The Outrageousness of Academia

Some of our stories are funny, others are sad, and some are terrifying. What is the most outrageous experience that you've had with a student or faculty member?

May 30, 2011

Some of our stories are funny, others are sad, and some are terrifying. What is the most outrageous experience that you've had with a student or faculty member?

Afshan Jafar (Connecticut, USA): Well I probably can’t discuss the most outrageous ones, but here’s one of the less outrageous ones: A student once told me that he felt I was being antagonistic towards him. When I asked him why he felt that way, he told me that he had broken his finger in the past week and had come to class with a bandage. But since I was so antagonistic, I never asked how he was doing!

Anamaria Dutceac Segesten (Lund, Sweden): During my first year of teaching, a student said "bullshit" out loud after I discussed the changes of mentality required by some environmentalists (and when I was turned towards the blackboard). I was first surprised and then angry at this unacademic way to criticize ideas and politely asked the student to leave the room, which she did grumpily.

Lee Skallerup Bessette (Kentucky, USA): I was in my second year of teaching as a PhD student. When I lecture, I like to scan the whole room. As I was scanning, directly in front of me, first row center, a female student had her arm stuffed down her pants past her elbow. Keep in mind that she was doing this while sitting in one of those chairs with the little desk attached to it. I lectured to the ceiling the rest of that particular class.

Heather Alderfer (New Haven, USA): A scathing email can ruin my day. Hours after a heated email exchange with a student over an administrative decision, I joined a group of friends at a pub and was introduced to a young man named Michael. Later my friends revealed Michael was the same student who pointedly questioned my professional decisions hours earlier. We remain good friends, occasionally laughing about the effects of email tone.

Janni Aragon (Victoria, Canada): Student excuse: My parents are lost at sea. I contacted the Coast Guard; he was lying. When I was ABD a senior colleague at a different university who sat on a grant committee borrowed from my grant application and presented the work (paragraphs) as her own work at a conference one year later.

Denise Horn (Boston, USA): As you can imagine, after six years of traveling with students, I've had more than one outrageous experience, far too many to tell here. But one of my more memorable trips was with a fellow faculty member (and a dear friend)--we traveled to Nairobi, Kenya to attend the World Social Forum. A friend took on us a night safari after a dinner, so we were both overdressed. We sat in the back of the jeep, looking for lions, sipping on champagne and singing The Girl From Ipanema at the tops of our lungs. We couldn't figure out why we didn't see any lions.

Deanna England (Winnipeg, Canada): I once had an instructor for a Directed Readings class, we had a meeting scheduled on the 4th of July and he didn't show up. The department secretary was kind enough to dial him at home, and when I asked what he was doing, the response was "sitting in my bathtub wrapped in an American flag, drinking gin." As he was American, it seemed like a reasonable response…

Elizabeth Lewis Pardoe (Evanston, USA): I took my suit jacket off at a summer conference dinner in a hot climate to reveal a sleeveless blouse. The male, senior scholar (whom I have known for decades) seated beside me turned to me and exclaimed loudly: "You have disrobed! Woman, cover thyself!"

Rosalie Arcala Hall (Iloilo, Philippines): An old male colleague tended a fruit orchard, a vegetable garden and several livestock at the back of our college building. His office cubicle had an assortment of knives, cutlery, fruit, plates, thermos, seasonings, probably even a hotplate if he felt like making a meal out of his vegetable stash. One harvest time, his cubicle looked like a farmer’s market stand. None of the faculty had the heart to censure him.

Mary Churchill (Boston, USA): I have witnessed many outrageous experiences in academia but one of the scarier moments was probably when a faculty member in my department called me in the middle of the night and told me to watch my back. He lived less than a mile from my house.

Ana Dinescu (Berlin, Germany): My inspiration for the most outrageous experience is the bureaucratic system of higher education: when you die from waiting months to have a paper signed and the office of the faculty kindly announces you that you never submitted any paper. The only chance of survival seems to be to dream about a carefree life of a Robin Hood.

What about you? Share your outrageous story -- funny, sad, or otherwise.

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