Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Bad Professor! No Dry Sherry!
Any teacher or professor worrying about how students might react to his or her behavior in the classroom should bear in mind that they would have to work pretty hard to top the eccentricities and unprofessionalism of some of our predecessors. For example, according to a column by "Ms. Mentor" (Emily Toth) in the Chronicle of Higher Education (Sept. 5, 2008), Thorsten Veblen, when he was teaching at Stanford University, "graded arbitrarily, switching A's and C's at random...posted whimsical office hours ('Monday 10 a.m. to 10:05 a.m.'), and...urged 'girl students' to spend weekends with him in a converted chicken coop in the woods." According to the longer article cited by Toth, Veblen eventually became so unpopular with students that he was lucky to get 3 people to sign up for one of his classes. Stanford, which had hired Veblen in 1906, finally threw him out in 1909, whereupon he wrote a new book, The Higher Learning in America, in which he trashed the people he'd previously vexed. It's not an exemplary story, though I'm tempted to use Veblen's line about his grading policy - "My grades are like lightning; they strike anywhere!" - the next time I'm returning exams.