Three odd negs?
December 28, 2013 1:31 PM   Subscribe

Lecturer's odd behaviour from the semester is still niggling at me, what was it about?

So. I'm not the most socially aware person, although I have made thousand-fold advances since going to uni as a mature student. In one particular class mid-semester, the lecturer kind of... well... 'picked on me' is perhaps the best way of describing it. In like a teenage/school yard fashion. Or maybe negging? I'm not sure. It left me pretty confused.

My class for his particular subject is very small, there are only 4 of us (2 males, 2 females) and that day the lecturer waited for the 4th person to arrive before starting class. This waiting is a regular thing because of the odd-shaped campus (as in, he wasn't pissed off by it or anything) and we all sort of chitchat together to pass the time. Anyway, the other female student mentions that a food from my hometown won an award, it was in the news. Everybody knows I come from hometown because of my pronounced accent. Imagine that the food = turkish delight, for example. I kind of laughed and went "Oh yeah, lol, that foodstuff is yummy!" But the lecturer suddenly said in a loud voice the equivalent of "It's just JELLY!" We all went quiet and a bit 'WTF?'

I said, still vaguely chuckling, "People think that, but it's actually different - still delicious, though!" And again he spat "I just don't get the fuss, it's just JELLY!!" By this point, everybody had a 'woah' expression, but the last classmate arrived and class started as normal. I brushed off what'd happened and got down to note taking.

However, this sort of odd butting-in / put-down happened twice more in that one class:

- The wind rattled the room's windows and he paused to secure the sash. One of the guy students commented that he was happy his house is so close to the campus, otherwise he'd be blown away on the walk home. We all laughed and I said something like "Yeah, imagine my [famously small car] on the motorway in this weather!" Lecturer responds with "Well those [famously small cars] rattle like tin cans, that's what you get for driving one."

- It is a class in medieval linguistics, and we were introduced to a word called 'goll' in relation to swallowing/coughing (I think, it's hard to recall). Lecturer asked if we knew anything about this word and I (stupidly) said "Does it relate to 'Gollum', from LOTR and how he coughed and hacked so much?" Which got him so riled up, I felt like telling him to calm the fuck down. The lecturer went on a mini-rant, saying "Tolkien was a fraud, a fake! And a plagiarist. He just stole whatever he wanted and wrote whatever"

At this point, even though he's been perfectly fine in previous classes, I think he's got serious issues. I just blank my expression and get on with the class. No engaging, not another peep, just listening and notetaking until the class was other. Classes for the rest of the semester with him after that went fine, probably because I literally walk in, take notes and leave. When I was ill, he allowed me an extension on an essay - but when I handed it into his office (looking like death ((I usually make an effort to look smart/put together)) and unable to speak, only snot everywhere) he kind of picked up the essay by its corner and went "Are you contagious? You can sit at the BACK of today's class..." Gee, thanks.

It's also probably worth nothing that the lecturer is in his early 30s, around my age as I'm also 30 (and female, if I haven't mentioned it). He's short (doesn't help though that I'm nearly 6ft) and he has - there's no other way of saying this - unusual facial hair. Think a typically 1930s villain twiddly moustache with, um, chin hair. Not quite a soul patch, definitely not quite a beard. If it helps, we call him the 4th Musketeer / D'Artagnan outside of class. He dresses 'normally' otherwise in jeans and jumpers. I don't know if his appearance + attitude are related, just mentioning it to avoid follow-ups.

Now, this issue isn't the end of the world to me or anything. It's just an odd situation I'd like for others to parse, as I've a feeling there was something going on that day, outside of him having a bad day, that I wasn't catching. I don't think he was over the line, just a dick. I have zero intentions of reporting him and I'm not traumatised, just honestly really curious. Strangely enough, I got the highest grade in the class! So, I'm more confused than feeling hurt or anything.
posted by Chorus to Human Relations (31 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I have to be honest and say that after reading this twice, I do not see the issue other than he sounds like a bit of a dick. Maybe being short with weird facial hair means he has a bit of a napoleon complex and uses small put downs to build himself up especially since your are taller than him. Maybe. Maybe not.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 1:41 PM on December 28, 2013 [6 favorites]

I'm not certain what the question is. He just sounds like kind of a jerk. I doubt it's limited to you.
posted by cecic at 1:41 PM on December 28, 2013

I know a bunch of academics, most are lovely people, and some of those are really weird. One of my favourites (I dated him for a year) thought he could turn around the meaning for racial slurs by using them as ordinary words. His (many) international friends seem to tolerate this (which is a pity because) - he ended up with severe (job security level) warning for racism. He is one of the sweetest guys I know, would do anything for me, but very clueless. That's where I put your lecturer. Small class, feels more inclined to reduce boundaries and speaks his mind. Weird but most harmless. Jokes very inappropriate especially with people he likes.
posted by b33j at 1:43 PM on December 28, 2013 [4 favorites]

Oh and my friend - he thought it was hilarious to grow a Hitler moustache to wear to his Pilates instructors 2 year olds birthday party, because he calls the instructor an exercise nazi. Like what? No, David, no!
posted by b33j at 1:45 PM on December 28, 2013 [7 favorites]

none of these things seem related to you - he just seems to hold strong opinions and likes to lecture on them. i don't think this is some sort of hitting on you thing if that's what you mean by wondering if this is negging.
posted by nadawi at 1:50 PM on December 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

This doesn't even seem that odd to me. He's just a crank. I'm sure it has nothing to do with you personally. I also would have asked a visibly snotty student to sit in the back of the class, because I don't want to get sick myself, for example.

