Tags:

Should I keep quiet about my professor's past.
October 8, 2009 3:24 PM   Subscribe

Should I keep quiet about my professor's past?

I am in grad school. I have a professor whom I like and admire very much.

He had mentioned working in a governmental job earlier in his career. Out of curiosity and fandom, I was looking on Google to see if there was anything out there about what he did in that job.

What I found was shocking- that he had done some extremely bizarre and illegal (but not violent) things in that job, been criminally charged for them, found not guilty by reason of insanity, and hospitalized. This all took place around 30 years ago.

I am certain that it is the same person. I am also certain that other faculty members, at least the ones who have been around for a long time, are aware of this- our field is small and insular. Also the professor has always appeared utterly sane to me.

The question is, should I keep quiet?

My reason for telling anyone about this would not be that I am afraid of the professor, or to get the professor in trouble, or because I think the professor is hiding this from the administration, or anything like that. It's more that I find this professor very interesting and wonder what my classmates would think of this episode, and wonder if anyone knows more about it. Simply, I want to talk to people about it primarily about of curiosity about the professor.

Also, this information is public and freely, easily available. It's just not something you'd stumble on unless you were looking.

On the other hand, I do not want to shame this professor or cause him trouble.

On the other hand, it has been 30 years, and the professor brought up working in this job with no prompting from any of us. Perhaps it's not a sore subject anymore.

Do you think I should keep quiet?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (55 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
You should keep quiet. None of your business. He paid for what he did, and has moved on.
posted by xmutex at 3:26 PM on October 8, 2009 [40 favorites]


I think you should keep quiet about it.
posted by The World Famous at 3:28 PM on October 8, 2009


He knows you can look him up when he told you he used to have a government job. Leave it at that. It sounds like his way to provide disclosure without having to mention it directly. I am sure other classmates have Googled him. Do not be the one to disclose.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 3:29 PM on October 8, 2009


Don't be a dick. This is none of your business. And, as xmutex says, he's already paid for what he did.

The only thing you're going to accomplish by bringing this up is to ruin his reputation with other students. Great fucking way to treat someone you respect.
posted by Netzapper at 3:30 PM on October 8, 2009 [11 favorites]


If it's as easily found as you said, someone else will find out and spread the story around. At which point you can shrug nonchalantly and say, oh yes, I already knew that, making you cooler than them.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 3:30 PM on October 8, 2009 [23 favorites]


Simply, I want to talk to people about it primarily about of curiosity about the professor.
This is a good effort at rationalisation of your desire, but it still only amounts to "I am nosy and would very much like to gossip about this".

Which is a terrible reason to dredge up a man's past.
posted by fightorflight at 3:31 PM on October 8, 2009 [35 favorites]


Slow down there, cowboy/girl. No way. LIke xmutex says, he paid for whatever bizarre/illegal things he did. You say that it's freely available on Google, but you know what? I bet he wishes he could get it off the internet. It's not the same as him posting it on a board outside his office.

Leave well enough alone and find something else to gossip about with your friends.
posted by InsanePenguin at 3:32 PM on October 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


What you're proposing is gossip--trading in juicy information that, once shared, could embarrass or even harm to your professor professionally. If you're curious about this episode in your professor's life, and you feel that he mentioned his former job because he is willing to discuss it, your only ethical option other than keeping the information to yourself is to speak to him directly.
posted by Meg_Murry at 3:32 PM on October 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


I agree you should keep quiet.

However, if you decide you want to talk about it with someone, I think you should try talking directly to the professor about the past episode, in private, before you gossip about it with anyone else. Then you can gauge how he feels about this information getting out, if he's comfortable with people knowing about it, if he thinks everyone already knows anyway, etc.

If you'd be scared too talk with him directly about it, then you shouldn't be talking about it behind his back either.
posted by Ouisch at 3:32 PM on October 8, 2009 [6 favorites]


"On the other hand, I do not want to shame this professor or cause him trouble."

