Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Trolling for Insults

The week has barely started, but I have already had an encounter with my colleague, Dr. Troll. On Monday I went to a meeting of one of the committees I am on. Dr. Troll is not on the committee, but he has a class in the room in which the committee was meeting. The meeting ended a few minutes before his class was to start. As I was leaving, Dr. Troll arrived and asked me "What are you doing here? Are you taking a class from these guys?" and he nodded at the other professors in the room. It was a bizarre question and I didn't know if he was being obnoxious or stupid, so I didn't reply. Then he repeated his question: "Well, are you?"

I said, "This is a meeting of the X Committee", and he acted very surprised. I have no idea why he was surprised; I am on lots of committees. It is very possible that he was being obnoxious (or stupid).

21 comments:

C said...

"No, they are all taking a class from me" (wink to other committee members)

Jay said...

Obnoxious or stupid? Why not both?

Mr. B. said...

Or senile...

He's now embarrassed himself in front of his (male) colleagues.

I think you've hit upon the perfect strategy. Just answer matter of factly when he asks something, even trying to be helpful.

Of course if you have a mean streak you could always add:

"Do you have a problem with that?"

Ciao, Bonzo

Anonymous said...

Maybe, since he can no longer pull braids and push girls down on the playground, this is how he covers attraction? Or is he this awful to every FP?

Anonymous said...

What was the reaction of the other committee memebers?

/Rettaw

Female Science Professor said...

I don't think anyone else heard his question, which was intended only for me to hear.

Anonymous said...

I have seen something like this (not quite as obnoxious or stupid, just thoughtless but offensive just the same). The offendee simply repeated the question, "Are you asking me if....?" as if looking for clarification. The rest of the group acted accordingly appalled and the thoughless person (an FSP, incidentally) apologized promptly.

I don't think you should have to put up with that. It is one thing to be socially challenged and another to be a bully. This one sounds like a bully.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Were I tenured, as you are, and dealing with a habitual troll, as you are, I'd be tempted to respond with an honestly curious, "What the f*ck is wrong with you?" When he sputters, or tries to pass it off as a joke, repeat (again, honestly curious): "No, I'm really interested: What the f*ck is wrong with you?"

These, of course, are merely the fantasies of the untenured.

Anonymous said...

No, he's not obnoxious or stupid, but he is certainly threatened by you. Perhaps you are out competing him in his mind...

Non-US FSP said...

It is time for you to stop putting up with his behavior.
It has already gone beyond tolerable in the previous incident (talking with your grad student about your teaching), but this certainly tops it.

I understand you feel "above it" and don't want to get down to his level, but it is bothering you and he might eventually cause damage to your reputation.
(Even a lie starts to sink if repeated many times.)

In fact, it seems that your ignoring him causes him only to bully even more, so as to get you to respond...

lost academic said...

Maybe it's time you and he took this outside. Sheesh.

Anonymous said...

I'm with the other anonymous....it seems to me that if he simply didn't like you he would just ignore you or be curt and dismissive. That he puts such effort into being an overt jackass, it seems like he wants any kind of reaction he can get. But why would he want a reaction so badly?

Field Notes said...

People actually say that sort of thing out loud? What an obnoxious idiotic turd. What can you say to someone like that? So glad nothing like that has happened to me.... YET. I am sure they think it tho.

TW Andrews said...

Wow. What an ass.

working said...

Maybe go all Miss Manners on him and say "why on earth would you ask [or say] something like that?"

Anonymous said...

I too fall in the crowd of they "think it" but don't say it. Others are suggesting you take stronger action, and I think you need to, too (you know, after all, because you should run your life based on advice by anonymous commenters).

My reason for counselling action is to protect the powerless. I've been following the story of Sosumu Tonegawa's derailment of the recruitment of a young female scientist (Alla Karpova) at MIT (from public sources, do searches and you'll find the story, including the emails that Tonegawa sent to her and that Karpova returned); They sound exactly like the interaction you describe, and Karpova, on being quoted says exactly what you say -- that she wants to do her science, and she's above it all. All I could think was how this young woman's joy and excitement in science has to have been crushed by Tonegawa playing the nobel laureate troll.

I'd heard rumors but never tracked the story down before. It's vile. MIT was wishy washy enough that those who brought the vileness to the light of day took some heat. But, if people with power in academics (i.e. tenure) don't stand up to the trolls, the trolls will crush the powerless, especially the women who won't take emails that suggest that you stand down as a call to battle.

(I don't know Karpova or Tonegawa, and my knowledge of all of this is from web sources, so maybe women like Karpova can take it. But, I would have been crushed. I had the grace to be welcomed, open armed by senior researchers who are anti-trolls).

Anonymous said...

http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2006/07/20/colleague

It's a Higher Education article that takes Karpova as a starting point to how trolls poison departments. I've heard of another study that shows that "bad apples" can ruin the work environment, and that managers have to address them; in academia, that's the senior profs. We don't have the luxury of ignoring them if we want the system to function.

Me again, on the effect of trolls on the vulnerable.

Ms.PhD said...

Well now I'm curious to read the details of the Karpova incident. I have experienced some astoundingly trollish behavior, but nobody seems to care! (And in case you're wondering, I'm not at MIT).

FSP, on the other hand, you don't seem vulnerable in your post. You just seem baffled. Perhaps you're like me and tend to be shocked first, and if you're angry at all, that comes much later. If that's the case, it's hard to come up with a snappy comeback until it's too late to use it.

I wish it were always like a sitcom where you could look over your shoulder at the witnesses, loudly repeat the guy's comment as if you have a hearing problem, "I'M SORRY, DID YOU JUST ASK WHAT I'M DOING HERE?" But it usually doesn't work out that way.

I think these guys know enough to look over their shoulder and make sure they're out of earshot. By far the most offensive things that have been said to me occurred when no one else was around. This is
perfect for them, because I can never prove how they said it, much less that they said it at all, and telling anyone just makes me look like a pathological liar or a completely paranoid nutcase. The default response from other people is always disbelief that it ever happened.

Angry Professor said...

I would start documenting these interactions: time, date, details of the comments and your responses to them. Then when you have enough to document a pattern (sounds like it shouldn't take more than a week or so), I would send the whole packet to him, CC your chair, and mention "sexual harassment charges."

Because that's what's happening. Don't downplay it. He's making other people miserable too. Don't let him get away with it.

Helen said...

This reminds me of something I was wondering lately -- does anyone know of a good cell phone with speakerphone and digital voice recording?

In this situation, I'd be tempted to get one and hit "record" every time the guy gets within ten feet of me.

EliRabett said...

Karpova landed on her feet at the HHMI Janelia Farm labs. For the most inside blogging on this try blog.3bulls.net/