Thursday, December 6, 2007

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Best Prudence... ever

Emily Yoffie -- a.k.a., Slate's Dear Prudence -- provides the best response to an academic query:

Dear Prudence,
I'm a youngish professor dealing with a bad apple in an otherwise great class. I'm pretty good at handling difficult personalities, but this student (male, older) was extremely rude to me in several e-mails and voice messages over an issue early in the term. I elected not to engage him or reply to his inappropriate correspondence, and he either got the message or didn't get the fight he was hoping for, and things settled down (save for a nasty note on a quiz about the same issue). He added my e-mail to a list he distributes, which means I get some benign stuff about local veteran's events, as well as some pretty awful anti-Islamic stuff. Again, I chose to ignore it, rather than get into a political debate with a student who wants to spar with a "liberal professor." Today, he asked where he could buy my book and whether I would inscribe it to him. Signing the book would make him go away, but I hate the thought of giving him anything that's personal or indicates that I like him. Is there any way I can appropriately get out of his request without telling him directly what I think of him?

—I'd Rather Sign a Monkey's Behind

Dear Rather,
Let me see if I understand this: You wrote a book, someone wants to buy it, but you'd prefer he didn't so you don't have to sign his copy. I haven't checked with Christopher Hitchens, author of God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, but I have the feeling that if Jesus Christ showed up at one of his book signings, Hitchens would autograph a copy for him. I assume you're not closing down debate with this student because he's challenging your liberal assumptions (see letter above), but because he's loutish and won't engage in civil discourse. But putting your signature on the flyleaf does not mean you like this man, and refusing to sign seems unnecessarily churlish, especially to someone who wants to buy your book.


The only problem with Yoffie's answer is that it's incomplete -- Hitchens would also try to get Jesus to procure him several drinks and a pack carton of cigarettes as well.

posted by Dan on 12.06.07 at 07:45 PM


In light of the professor's remarks regarding the book, I am inclined to view the earlier parts of his letter to Prudence differently. I have been on both sides of this issue, though am most assuredly not a "liberal" in the modern sense, (rather, am a John Locke liberal). University professors tend to believe they are not only always right, but that their lectern can also function as a bully pulpit for their political beliefs. That said, any attempt by a student to engage the professor in public discourse probably was met by some sort of condescending BS by the professor, which caused the student to react in a less than gentlemanly fashion. Professor "Rather" reminds me of a modern European history professor I had in graduate school who claimed Spam (the meat, not the email) was a plot by evil early 20th century robber barons to keep poor people poor--you know, cheap meat keeps them happy so they don't try to advance their economic status, whereas no meat available for a low price causes the poor to move up the economic ladder. Professor "Rather" is a putz of the first order.

posted by: Useless Sam Grant on 12.06.07 at 07:45 PM [permalink]

Hmm... the highly educated professor seems "afraid" to engage the student in debate. Interesting.

which means I get some benign stuff about local veteran's events, as well as some pretty awful anti-Islamic stuff

Atleast the student did include some benign material. That says something, doesn't it?

I wonder if the anti-Islamic material consists of things like beheadings, female circumcision, suicide bombers, execution of gay people and so forth...

I would really need to know something about the content of the student's statements to give better advice.

posted by: Ody on 12.06.07 at 07:45 PM [permalink]

I would probably normally think that the student is something of a lout (even well-meaning 19 year olds can be rather intemperate, no?) but since he's interested in having a signed copy of her book, it suggests to me that the balance of the fault lies in the professor. I mean, what exactly is the problem with him having a signed copy of her book? Very odd...

posted by: Michael Simpson on 12.06.07 at 07:45 PM [permalink]

Hitchens would also try to get Jesus to procure him several drinks and a pack of cigarettes as well.

Is that why Hitchens dislikes Romney so much, cuz he thinks Mitt won't buy him his Chivas and Lucky Strikes (or whatever brands he prefers)?

posted by: kwo on 12.06.07 at 07:45 PM [permalink]

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