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When to Tattle on Professors: An Example

I’ve had my share of awesome professors, and more than my share of hateful professors. Only occasionally, when it was warranted, did I complain. Recently, I discovered that, if you complain like a mature adult with dignity, you garner more respect from the administrator. (Funny, that.) I’m actually really proud of the way I handled the situation – it’s given me a standard to live up to the next time I need to complain about a superior.
The situation was this: I made an honest scheduling mistake, not realizing that this professor required special treatment for this procedure. When this issue became apparent, they got very angry, and said some harsh words. I chalked it up to finals week stress, and made alternate scheduling arrangements. I then sent an email to said professor, apologizing for the problem, accepting responsibility for it, and purposing the alternate solution. Professional, calm, apologetic, and proof-read by someone other than myself.
In a nutshell, the email I received back was less than professional, and basically demonstrated some egomaniacal shit-flipping of the highest order. A highly inconvenient solution – but my only one – was laid forth: take the final three hours from when I read the email, two days earlier than anticipated.
When I went in, I was honestly scared I was going to be slapped. Instead, the professor was calm, collected, and explanatory – though not apologetic in the slightest, of course.
After the final, I went to the Dean. I brought our email exchange, and explained that the problem was resolved, but someone needed to speak to this professor about his attitude toward students – preferably after grades were finalized. He said he would, and I moved on, despite knowing that my final was a disaster due to this issue.
If this had been the first time he’d been a jerk, I would have let it slide – we’re all human, right? But I’ve seen enough of his behavior to know that this isn’t the first, or last, time he treats a student like a lesser being.
And that right there is the line of appropriate behavior between students and professors – how you treat not just another human, but someone who is trying to learn from and look up to you, and someone who has put their time, effort, and future into your hands. It’s a mutual bond of respect that requires compassion on both sides, and occasionally some self-control.
When that line is crossed, I think it’s acceptable to rat out the professor to an administrator. Respect may be earned, but there’s a basic level we all deserve – even we lowly students.
A caveat: complaining about professors is unwarranted when you really did screw up. I’ve heard stories from professors about students who go to the president of the college because they didn’t pass a class, despite flunking all the tests. As an easily distracted under-acheiver, I’ll just say: put on your big boy/girl britches and deal. If you didn’t read the syllabus correctly, didn’t study hard enough, or didn’t withdraw in time, you made your own grave. Learn from your mistakes, but don’t put the burden of your failure on the professor.
The same goes for students who approach the professor after every test, trying to explain why they deserve those two points they missed on question four. Seriously? Get some dignity | Impressum