Then what's your dilemma? Either you're a busy-body who needs to gossip, or there's something else fishy going on with you. Otherwise, you wouldn't do something you know will cause harm to someone you like... right?

Remember - there's always a chance that you're wrong, in which case, you would likely humiliate yourself AND harm the professor's reputation.

If you tell anyone (and I do mean anyone), your relationship with the professor is definitely shot and you could probably do harm to your education in ways you can't imagine now.

Don't risk it.
Don't do it.
Period.
posted by 2oh1 at 3:33 PM on October 8, 2009 [4 favorites]


You want to risk 'outing' this guy, risk shaming him (your own admission), and potentially causing him trouble (once again, your own admission) simply so you can talk about his prior life with OTHER people (ie NOT him)? Seriously? Do you not see how this selfish this sounds??

The fact that you're even asking this here means you know you shouldn't do it. Don't do it. If your prof wants to talk about it, he can bring it up himself.
posted by cgg at 3:33 PM on October 8, 2009


Oh, it's a sore subject. Perhaps he has made his peace with it, but drudging it all up again for everyone to see, point fingers, and laugh - that part he hasn't made peace with.

No need to bring it up.

As I saw in another thread recently:
"Imagine what the person you most admire and respect in the world would do. Do that."

Unless that person is Glenn Beck.
posted by Xoebe at 3:33 PM on October 8, 2009


Go directly to your beloved professor, look him in the eye, and tell him what you've learned. Tell him you think that his past is absolutely fascinating, and that you dearly want to discuss it with all the other students.

If you can't bring yourself to do this, then keep your damn mouth shut.
posted by Faint of Butt at 3:34 PM on October 8, 2009 [25 favorites]


Yes.

On the other hand, I do not want to shame this professor or cause him trouble.
Then don't. You posted anonymously, so a part of you must already know this, no?
posted by moonshine at 3:35 PM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


On lack of preview, pretty much exactly what Ouisch said. Great minds, etc.
posted by Faint of Butt at 3:35 PM on October 8, 2009


The question is, should I keep quiet?

Well, of course!
posted by CunningLinguist at 3:36 PM on October 8, 2009


The fact that you felt the need to ask this anonymously suggests to me that you already know the answer.
posted by scody at 3:37 PM on October 8, 2009


Yes, you should keep quiet.

But if can you are a better person than I. Honestly I'd probably talk about it with close friends (not just coworkers) in the department, probably when drinking. But never in the building, and never to the faculty. If it's that easy to google, I'm surprised it's not already an open secret in your department. You might be the last to know...

To be clear, your potential problem is not "I do not want to shame this professor or cause him trouble." Your problem is he or other faculty discovering you are the one bringing this up and holding it against you. You talking about this probably cannot hurt him, aside from embarrassing him perhaps. You talking could ruin you if it gets back to him and he's sensitive about it.
posted by pseudonick at 3:39 PM on October 8, 2009


The question is, should I keep quiet?

Yes. It's really not your business, and sure as hell nobody else's.

As for your curiosity: you are, however, allowed to ask him about "his government work" or otherwise follow up on something he actually said to you in any conversations he started. He may want to talk about it. But let him lead, stick to things he actually said rather than things you dug up on the Internet, and keep it just between the two of you, of course.
posted by rokusan at 3:39 PM on October 8, 2009


Why do you care so much and how does it affect you other than surprise you? I think answering those two questions are the key to figuring out what you should do and if your motivations for telling someone about these things are bad.
posted by anniecat at 3:45 PM on October 8, 2009


On the other hand, I do not want to shame this professor or cause him trouble.

Then why are you asking this question?

I mean, come on. You were smart enough to get into graduate school. Tell me, what is the likeliest outcome of your publicizing highly charged, potentially shameful information?

Your professor's going to experience shame or lose face. They may not admit it but that will be the effect. And, as others have noted above, your actions might have unpleasant rebound effects in the future.