Honestly, I've had way weirder professors than this dude seems to be. I'd put him out of your mind.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 1:51 PM on December 28, 2013 [11 favorites]

One of the professors who taught a similar, small required course in my graduate program felt that it was his job to intellectually "haze" us as students to some degree. This came, in part, from his work having been somewhat controversial years ago (though widely accepted by the time we came along), and he was used to heated argument to defend his theories. He wanted the same kind of argument from us as he shaped our young minds, but ultimately didn't get it because we'd all accepted the theories as truth long ago. When he didn't get a rise from us in course material, it would often turn to our crappy cars, our sense of entitlement, etc. It was infuriating, but ultimately his own personality and hang-ups on display. Sounds like you have a similar situation on your hands, and I wouldn't take it too personally.

Interestingly, I was a TA for the same professor not long after the class I found so frustrating, and he could not have been more kind or complimentary of my work. He also went to bat defending my research later on in the program. Again, it wasn't us personally he was fighting against, it was his own (misguided) sense that we needed encouragement to be more intellectually rigorous. I hope you find it's the same situation with your prof.
posted by goggie at 1:55 PM on December 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

It sounds like he's got some specific pet peeves and occasionally goes off about them. Annoying, maybe, but I don't think it has much to do with you personally at all.
posted by shattersock at 1:57 PM on December 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think that sometimes professors feel like they have something to prove when they are around the same age as their students; at least that's happened to me. So if anything, I'd go with that.

(Also, based on my understanding of Tolkein, he borrowed a lot from older linguistic traditions; your question about Gollum sounds totally legit!)
posted by mlle valentine at 1:59 PM on December 28, 2013 [4 favorites]

Agreed with others that the guy just sounds like a dick and it's probably not worth your time trying to figure out what his specific issue is.
posted by Broseph at 2:02 PM on December 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

So maybe what you're asking is; is there a sexism component to his dickery? Well, maybe; did he pick on the other girl? Did he pick on the guys at all? Could definitely be a height thing; some men can get really aggressive with women who are taller than them (which is definitely sexist) but again, there is no way to know for sure.

I understand your confusion, because sometimes when someone treats me in a way that is strangely hostile, I feel a need to find out why. Because most of the time, most people don't treat me that way, so the one that does nags at me.

You may never find out. If you stay in this program/on this campus you may meet other students of his and hear other stories, and that might give you a more complete picture. Or you might work with him/be in a class with him again, and see if anything is different.

I am not of the "socially awkward folks get a pass for being dicks" set, because I think it is the job of mature adults to learn how not to be dicks to people, especially those they are teaching/leading in some way. The way he talked to you was weirdly hostile, and even the other students noticed. You are right to be bothered by it, because it was uncalled for and unprofessional. He doesn't have to like you/want to be your friend, but he should be able to talk to you with respect, because that is part of his job.

Since he hasn't abused his role enough to give you a bad grade, you don't have to be worried about his ethics, at least, so I would just treat him like one of those dogs that sometimes plays with you and sometimes growls at you; with caution and from a distance.
posted by emjaybee at 2:12 PM on December 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

None of these comments sound personal. I've certainly had professors and academicians explode about their pet likes and dislikes. He's allowed to have opinions about small cars, local delicacies and Tolkien, and express them in class, even if those opinions differ from those of his students. I don't see why a professor expressing an opinion is unprofessional. He might be tactless, but that's hardly a rare quality in academia.
posted by Ideefixe at 2:24 PM on December 28, 2013 [5 favorites]

It sounds like he's one of those people who have "canned" arguments on certain subjects and are only waiting to be set off. It's not about you, other than you happen to be the one who mentioned some of these subjects. For instance on the first one, he obviously has some experience with your home town food, maybe a roommate or girlfriend was from there, and in a playful manner they used to have mock arguments about this food. You mention it, and he goes right back to where he left off - except you don't know this backstory and are left bewildered.
posted by 445supermag at 2:28 PM on December 28, 2013 [4 favorites]

It sounds like he.just.doesnt.get.the fuss.about.that.jelly!!!!!!!!! It's possible that someone he doesn't like much has gotten him really riled up over it in the past and the mere reminder of it put him in a funky mood with you for the rest of the class.
posted by misspony at 2:50 PM on December 28, 2013

If he's the worst professor you have in univ, consider yourself lucky.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 2:54 PM on December 28, 2013 [6 favorites]

You know, he might have just been having a crappy day and was in a bad mood. It doesn't mean it was personal, and it doesn't even mean he's a dick. For all you know his cat died that morning and he had a short fuse. Maybe the rest of the semester went fine because he returned to normal, rather than because you kept your head down? And if you were handing me something while you were awash with snot I'd also be fairly grossed out and ask you to stay away from me. Maybe he had an important event in a day or two and didn't want to get sick?

