August 30, 2006

Tiny Tantrums

You know, for all the mocking of the silly in academia, the only thing that actually really makes me angry when dealing with academics is when the person in question has an undeserved sense of entitlement. Actually, that makes me angry when I see it just about anywhere, come to think of it, but it's particularly galling when I have to deal with it as part of my actual job, and so the option of hitting someone with my shoe is not on the table. Not that I regularly whack people with my super-cute summer slides, but you get the idea. Restraint is not really a friend of mine.

And when the sense of entitlement is conveyed via an email tantrum over a TINY FREAKING ISSUE, it just makes my head explode.

Case in point - we updated our website, and in an attempt to drive traffic to the new, improved site, made a temporary change to our homepage. Now, our campus has a population of 30,000 souls, give or take. Out of those 30,000 people affected by this--let me reiterate--TEMPORARY change, 28,998 seemed unbothered.

Can you see what's coming? If you have ever worked in, around, or near a university I bet you can.

Yes, our TEMPORARY disruption caused trauma to exactly two people, both of whom were professors. Interestingly enough, one was a Humes type, and the other a Science type, and they were both just beautiful examples of self-important, humorless idiocy.

Let me summarize the emails we received: We had created an aesthetic NIGHTMARE! Who gave us the authority to do such a thing?! It was TOO MUCH INFORMATION and might result in one of the professors NOT READING THE NEWS!

Now, I am uncertain as to how his not reading the news was going to be detrimental to anyone besides the professor making the threat, but I don't have a Ph.D., so perhaps I just don't get it.

Irony would like to point out the academic tendency to show disdain for all types of authority EXCEPT that authority which might help an academic get his or her way in a situation. Irony would also like to point out the humor inherent in an academic complaining about receiving too much information.

The most annoying thing was the tone in which the emails were written--like it never occurred to them to send a missive that politely inquired about the reasoning behind the changes, they just immediately launched into threaten/attack mode. One would think that people who have to communicate for a living might understand the importance of reasonable discourse. But I suppose that if one is a professor, his or her pronouncements should simply be taken as gospel. Sigh.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at August 30, 2006 11:16 AM

Just tell him what you think.

Life only gets annoying when you have to tell different people different things.

Moreover, I have found, you no longer receive invitations to meetings, another plus.

So somebody else gets your share of aggravation.

See also the Peter Principle, and how it's avoided.

A friend of mine, a programmer for then 20 years, thought he might apply for a comp sci lecturer job right near his home ; the interview was going swimmingly, he reported, when it came up that he'd have to be also working towards a PhD.

``No,'' said my friend, ``I know lots of people with PhD's, and it's all just pointless memorization.''

The comp sci chair pulled himself up to his full height. ``Well, there's a little more to it that that, I think.''

``No,'' my friend said, ``that's how it is. I see it all the time.''

Thus he avoided a job where he'd have to kiss this guy's ass as a primary responsibility.

Posted by: Ron Hardin at August 30, 2006 06:06 PM

Well, Ron, your friend was either (a) not able to understand things beyond his very limited area of competence, (b) a jerk, or (c) stupid. I'm glad he didn't get the job.

Posted by: Michael at August 30, 2006 09:10 PM

The point of requiring a worker to work towards a PhD is to enforce a social hierarchy, as my friend noticed. That was information about his potential place of employment.

It also told the fellow what his PhD was worth.

Posted by: Ron Hardin at August 31, 2006 06:34 AM

Try working in the Finance Department - 10,000+ student private university in the Midwest.

NO ONE likes the statements we produce; ALL of the bugetary controls we have are meant only to stifle academic freedom; how DARE you tell me what I can do with MY money.

Pointing out that the funds belong to either the University or (in the case of grants) a government agency, and that there are rules to be followed to continue having the use of those funds, is not popular.

Posted by: Diane at August 31, 2006 07:53 AM

Perhaps the aggrieved professors need to write out 500 times, the statement:

"Never attribute to malice what stupidity can explain."

In my experience, the sort of people who throw Tiny Tantrums are the sort of people who see every instance of something going wrong or not being **exactly** to their liking as evidence that they, specifically, are being targeted, and it makes all their paranoia sensors go off.

I have the quotation I referenced taped up in an inconspicuous (but visible to me) place on the wall in my office. It helps tremendously to look at it, take a deep breath, and say, "You can let this go."

On my campus, they change the webpage every 6 weeks. I think the webmaster does it to justify his job. It is frustrating though to find that the place you went to find the link to, say, the library, isn't in that place anymore. But I know that it's not being done specifically to thwart and enrage ME. It's just a random act of silliness.

Posted by: ricki at August 31, 2006 08:26 AM

Ron's right-why would a comp sci lecturer need a PhD? Pure waste of time.

Posted by: John Salmon at September 1, 2006 06:57 PM

I suspect that the science prof would be even worse about this becuase his grants actually bring in real money to the University. The Humanities prof just thinks that he's important. The science prof gets told that in no uncertain terms if he brings in more than $200 K / year. Now, if the science guy has lost his funding, he's likely to be an even bigger prick...

As a very wise senior grad student once told me when I was a first year: "don't expect your advisor to be a decent human being. Professors start in the lower half of humanity and work their way down from there. A slightly bigger than average d&%#head is all you can hope for."

Posted by: John at September 2, 2006 09:37 PM