from a prof or other person in power, esp. when that email asks a direct question.

    I'm happy for those 15 minutes awful minutes of fame to be gone, but I try to set the record straight when I can.

    (And I'm happy to be called a bitch for the things I do say -- just not for the things I haven't.)