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 remember 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 three 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, trashing 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.


Anonymous said...

My econ teacher in high school told us one economist (possibly Keynes or Smith) gave everyone in his class a B, unless they petitioned him for an A, based on the need to meet scholarship requirements. She didn't seem keen on this plan herself, though.

Jennifer said...

This is encouraging news! Toward the end of his career, didn't Perry Miller's students pick him up in the morning and then pour his drunken person onto the train home each evening? Honestly, the Miller story is reason I long for students and tenure. Together, they will allow me to become a raging alcoholic and still enjoy not only job security but also ensure I get home safely each night.