Friday, September 07, 2007

Professor Troll

This is one of those posts that wouldn't exist if I weren't semi-anonymous.

There is a certain very senior colleague of mine who is in a closely related field and who has zero research activity and zero visibility in our field and zero graduate students. He is, however, very aggressively patronizing toward me, routinely saying directly and indirectly that my research and teaching are flawed, misdirected, boring, and not rigorous. His refusal to consider retiring is very annoying, but his continued professorial existence is not entirely a negative. Other colleagues and I get a laugh out of the amazingly rude and obnoxious things he says, and the graduate students do a hilarious impression of him.

One of the courses for majors that I am teaching this semester has many of the same students as a course that he is teaching this semester. His class is just before mine and in the same classroom. Yesterday, he asked me what I thought of the students' collective mood at the end of his class and the beginning of my class. I said that their mood was generally positive. He then asked "And why do you think that is?". I thought of several possible responses, all of them rude, but then settled on what I believed to be true: "It's a really nice group of students who seem very engaged in their major classes." He said "I can think of another explanation." I didn't even ask what this was, knowing the explanation was inevitably coming anyway, but another professor listening to our conversation naively asked him to explain. The answer? Because they know the rigorous class has finished and they don't have to think much during yours. Maybe he's in a secret faculty troll club and he has to say things like that to stay in the club and earn troll merit badges.

40 comments:

Global Girl said...

Interesting that he think so little of not only fellow professors, but also students. The classes that don't make you think are the ones that make you look unhappy, because they're BORING. If I'm not going to be intellectually challenged, I might as well be out by the pool as in class, and the pool is much more pleasant.

Liberal Arts Chemist said...

At our University we have a two-year Education degree that takes in a fair number of our graduates after they complete their first degree. I was stunned to hear that a fair number of marginal students were accepted into the Education degree and were making very high marks. When I asked about the difference, the comment was that they were now being taught better and were therefore getting higher marks. This was said in all seriousness and as far as I could tell no real awareness that I was one of the professors that must have not been teaching these students very well the first time.

Anonymous said...

Is "Professor Troll" negative to all other female professors?

It just seems that the discrimination is so obvious...

I'm a student, so I don't usually notice these things, but I guess there was once :

It was the week before the final exams & naturally students left all their questions to the last minute to ask during office hours.

The course was taught by two professors: (1) Female(M.Sc.)MathematicsInstructor, (2) Male(Ph.D.)PhysicsProfessor.

I was one of students there that day along with others in this long line-up; we later discovered that the hold-up was because the Male(Ph.D.)PhysicsProfessor either didn't come to office hours or left early for lunch...

The other Female(M.Sc.)MathematicsInstructor stayed extended office hours (& had to skip lunch all together) to meet with all the students...

This Male(Ph.D.)PhysicsProfessor also borrows the Female(M.Sc.)MathematicsInstructor's notes and remarks during his lecture that the notes are "deficient".

I'm not sure if this is at all like what you experience...

Fitz said...

oh, ugh. Can't he be given strong hints like downsizing his office or something? Get that guy out of there!

Sorry to hear about this person. I hope I never encounter such a troll.

James Annan said...

I wish I knew who you were, just to make sure I never have the misfortune to stumble into your bizzaro dysfunctional corner of the world (please don't take it personally, you sound very nice yourself).

And that's even after reading with the healthy dose of salt that most venting on blogs deserves. Honestly, I thought Japan was weird, but I've got nothing that comes close.

I hear the preferred treatment is to wee in his shoes.

Schlupp said...

'zero graduate students' is extremely lucky for the grad students who are not his.

shrimplate said...

I predict that Professor Ill-Tempered Jerkwad will die of prostate cancer a year after he takes retirement. He will pass away ungracefully and all the female nurses that attend to him will despise the old bastard.

Hey, it happens.

Chepe Noyon said...