Basically, something I try to remember is that I'm just a bit player in other people's life stories. Most of the time, when something is up with them, it's up with them, because only my life revolves around me.
posted by billiebee at 3:00 PM on December 28, 2013 [5 favorites]

He sounds like a garden variety, poorly socialized nerd; except for the part about asking you to stay away from him when you're sick and being grossed out by the snotty paper, both of which seem pretty understandable to me.

Encountering lots of different human "types" is part of college. Sounds like this particular type of bad-social-skills-guy is new to you; but he won't be the last you meet.
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:07 PM on December 28, 2013 [6 favorites]

Your lecturer sounds like a curmudgeon who has a lot of complaints about a lot of things. If he was picking on you, this is an odd way to do it. You may be a little self-conscious about being the same age as him, but even if he really didn't like you, he sounds like kind of a weirdo. I would assume he's just awkward and not fret about it.
posted by AppleTurnover at 5:03 PM on December 28, 2013

well, be sure to put info in your student evaluations. i mean, your grade is not at issue, right?
posted by angrycat at 5:33 PM on December 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't know why no one is saying it. He sounds like an a&&hole.
posted by gt2 at 5:48 PM on December 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

It sounds like he is the socially inept one, not you. It also doesn't sound like a neg or anything personal to me. I know a guy like this. He has super strident opinions about all sorts of random things. He flips out on people for things like asking if he wants onions or mentioning pigeons (he was on a date once where he went on a rant about how they should all be killed... that was the end of that). He flipped out on me once about how I used soap. (Don't ask). He also sometimes acts like it is disrespectful, an affront, or a personal insult for you to disagree with his opinions which he believes are clearly right even when they are completely bizarre. I talked to his longtime best friend about it once, and she believes that he has autism.
posted by cairdeas at 6:06 PM on December 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

If it was just directed at you and never at the other students, it could be personal. Think about the stories we hear where a professor has a relationship with a student and so as not to look like he prefers that student he overcompensates by being extra tough, in grading and in oral discussions. It is possible that he has a private thing for you and he is behaving harshly so that nobody can see his preference.

(I totally made this up out of left field, but I still think it's worth thinking about).
posted by CathyG at 6:11 PM on December 28, 2013

Maybe he's just a jerk. If you have the highest grade, pick better battles.
posted by oceanjesse at 6:25 PM on December 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

This guy sounds a bit abrasive for sure, but he is not picking on you or negging you. Try not to take his comments so personally.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 6:57 PM on December 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

The only thing I can see is that in those anecdotes it kind of seems that you're turning a general comment into something about you. It's a terrible way to address it if that is what he's seeing, but that is the only way I could see this not being him being a crank.
posted by winna at 7:42 PM on December 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

Nthing professors can be really weird at times.
posted by smoke at 9:02 PM on December 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

There is a fellow I know of from online alumni forums for my small college. He is a college professor. I can easily imagine him making comments like you've recounted here. My take is that he is a bit of a bullying ass. There may be more to it than that, but i would'nt waste any more time trying to make sense of it if I were you.
posted by Good Brain at 9:09 PM on December 28, 2013

oh also if you're school eval system is anything like mine, your numerical evaluation of him will have tons of weight, as there are only a few students in the class. (like if you give him a 0 on a 0-5 scale).
posted by angrycat at 8:15 AM on December 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

None of that sounds personal. It sounds like he is kind of a grumpy dick, who tends to have a negative outlook/ is opinionated and likes to rant about things. Nothing you've said makes me think it had anything to do with you being female, or that you personally said those things, just that they are things he generally likes to gripe about.
posted by catatethebird at 9:56 AM on December 29, 2013

If he's only doing this to you and not any of the other students (especially not any other female students), then I think it's possible he's resentful of an attraction he has for you, possibly operating on a purely subconscious level. It also sounds like he has reasons for having hangups about his appearance and its palatabilty for the opposite sex, and encountering a woman whom he may possibly admire (hence the excellent grades you are receiving in the class) might feel like salt in that wound of insecurity for him.

I would be very curious to hear how your interactions with him go after the class is over.
posted by human ecologist at 11:39 AM on December 29, 2013

Does your school have those class/instructor feedback forms that are filled out by each student at the end of the term? If so, you might mention the things you've listed here, maybe with an additional handwritten note (usually allowed for on the back of the form) saying something like "a reminder about appropriate classroom demeanor and/or a refresher on people skills would no doubt be appreciated by his future charges."

The site can be axe-grindy, but have you looked on Rate My to see if has anyone has left any reviews of him that sound similar?
posted by blueberry at 6:22 PM on December 29, 2013

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