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How a College Student Can Safely Create Pain for a Professor Who Is Misusing His Bully Pulpit
Feb. 10, 2010
In graduate school, I had the largest private office at the University of California, Riverside -- and probably in the entire system of campuses. It had eight desks and room for bookcases, plus room for three more desks. No full professor had anything like it. I had it for two years. Yet I had no position in the university during this time. This was a fluke. The room got lost in the system. I kept it lost. In matters academic, I understand how the system works. I know how to make it work for students.
Someone posted this on one of the forums.
I received an email from one of my nephews today. Here it is:
"Today in my economics class my teacher admitted to being a Keynesian economist, which now makes total sense. The past two class periods I have tried arguing with him about his policies but he just makes me the laughing stock of the class every time, which is no surprise because he has a PHD. He believes the Fed saved us from the next great depression and that Ron Paul is a nut. Every point I try to make he just rebukes and it is frustrating. I was wondering if you had any advice."
I told him the easiest thing is to regurgitate what he is told and pass the class.
What good advice should I give the young man? He is on the right track and I don't want him to get discouraged.
Here is my analysis of the system.
1. The professor is 100% in charge in class, if his superiors are not threatened by what he says or does.
2. Most students in the class don't care about the academic content.
3. Most students just want to pass the class. They want to know what to regurgitate on the exams. They don't want disruptions from anyone who will not be grading them.
4. Your targets are the 20% who do care about the material.
5. Are they worth time and trouble?
6. If the answer is yes, adopt an offensive strategy.
The key to an offensive strategy if you are a student is to feign ignorance and beg for clarification. Do this in a way that gains the sympathy of the other students. If the professor pulls rank on you, he's dead in the water in class. If he stonewalls, he loses face. If he says he will help you after class, go to stage two. He is playing nice guy. Your task to undermine the brighter student's trust in what he is teaching.
Stage one involves asking questions. "Professor, I'm confused. You said..... Do I have thus right? I do? OK, here's what I don't understand...." You bring up the counter view as if you have figured out on your own that something does not add up. To do this, you must master the assigned material and also the counter material. Few students ever attempt this.
Stage two is what I call digital kneecapping.
1. Set up a blog site that allows interaction (a forum).
2. Post key questions on the blog. Refer to your confusion. "If he is saying that, then how can we explain this?" Provide the summary of your position. Provide links to supporting data. Do not attack him. Undermine confidence in him.
3. Once you have a few questions posted, hand out a card before class begins. Have the site's address on the card. Invite others to share their views.
4. Position this blog as a discussion group in which each person helps the others to do better in class. It's a joint effort to pass the course.
5. If he is forcing mindless regurgitation on exams, ask if others have experienced lower grades for not doing this. Ask what the best way is to give him what he wants, even though what he is saying seems so one-sided. (The phrase one-sided is a killer in academia, where one-sidedness is universally practiced, and is also universally disparaged as not conforming to the search for truth.)
6. If word gets out to the department chairman that he is not playing fair, he has a big problem -- not because he is not playing fair, but because he has been caught and is being exposed where the Administration can see this. The Administration worries about alumni, who might quit donating if the media find out. This is kneecapping.
7. He can respond on the forum. He then deals with you as the top gun; it's your forum, not his. He comes to it on your terms. He has never had to do this with students. He has played the toady with his superiors to get where he is. He has never had to do this with mere students. This puts him on the defensive. It forces him to defend his ideas and his behavior. You cannot believe the pain this inflicts.
8. If he ignores your site, you can slice him up, piece by piece, day by day, after each lecture. This is not kneecapping. This is death by a thousand cuts.
Rmermber: you are as dangerous as a wounded water buffalo if you disguise yourself as a defenseless lamb.
Your site stays on-line forever. Students can view it long after you have moved on. The site will condemn him. New students will hear about it. The grapevine works.
If conservative students would do this systematically, it would create real pain for the educrats.
Be sure you don't overpay to be run through the collegiate meatgrinder, because that's what it is. Here is what it costs these days. There are cheaper ways.