I have a hypothesis to offer for your consideration. In attempting to explain the anomalously low fraction of female professors, the world seems divided between two hypotheses: 1. women are dumb; and 2. men are pigs. (please indulge my oversimplification). Now, the second hypothesis is usually focused on male prejudice against women. And there's no doubt such prejudice exists. But I'd like to observe that where such prejudice exists, it is usually so obvious, so gross, so disgusting to all observers that it is self-discrediting -- as is the case with the professor you describe.

My hypothesis is a variation on #2, but cuts in a completely different direction. I begin with the observation that female social skills are generally higher than male social skills. There's plenty of objective evidence to support this claim -- and DON'T overlook the word "generally". So what happens when you plunk a female into a group of males? The males blunder about with their clumsy social skills, saying and doing all sorts of things that are hurtful to any reasonably sensitive person. The trick is, they're NOT sensitive to it, so they don't mind. But the female does notice all the clumsy slights and it gets to her.

Before some readers go off on a feminist tirade, I am most definitely NOT accusing women of being thin-skinned -- I am accusing men of being boors (which, I suppose, is just as sexist, but, as I said, there's objective evidence in favor of this claim when it's more diplomatically phrased).

I can best summarize my hypothesis with a metaphor. Imagine the university environment as a big dance where the women are just as good at dancing as the men, but the men wear huge clodhoppers and the women wear little wisps of shoes. The men are clumsy and are always stepping on other people's feet, but they don't notice it when their own feet get stepped on, because they're wearing big clodhoppers. The women, however, are constantly getting their toes squashed. Most women get sore feet and leave the dance.

Unfortunately, this hypothesis does not suggest any easy solution to the problem. You can't easily change male mental attributes because they appear to be innate. Your only hope is for the culture to work harder to get men to develop adequate social skills. That's a slow, slow process. However, I think that it can be effected. For example, why shouldn't social skills be included among the considerations used in recruiting and advancing faculty? They're used in business -- if you can't work with other people, it doesn't matter how brilliant you are.

Zeno said...

We had a troll like that in our political science department who was extraordinarily demeaning toward his female and minority colleagues. I think he regretted that we did not have an Aryan Studies major. On one occasion he looked smilingly down on a shorter dark-skinned woman in his academic division and said, "You know, I would never have chosen you to be the mother of my children." Without batting an eye or skipping a beat, she grinned back at him and said, "Why would you think it would even be your choice?"

When I told her later that I bet her quick response made him grumpy for a while, she said, "You'd think so, but with him, how could anyone tell?"

Jennifer said...

As inexcusably offensive as this man's behavior is towards you, I think it's pretty clear that deep down he knows very well that he has become irrelevant. So he takes solace in reassuring himself with the delusion that nobody likes his classes because he's "tough" and "rigorous," rather than a washed-up old professor who's just going through the motions and therefore running an uninspiring class. And he drives home the point by making snarky comments to you -- you're his competition, the one showing him up for what he really is. The underlying misogyny just makes it more distasteful.

Betsy said...

I met a prof like that when I was in grad school. I didn't have him for anything, but he just liked to troll around the department looking for women to insult and humiliate. He came into the grad student office one day and grilled me about mathematics, and when I didn't answer his questions to "his satisfaction" told me that I was wasting my time. He has also told women students in his classes to never take his classes again, because he didn't think women belonged in math/science. He's this old fart, too, who should have retired ages ago and just won't die. He treats all the women in the department that way, from the students to the secretaries to the other profs. And from those who've had him as a prof, the verdict is that he is universally BAD!

Annoyed Grad said...

I've had some fun encounters with one of those, myself. In fact, I spent a semester TAing for one. (For reference, I'm a male grad student in the physical sciences at a major research university.)

This man apparently saw no problem with insulting students to their faces, making disparaging comments about all students of American origin, implying that students of non-European background were or were the children of illegal immigrants, and complaining to me about women of my generation not wanting to be domestic. And, to top it off, the man is one of the worst teachers I've ever seen.

