That’s ‘professor’ uptight to you

A private Facebook group for lecturers allows them to vent about entitled students and their rude ways

That’s ‘Professor’ Uptight to you

Photographs by Laura Mills

June Madeley is annoyed with the increasingly rude demands she gets from students at the University of New Brunswick in Saint John. Ten years ago, it was common for them to see her during office hours when they had a question. “Now there’s an expectation that we’ll answer their emails immediately and meet them whenever there’s a good time for them.” And as surely as the leaves pile up on campus each October, the communications professor knows her inbox will soon fill with complaints about mid-terms scheduled for the week after the Thanksgiving holiday. “There are a lot of people who feel they can’t make the exam because of travel arrangements,” she says. “And others who think it’s unfair that they have to study that weekend.”

But when Madeley gets frustrated, she doesn’t fire off a snotty email to the student. She logs on to “That’s ‘Professor’ Uptight to You, Johnny,” a Facebook group with 297 members, all of them teaching at universities and colleges. The members-only site is a place where university educators can vent in the form of steaming emails they wish they could write to their students but can’t because that would be, well, rude. Madeley, who says she hasn’t posted yet, enjoys reading the rants from her colleagues. The site is run by Khrystyne Keane, a Connecticut-based editor for a non-profit group, who took over its administration as a favour to a professor friend. The logo—a unicorn standing under a rainbow—is a jab at students, some of whom feel they are every bit as special as the fabled one-horned horse and the multicoloured arc.

The posts are all written to anonymous Janeys and Johnnies, but they share one trait: carefully crafted sarcasm. “Dear Johnny, I suspect that if you had spent as much time and effort on your last assignment as you did on the long flaming email you just sent me, this whole ‘conversation’ would never have happened,” reads one. “Dear Janey, I want to assure you that we didn’t do anything important in class. We just stared out the window for three hours in silence,” reads another.

Nothing riles a professor more than asking about material covered in a skipped lecture. But Joey O’Kane, a vice-president of the University of New Brunswick Student Union, thinks it’s no big deal. He also thinks it’s reasonable to expect email responses from profs within 24 hours, preferably 12. “Professors have a pretty good gig,” he says. “You put in some office hours, you teach for a few hours and then you end up with a decent paycheque, so taking 10 minutes out of your day to respond to a few emails . . . I don’t think that’s asking too much.”

Kevin Maness, another Facebook member from Eastern University in Pennsylvania, recalls a student who emailed him a couple of weeks after the last semester ended and asked if there was anything he could do to increase his grade because he had been “too busy” playing basketball. Incredulous, Maness wanted to shoot off a caustic retort. Long before he had even heard about That’s “Professor” Uptight, someone else had addressed the same complaint with a post that read: “Dear Johnny, Just tell me the grade you want and I’ll change it in the book, because it doesn’t really matter anyway.” After joining the group last month, Maness has found it to be “great group therapy.”

When Maness attended the University of Pennsylvania in the early ’90s, he accepted that professors would challenge him. In return for doing the coursework, he was rewarded with the grade he had earned. Now, if he hands out a C-minus “it’s almost like a complete shock to them.”

So why the attitude? In their book Lowering Higher Education: The Rise of Corporate Universities and the Fall of Liberal Education, University of Western Ontario sociologists James Côté and Anton Allahar say it started when higher education became purely a financial exchange. Funding pressures forced universities to accept as many students as possible, even those who weren’t suited to academics, says Côté. That crowds lecture halls with students who shouldn’t be there.

At the very least, one educator feels students should learn to mind their manners. At the University of Minnesota, law professor Michele Goodwin added “civility” to her course requirements this September. “Failure to follow this guideline will affect your final grade,” she wrote in the class syllabus, explaining that emails should include the basic salutation “Dear Professor Goodwin” and not “Hey Prof.”

She even assigned practice email as homework. “It’s a bit awkward for professors to think, wow, this is actually my job now?” says Goodwin, who blogs for industry publication The Chronicle of Higher Education, “but it’s necessary.” If the new rules don’t work out, at least she has a place to commiserate. The professor can always join That’s “Professor” Uptight to You, Johnny.