Don't excrete where you eat.
posted by jason's_planet at 3:45 PM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


As for your curiosity: you are, however, allowed to ask him about "his government work" or otherwise follow up on something he actually said to you in any conversations he started. He may want to talk about it. But let him lead, stick to things he actually said rather than things you dug up on the Internet, and keep it just between the two of you, of course.

This is good advice but I would qualify it by saying that I, personally, wouldn't initiate such a conversation unless I had a really good relationship with that particular professor. I would not do that out of the blue with someone just because I thought they were interesting.
posted by jason's_planet at 3:50 PM on October 8, 2009


A lot of people work really hard to disentangle their past from their electronic trail.
posted by MoreForMad at 4:00 PM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


There's absolutely no good reason to disclose to anyone what you found out. There are plenty of good reasons not to mention it.
posted by aroberge at 4:00 PM on October 8, 2009


It's more that I find this professor very interesting and wonder what my classmates would think of this episode, and wonder if anyone knows more about it. Simply, I want to talk to people about it primarily about of curiosity about the professor.

This is gossip, and gossip is pretty much always ew, and often harmful. It's also none of your business, so no, you shouldn't talk about it.
posted by rtha at 4:01 PM on October 8, 2009


Geez, leave the guy alone. He's already paid for what he did and has rebuilt his life. You want to tear that down because you admire him and can't resist talking about him? Don't be immature. You can resist temptation and you should. Maybe when you've had your own major career fuck-up you'll find it easier to keep your mouth shut.
posted by i_love_squirrels at 4:03 PM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


wonder what my classmates would think of this episode = want to see their shocked faces when I get to tell them the juicy gossip.

You know the answer. Don't do it.
posted by ishotjr at 4:03 PM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Have you ever watched Mad Men? *spoiler* There is a scene where some young hot shot tried to blackmail the main character because he has a past like your professor. He tells two other people in the company and ends up looking foolish because no one gives a damn.
posted by slow graffiti at 4:05 PM on October 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


I have a professor whom I like and admire very much.

Are you sure? Because dredging up someone's past sins and spreading the news around isn't something you do to someone you like and admire.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 4:05 PM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Please mind your own business.

An additional big serving of taters will be much too filling.
posted by jgirl at 4:09 PM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


What everyone else said. It's none of your business. What you want to do is gossip - and while it may seem harmless to you, gossip always ends up hurting somebody.

You must have done something you regret in the past, right? Something you aren't proud of, even if it's a small thing? Now imagine all your friends and colleagues talking about it behind your back, with you being the butt of their joke.

Don't do it.
posted by afx237vi at 4:10 PM on October 8, 2009


If he's done his time (or whatever) then, despite how you perceive it, the affect on him will only be to cause harm.

I am going to step beyond the question and suggest that, perhaps, you want to talk to someone about this because you need to do so to process this new information. In that case I would suggest talking to a counselor - someone who could definitely keep their mouth shut. Then you'd be able to discuss this info and what it means without worrying about harming the professor or harming your own reputation.
posted by zippy at 4:26 PM on October 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


My reason for telling anyone about this would not be that I am afraid of the professor, or to get the professor in trouble, or because I think the professor is hiding this from the administration, or anything like that. It's more that I find this professor very interesting and wonder what my classmates would think of this episode, and wonder if anyone knows more about it. Simply, I want to talk to people about it primarily about of curiosity about the professor.

"No, you guys, you don't get it. I didn't tell you all so that Professor would get a shitstorm of hell from everyone who he has to come into contact with, I just did it so we could all talk about it. Y'know, for lulz. The shitstorm was just an unforeseen side-affect, which come to think of it, would have totally been foreseeable if I had actually thought about it for even the tiniest fraction of a second. Oops. My bad."
posted by 23skidoo at 4:26 PM on October 8, 2009 [4 favorites]


On the other hand, I do not want to shame this professor or cause him trouble.