Fortunately enough, after this all was brought to the department's attention, he suddenly decided that he just might want to retire...

gordonsowner said...

well, then there is this hypothesis...

you guard your anonymity quite closely. say someone in your department found this site and suspected it was you. say they wanted to confirm it. what better way than to say something outlandishly infuriating to you with respect to the topic you blog on. this would lead to the possibility that you would blog about the incident, and, when they read this, could confirm that it was indeed you.

this seems like an old guy who probably isn't blog savvy, but who knows? i'm just sayin', if you are guarding your identity, i hope you are making appropriate changes to the story so as to make it unidentifiable to anyone involved.

Anonymous said...

I said that their mood was generally positive. He then asked "And why do you think that is?".

Because they have survived another hour of his class, of course!

Hank Roberts said...

Recommended reading -- search
"verbal self-defense"
First link:
http://www.howstuffworks.com/vsd.htm

Anonymous said...

I admire your ability to stay civil towards that jerk. As a gay man, I think I share your feelings towards such creeps, but I don't share the will to stay polite.


You have tenure, so why not tell him exactly what you think of him?

Dan said...

Now see? I'd have been impossibly rude to the troll. In fact, I'd have probably said something along the lines of "Well, they're probably more relived than happy simply because you're so old and so close to death that over the course of every class, their thoughts are most likely 'my god! I hope he doesn't drop. I'd hate to have to give him mouth-to-mouth.'"

Anonymous said...

I think you have the perfect attitude about this kind of person: treat him as a perk of the job, not as someone to stress about.

Anonymous said...

I had a research advisor like this once in grad school (it was a chemistry position). He made me do 5 times the amount of work that his other (male) grad students did - and it was entirely useless busy work. I remember my co-worker looking over a 20-worksheet long excel workbook I did in rapt confusion, saying "Why in the HELL did he ask you to do all this? It's completely pointless!"

This boss also constantly yelled at me for not making nearly as much progress as his other students, and decided it was because I was incompetent. Nice, huh?

And they say feminism is dead...

Anonymous said...

I suspect your relatively young age is the reason people have trouble believing that you're a *real* professor, and the reason that old fool feels he can get away with harassing you. Imagine you were closer to his age. If he dared pull the same tricks, your confidence would allow you to not reveal any irritation with him, and either laugh at his foolish remarks or ignore him completely.

SmellyTerror said...

SmellyTerror knows someone who needs a punch in the face!

Yet another mote of evidence supporting the necessity of violence in human culture...
:P

/joking
//a bit

Anonymous said...

What a jagoff!

Mr. B. said...

Hmmm...


My guess is that you have figured out very effectively how to deal with this kind of (infantile) behavior.

The fact that you are even walking around as a professor in his department probably irks this jerk considerably.

So responding politely and NOT engaging in the same infantile tactics is the best way to handle this because no doubt it just annoys him more.

No need to respond in kind.

Ciao,

Bonzo

Dr Benway said...

Read "The Sociopath Next Door." You can download it from audible.com.

Anonymous said...

Have you considered telling this professor that you do not appreciate his comments, that you find him rude, disrespectful and inappropriate, and that you think he should keep them for himself ? I would also tell him that you are going to inform the department chair next time he makes another one of these comments, and that if still insists, you are going to have to file a grievance. I'll bet you he'll stop as soon as he realizes that you are serious. And who knows, maybe he'll retire...
I don't think it's a good idea to let him continue, even if you and others "laugh at him", especially if it bothers you (as I think it does and should) and if he does it to others as well. Just my opinion, of course.

Niket said...

There is just one word that describes him: insecurity.

He knows that he isn't productive in his research. He knows that teaching is the only thing he really does. He is very insecure that some day, he might realize that the research-active colleagues like yourself are actually doing an excellent job at teaching as well.

Anonymous said...

When someone's being a prick, it's usually worthwhile to call him on it. If you care about his feelings, do it in private. If you don't care about his feelings, then do it publically and make him a laughing stock.

Don Cox said...

