Monday, February 22, 2010

Outbursts I've Considered, Then Thought Better Of...

I don't think I've said so officially on this blog yet, but the NBC sitcom "Community" is one of the funniest things on television in a long, long time. It's about a group of ne'er-do-well's attending community college who accidentally fall into a Spanish "study group" together. Much hilarity ensues. The group's Spanish professor, Señor Chang (Ken Jeong) is something like the wickedly uninhibited alter-ego of just about every teacher I know (including me). Just check out his self-introduction to his class on their first day. There hasn't been an episode yet where I haven't guffawed, sighed, and secretly wished I had Señor Chang's cajones.

Every job has its own special set of wearisome burdens, its own unique species of albatross, that can weigh one down and wear one out. Academia is no different. And every job has its own special set of imaginary scenarios that exasperated workers conjure up from time to time and in which they envisage themselves as the heroic protagonists. Restaurant servers imagine spitting in their customer's food. Taxi drivers imagine running over the foot of their passengers. Customer service reps imagine telling their complainants where they can stick it. Professors, I suspect, imagine being Señor Chang.

Most of us never really indulge those diabolical fancies, either because we're just too professionally invested in our own integrity (and decorum)... or because we know that it's only on television that people actually get away with those kinds of outbursts. And so, we dutifully trudge along, answering endless questions (that are clearly stated on the syllabus), responding to emails (that assume more familiarity than we grant to our own families), scribbling constructive comments on pages and pages (that will be neither read nor heeded), and generally maintaining all of the pomp and circumstance of the Life of the Mind. We don't ever, EVER, say things like what Señor Chang says-- "My knowledge will BITE YOUR FACE OFF!"-- because we know it would seem, well, unseemly. Even if it is true.

[Incidentally, my other favorite Chang quote comes from his impromptuu self-aggrandandizing rap: "All up in yo' cabeza/ without a chasah/ there's no otha TEACHA with this much FLAVA..."]

Apparently this default reserve is not inhibiting ALL of us, though. New York University Business School Professor Scott Galloway apparently doesn't suffer from the same make and model of superego as the rest of us. According to a recent report, Professor Galloway has decided to throw caution to the wind when it comes to inane emails from students. Recently, he received the following email from one of his students:

Sent: Tuesday, February 9, 2010 7:15:11 PM GMT -08:00 US/Canada Pacific

Subject: Brand Strategy Feedback

Prof. Galloway,

I would like to discuss a matter with you that bothered me. Yesterday evening I entered your 6pm Brand Strategy class approximately 1 hour late. As I entered the room, you quickly dismissed me, saying that I would need to leave and come back to the next class. After speaking with several students who are taking your class, they explained that you have a policy stating that students who arrive more than 15 minutes late will not be admitted to class.

As of yesterday evening, I was interested in three different Monday night classes that all occurred simultaneously. In order to decide which class to select, my plan for the evening was to sample all three and see which one I like most. Since I had never taken your class, I was unaware of your class policy. I was disappointed that you dismissed me from class considering (1) there is no way I could have been aware of your policy and (2) considering that it was the first day of evening classes and I arrived 1 hour late (not a few minutes), it was more probable that my tardiness was due to my desire to sample different classes rather than sheer complacency.

I have already registered for another class but I just wanted to be open and provide my opinion on the matter.


MBA 2010 Candidate
NYU Stern School of Business

To which, the Professor responded:

To: "xxxx"
Sent: Tuesday, February 9, 2010 9:34:02 PM GMT -08:00 US/Canada Pacific
Subject: Re: Brand Strategy Feedback


Thanks for the feedback. I, too, would like to offer some feedback.

Just so I've got this started in one class, left 15-20 minutes into it (stood up, walked out mid-lecture), went to another class (walked in 20 minutes late), left that class (again, presumably, in the middle of the lecture), and then came to my class. At that point (walking in an hour late) I asked you to come to the next class which "bothered" you.


You state that, having not taken my class, it would be impossible to know our policy of not allowing people to walk in an hour late. Most risk analysis offers that in the face of substantial uncertainty, you opt for the more conservative path or hedge your bet (e.g., do not show up an hour late until you know the professor has an explicit policy for tolerating disrespectful behavior, check with the TA before class, etc.). I hope the lottery winner that is your recently crowned Monday evening Professor is teaching Judgement and Decision Making or Critical Thinking.

In addition, your logic effectively means you cannot be held accountable for any code of conduct before taking a class. For the record, we also have no stated policy against bursting into show tunes in the middle of class, urinating on desks or taking that revolutionary hair removal system for a spin. However, xxxx, there is a baseline level of decorum (i.e., manners) that we expect of grown men and women who the admissions department have deemed tomorrow's business leaders.

xxxx, let me be more serious for a moment. I do not know you, will not know you and have no real affinity or animosity for you. You are an anonymous student who is now regretting the send button on his laptop. It's with this context I hope you register pause...REAL pause xxxx and take to heart what I am about to tell you:

xxxx, get your shit together.

Getting a good job, working long hours, keeping your skills relevant, navigating the politics of an organization, finding a live/work balance...these are all really hard, xxxx. In contrast, respecting institutions, having manners, demonstrating a level of humility...these are all (relatively) easy. Get the easy stuff right xxxx. In and of themselves they will not make you successful. However, not possessing them will hold you back and you will not achieve your potential which, by virtue of you being admitted to Stern, you must have in spades. It's not too late xxxx...

Again, thanks for the feedback.

Professor Galloway

Of course, I would never do this. Just like I would never actually indulge in the many Señor Chang-ish outbursts that I find so satisfying by proxy. But there's something that makes me very happy to know that there are people out there who would, and do, do this. Even if only because maybe, just maybe, the very real possibility of this kind of response from professors might motivate students to self-monitor just a tad more.


bob said...

i love senor chang, and it may not surprise you to learn that i would do and have done something akin to professor galloway's email. it began : "your email to me suggests that you are either barely literate, stoned, or both. after trying to make sense of your drivel, i thought being in your frame of mind might help, so i had a bong hit. this led me to conclude that you are, in fact, barely literate."

Lorenzo said...

Any teacher must have sympathy for Prof. Galloway ...

Great post :)

Anonymous said...

Love Senor Chang, he can't be killed. He is concerned about offending those who know Mexican Halloween as a sexual position. As for Galloway. I remember a "teaching moment" when I read an incoherent email from and I thought--maybe I should draw attention to not just the fact she didn't say what class she is in, but perhaps this isn't the right account from which to be emailing professors.

Ideas Man, Ph.D. said...

This is just what I needed --- I wish I'd channeled my inner Senor Chang with a student yesterday.

The thing that kills me about Community is that I keep thinking the premise is too thin to sustain the series, but it keeps getting better and better.

MVP said...

Howdy Dr. J!

I finally got back on blogger, so I figured I'd drop by.

I dig Ken Jeong's character in this show, but his other roles (and his standup) so far have done little toward eradicating the emasculation of the Asian American male in Hollywood/media..but this character seems like a step in the right direction. Let's hope he keeps it up!

Also, hope you're well, expect a little something something in the mail soon!


DOCTOR J said...

Hey there, MVP! Glad to see you're keeping your critical skills sharp over there on the Continent. I'm not familiar with Jeong's work (other than his turn in The Hangover, which definitely proves your point). Anyway, enjoy Paris!