So don't.
posted by pompomtom at 4:36 PM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


You're also discounting the possibility that his chair and the other faculty DO all know about this and may have protective feelings towards him...particularly if his decades-past actions are viewed as the consequence of untreated mental illness (treatments for illnesses like bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and depression were still in the medieval stages 30 years ago). Don't make yourself the asshole by bringing it up for lulz.
posted by availablelight at 4:49 PM on October 8, 2009


...that I find this professor very interesting and wonder what my classmates would think of this episode, and wonder if anyone knows more about it.

I understand your instinct to chatter about this, but you should relish keeping it to yourself.

-
posted by General Tonic at 5:03 PM on October 8, 2009


You know the answer FFS. What you were looking for was someone, just one, to tell you to go ahead and indulge your craving for gossip.
posted by fire&wings at 5:11 PM on October 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


longdaysjourney--- that's exactly what I thought it was. OP, I suggest you not agree to any of his experiments involving isolation tanks.
posted by parkerjackson at 5:15 PM on October 8, 2009


There's another possibility, which is that this revelation is bothering you. Maybe the prof's a role model of yours and your faith in him is shaken — or even your faith in the whole department or field, since they hired the guy despite his past. Maybe you spend a lot of time around him and aren't sure you trust him anymore. Maybe you're angry about having him in a position of authority over you, or scared that his mental illness could recur, or that something similar could happen to you.

In that case you should talk about it with someone, but definitely not anyone in your department. Therapist? Sure. Priest? Fine. Family? If you trust them not to overreact. Friends? If you trust them x20 and they're totally unconnected to the department in any way. But for fuck's sake, don't bring it up with your classmates.
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:00 PM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Do not let nosiness take precedence over decency. MYOB.
posted by Nameless at 6:01 PM on October 8, 2009


Think about it as if it was you - you screwed up, paid the price, moved on and bettered yourself, and thirty damn years later someone wants to harass you with stuff you moved wayyy past a long time ago.
What's done is done. nNot only is it none of your business, but it's damn uncharitable to want to being this man's demons back to him.
posted by Billegible at 6:30 PM on October 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


Mentioning it at all would cause some level of harm. Not mentioning it would not.

QED
posted by Captaintripps at 6:36 PM on October 8, 2009


I don't think there's anything wrong with the *desire* to gossip about/discuss this guy. It's human. Don't feel bad about it. I feel like a lot people are being unfairly judgmental about your question. It doesn't sound like you look down on this man because of this, but rather are curious and kind of impressed. I mean, how did he completely turn his life around like that? We could probably all learn a lesson from him.

What you learned was shocking and, quite frankly, sounds like a fascinating story -- and it's about someone that you not only know but look up to. Who wouldn't want to talk about something like that???

However, I agree with nebula that you should only talk about this with people who absolutely don't know this professor. *Especially* if you're planning on going into academia yourself someday. It's a very political career, and if you offend one person it can have a hugely damaging effect on your prospects. And you don't want other people in your field to see you as a gossip -- even though I know you don't mean anything bad by wanting to talk about this.

And it would be hurtful of the professor to overhear or catch wind of someone talking about their "sordid" past -- unless he has come to terms with it in some type of superhuman, accepting way. It's not worth the risk.

But god, I would want to talk about this too. Some/a lot of people might see that as being nosy. But whatever. I'm interested in the stories of people's lives.
posted by imalaowai at 7:22 PM on October 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


Do you have a past?

Everyone does. Speaking as a professor, you're talking about a deal-breaking action. If you value your relationship with him, do what everyone here is telling you and keep your counsel.
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:26 PM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't think you should bring this up until someone else does first. I read this as he worked for the CIA doing clandestine work and the government helped him get off with a manufactured insanity defense. Almost an Ollie North type of character. I also think the professor was trying to disclose this information to the class. Why else would he tell about his job from 30 years ago? I would strongly suggest that the entire department's faculty knows this too. If he told his class about his government job, he disclosed it when he applied. Certainly the University does its due diligence. If they have no issue with it, neither should you. I am willing to wager a small sum that someone else in the class will bring it up before the semester is over. Patience is a virtue. Loose lips sink ships. MYOB, etc.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:48 PM on October 8, 2009


I understand your fascination, and can even see how your curiosity may be totally benign, but you should keep this to yourself. If your professor brings it up, then obviously you can talk to him about it. If someone else mentions it, you will have to weigh carefully whether you are engaging in a meaningful discussion or just gossiping. If you want, there would be no harm in discussing it with someone who definitely does not know the professor and whose world is unlikely to intersect with his in the future. If you truly do not want to risk causing any harm, just let it be.
posted by katemcd at 7:59 PM on October 8, 2009


STFU.