"His refusal to consider retiring is very annoying"____I think that is an offensively ageist remark, and so are some of the comments on this post. I am a university lecturer who is being pressured to retire simply because of the year I was born. I really enjoy teaching, there is always new stuff to learn, and I need the money. I can't say whether I am a good teacher, except that the attendance figures are good. The assumption that nobody over sixty can be any use is no different from the assumption that women, or Jews, or Africans can't be any good.

Anonymous said...

Your post shows a prime example of why tenure is a bad idea. In my many years in academia, I have known many faculty who relied n tenure to keep their jobs; but I only know one who uses that protection to pursue his own view of scholarship. The rest are all dead wood (at best) or disruptive (such as yours).

Many years ago a doctor, a friend of mine, hung out in my lab despite being a professor at a medical school. With respect to a very senior faculty member who was regularly rude to others, my friend said the guy had classic symptoms of dementia.

Anonymous said...

I can't wait to read the post where you've finally had enough and tell this asshat what you really think of him, his classes, and his ideas.

I tend to be pretty close to most of my professors. Three of my previous professors attended my fianceƩ's baby shower even. If I EVER heard a professor say something like this to another professor, I would likely be at the chancellors office that same day (I tend to skip deans. They tend to be ineffective in getting things done about topics such as this.)

PZ said...

You have tenure, so why not tell him exactly what you think of him?

There's an important consequence of tenure at work here that I'm sure FSP is aware of. She has tenure, but so does he. Functional departments require concessions from everyone in order to continue to operate with each other without melting down. Professor Troll seems to be flouting the unspoken rules of civility, but that doesn't mean everyone else should reply in kind.

Female Science Professor said...

It is not ageist to say that someone who is completely unproductive in their job should retire. I have many "old" colleagues who are productive at research and/or who are excellent teachers and no one is longing for them to retire.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if Professor Troll knows who won the Nobel Prize for physics in 1903 and for chemistry in 1911?

Pablo said...

I think it should be reiterated that if someone makes personal remarks like these, they should not be accepted and should be reported to the appropriate people. Harrassment must not be brushed off as "oh that silly old guy."

The only way anything can be done to stop this behavior is to document it and report it.

FSP, you do not have to put up with cranky old mysogonists. However, rolling your eyes in disgust isn't going to solve the problem.

Keep in mind that it is not your job to prove discrimination. It is to report inappropriate behavior. If you do this, and a pattern emerges, then the case for discrimination will present itself. Even if it doesn't, you don't have to put up with this type of crap.

Senior Professor said...

For every male faculty member who acts like Professor Troll, there are probably 15 who, having been socialized by modern feminism, will bend over backward to support female colleagues.

In evaluating Professor Troll, you need to have additional information. For example, was he also boorish and condescending toward other faculty members?

In any case, if you can't figure out how to handle Professor Troll, perhaps you're proving a point for those who believe that females in the physical sciences are overly pampered whiners. Every department has a jerk or two. Get over it.

Anonymous said...

I highly recommend that you and your department chair read -- and take to heart -- Robert I. Sutton's book "The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't." Behavior like this can poison a department and cannot be tolerated.

Female Science Professor said...

senior professor - Relax. I'm over it. I'm still going to write about it though.

anon said...

"Every department has a jerk or two. Get over it."

It was pretty obvious from the tone of the post that the writer had gotten over it. In fact, all of FSP's posts that I have read sound civil and relaxed from the tone, sentence structure, and judicial use of punctuation. Our department has more than two jerks, but less than five. Like you say, everyone learns to 'get over it'. But we don't have to like it and we would like to know some warning signs for terminating potential jerks at tenure review.

Just because a situation exists that, incidentally, would not be tolerated inside the offices at any Wall Street financial institution, doesn't mean that we have to plan for tolerating it a science department ten or twenty years down the road.

greg laden said...

You have ONE colleague like this? Stop whining girl, and have a party! One? Jeezh....

greg laden said...

Of course, you still have to get the guy in a back alley and torture him...