That’s ‘professor’ uptight to you

  1. That attitude certainly doesn’t translate well into the workplace, either.  I’ve been incredulous as junior engineers ask me, the vice president, to adjust meeting times so they can leave early on a long weekend. They don’t last long in my group.

  2. What with the cost of tuition nowadays, I’m sure many students view themselves as customers rather than pupils.

  3. The VP of the UNB Students Union has no idea what he’s talking about.  There’s a lot more to teaching a course than showing up to class, and most profs have more responsibilities than just their courses.  Some profs seem to never stop working except to sleep and eat.  There might be good reasons to expect profs to respond within 12 or 24 hours, but hours worked is not one of them.

  4. Oh, Joey, Joey; what a clueless lad you are!  I’m not a professor, but I work with undergraduate students on a daily basis, and I am amazed at what lands in my email inbox and on my office doorstep: “My class is too far to walk across campus” (it’s a 5-8 minute walk). “Hey, I need you to do (x)”.  “I emailed you this morning; why haven’t you responded yet?”  “I don’t want to take a class at 8AM.”  Last week a student wanted me to look up her class information for her because she was late handing in an assignment and didn’t want to “waste time” going to a computer lab down the hall to look it up herself.  A lot of our students work hard and I’ll give them full credit for it, but there seem to be quite a few that expect the university to adjust itself to their schedules and work habits, not the other way around.

  5. Something undergrads don’t seem to understand is that professors conduct academic research.  Teaching is, at best, 50% of the job for profs working at research universities.  Moreover, we spend a lot more than 10 minutes reading emails everyday.  I’m the course coordinator for 6 sections (approx 480 students) of a course I teach.  It’s not unusual for me to spend  hours in a day replying to student requests for illegitimate accommodations–e.g. I can’t write the test Friday at 10am because I’m going away for the weekend.  Many students are hard-working, reasonable young adults.  But there will always be that vocal subset of students whom you wish you could summarily expel from your class.

  6. It is not unreasonable to expect answers from professors within 12-24 hours. Not all university students skip class or have unrealistic expectations of professors. We are paying thousands of dollars to attend university to obtain an education the least they can do is be flexible and willing to work with us. When professors have office hours that are only 1-2 hours a week it is difficult for all students to meet with them due to large class sizes and schedules. There’s no need to complain wen your making a 6 figure salary, maybe a little flexibility and understanding will do.

    • six figure salary? seriously? not in my neck of the university woods.
      I have office hours every week. NOBODY EVER COMES. Yet students expect me to email them instantly, mostly with questions they could have answered if they’d bothered to look carefully at the syllabus.

      I don’t look at my email all day long. I have other jobs to do: prep classes, grade assignments, meet with students who can’t make office hours due to other classes at those times, read graduate student theses, write reference letters, rewrite the midterm exam for students who missed it due to unavoidable circumstances, find images that will be useful to illustrate the points I want to make in class… and then there’s the research part – you know, the other big chunk of any professor’s time: researching topics, reading primary source materials, translating materials (if they’re in another language), organizing research assistants, working on revisions of a manuscript that’s been submitted, preparing conference papers, writing preliminary drafts of other papers, collaborating with scholars from other universities, writing grants (most of the money will go to graduate students) …. and then there’s committee work: departmental and university wide committee work that ensures that university policies and procedures are followed the way they should be, that passes new courses for undergraduate and graduate students, listens to appeals when students have been caught cheating, etc.

      And you want me to sit in front of my email all day so that I can respond to emails within 12 hours? Not happening.

      I have some fabulous students. They are responsive and responsible. They take initiative in their learning and are always prepared for class. They make appointments to see if if they can’t make it to office hours and they are respectful. In short, they are building a professional relationship and these skills will stand them in good stead when they finish their degrees and take on full time professional positions. The rest of the lot? Not so much.

      Even if youu *do* see yourself as a client, it’s worth noting that private companies can refuse to take business of clients they find it difficult to work with.

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