(I have never seen AskMe in such unanimity!)
posted by LarryC at 9:51 PM on October 8, 2009


Why on earth would you want to dig up the dark past of a professor you admire?

Some of the questions that get asked here really boggle my mind. I mean, seriously?
posted by alligatorman at 10:57 PM on October 8, 2009


Nthing keep quiet. Talking about someone's embarrassing past is not a way to demonstrate liking or respect.

Furthermore, someday you might have something you don't want people talking about. Something you'd like to leave behind. You will hope people who like you are charitable and discreet.

Which is what you should be doing.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:23 AM on October 9, 2009


You didn't even want to be associated with this question, anonymous. If you don't want that, wouldn't you think your professor would like some privacy about the things you are too embarrassed here to admit to knowing?

Treat others the way you'd like to be treated. Would you like something embarrassing from your past -- posted on the internet by others, and out of your control to eliminate it -- be spread around to the entire campus? No? Then don't do that to others.

If that doesn't convince you, consider that gossiping about this will most likely ruin you. The people who hear the gossip might enjoy it, but they will immediately lose trust and respect for you. Other professors will likely keep their distance from you. The professor in question may do his best to make your life hell. All of that is likely to be the price for a few minutes of being the girl/guy with the juicy gossip.
posted by Houstonian at 6:45 AM on October 9, 2009


If you're curious, and you don't think it's a sore subject, then ask the professor about the job and his experiences. If it's more of a morbid curiosity, then find a soap opera to watch instead of gossiping about someone's private life.

I doubt you're the first person, nor will you be the last, to "discover" this and think it's a juicy detail. It's up to you whether you want to make it part of your interaction with your colleagues and professor.
posted by mikeh at 6:48 AM on October 9, 2009


I can understand being excited about this new shocking information and wanting to share it with classmates, because that's the fun of gossip. And in a perfect world, you can tell anyone you want and squeal over it and speculate and at the end of the conversation you could wipe their mind clean and they would never remember it. But in reality, you can't.

In addition, if you are still entertaining the faintest idea of spreading this story around, think about how mortified you would be talking about this with a fellow student and generally being very silly and cavalier about something from his past, and without realizing it your professor was right behind you the entire time, listening.

Or if someone who you told before class raises his hand during a lecture and says, "Professor! Anonymous said you went crazy at some government job! What's up with that!?!". Imagine how ashamed you would be. It's not worth it.
posted by amicamentis at 7:11 AM on October 9, 2009


Nthing don't talk about it. It's just a bad idea.

If you absolutely must talk about it, why not tell a parent or sibling? You will get the gossip out of your system and if you do not name the professor or give details, it is unlikely your parent or sibling will pass along the story.

This is the not the best thing you can do. The best thing is to keep your mouth shut. But it's better than gossiping with someone in your department because the shitstorm will start if you do that.
posted by mmmbacon at 7:51 AM on October 9, 2009


You've gotten an almost universal "no" here, but I just wanted to add my voice to the crowd. Do not do this; it will almost certainly lead to a bad situation that will be traced back to you.
posted by lilac girl at 10:11 AM on October 9, 2009


You can talk to him about it. But it sounds like he made himself into a better man and maybe you should respect that achievement by shutting the hell up.

Someday you too will have skeletons in your closet.
posted by chairface at 1:23 PM on October 9, 2009


« Older Help-me-write-my-book-filter: ...   |  Where can I find Japanese podc... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.