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Wednesday, September 11, 2019


I am back from New York, and as I anticipated, the opportunity to spend several hours teaching a group of bright undergraduates and graduate students has restored my equanimity.  This morning, while waiting At LaGuardia for my flight home, I had a chance to read through the many comments to my last two posts.  I am extremely grateful to the expressions of support, which mean a great deal to me.

A particular comment, by one of the anonymati, caught my eye.  Here it is:

Anonymous said...
Bob is not about to shut down this pulpit - every so often he likes to threaten to do so, in order that we will all tell him how much we adore him. Patterns, people: learn to recognize them.

To which the only possible response is, Well duh!  [Or is it doh?  I am never sure.]  The comment is presented as a snarky revelation, and yet nothing could be more obvious.  I take it this particular Anonymous is not an actor or a musician or a professional athlete or a university professor, or indeed anyone else who thrives on the applause of the crowd.  I have just spent several weeks following the U. S. Open tennis tournament on TV, and again and again I watched ferociously competitive players encouraging the crowd to cheer as a way of keeping their energy up.

Why on earth does Anonymous suppose I write a daily blog?  Not for the money, Lord knows, and at eighty-five, with my career more than a decade behind me, it is not in hopes of professional advancement.  As for such immortality as I may achieve, I leave that to my books.

Who among the academics in my readership will deny eagerly reading student evaluations to see what they say?  Almost seventy years ago, when I was an undergraduate, there were no official student evaluations, but at Harvard, the student newspaper, The Harvard Crimson, each semester issued the Crimson Unofficial Guide in which it reproduced, unedited and utterly unbalanced, undergraduate opinions of their professors.  Senior members of the Harvard faculty scorned such ephemera as infra dignitatem, but on the day that the Guide came out, they could be spotted slinking to the kiosk in the middle of Harvard Square to buy a copy.  I particularly recall the scathing pans recorded every term of a senior Government professor and Big Deal, William Yandell Elliott.  As you might expect, it was young Instructors and Assistant Professors who tended to get the most favorable reviews.

So, Anonymous and others, if from time to time, wearing my heart on my sleeve, I encourage the crowd to cheer, do not be surprised.

Now, as the preacher says in a Black church, can I get an Amen?


Paul Kern said...

Amen and Hallelujah!!!

s. wallerstein said...

Students often have to take a course as part of their general education requirements, for their major or as part of a graduate program. What's more, once you have signed up for a course and the semester has begun, it's difficult or impossible to drop it without losing the credit, unless there is another professor teaching the same course during that semester.

So a professor never knows whether the students applaud him or her or not, especially since it is in the students' interests to butter up him or her when they talk to him or her to get a better grade.

However, no one is obliged to read a blog or to comment in the comments section, and thus, the number of clicks and the quantity of comments are a fairly good guide to whether your work is appreciated by people or not. If people butter up a blogger (and that does occur), it's not to get a better grade.

Michael said...

I remember dreading my evaluations. For whatever reason, I never did get to see them throughout my brief time as an adjunct. I consider that merciful; I was such a mess at the time, mental health-wise, money-wise, etc. I'd hate to imagine the blows my self-esteem would've suffered. But some students were, eh, "kind" enough to give me feedback to my face from time to time...? :)

Anywho, "Amen." Internet cool points are like a drug. I'll leave it to someone else to substantiate that with neurological studies.

(And if you're ever in the company of Simpsons nerds, the preferred spelling is "d'oh.")

Dean said...

Per OED, either "duh" or "doh" will do, though "duh" is probably the better fit. Thus, the entry for "duh" reads:

"Expressing inarticulacy or incomprehension. Also (usually mildly derogatory): implying that another person has said something foolish or extremely obvious."

I believe you were after that "obvious" implication. The entry for "doh" reads:

"Expressing frustration at the realization that things have turned out badly or not as planned, or that one has just said or done something foolish. Also (usually mildly derogatory): implying that another person has said or done something foolish (cf. duh int.)." said...

Whenever I recommend this blog to others, I revel in the prospect of being thanked and lauded for the wise benevolence of my recommendation. But this does not preclude a worthier motive. It's hardly a singular foible of bloggers themselves to solicit appreciation of the value of their work by means of indirection. Rhetoricians on the side of the angels are entitled to whatever weapons in their arsenal.

Unknown said...

Amen you old attention seeker you!
I'm happy to see your in better spirits professor, and also happy to hear you read these comments.


decessero said...


Enam el Brux said...

Good to see you've bounced back.

[I find it increasingly difficult to bounce back from whatever it is I do, and I don't do anything.]

Charles Pigden said...

'Who among the academics in my readership will deny eagerly reading student evaluations to see what they say? ' Actually me. My experience of this it that people like and loathe me for the very same things. Hence feedback is not helpful. So I just check to see to see if my evaluations are generally favourable – if say above 80% rate me in the top two categories – and if they are generally favourable, I read no further. I only read them in detail a) if my ratings have slipped (as they do now and then ) and b) if it is not already clear to me what has gone wrong.

This not to say that I am not vain. What I do obsessively check is my citations

More generally, don't let mean-spirited critics grind you down. I greatly value your blog.

Hatch said...

Amen. Reading your blog is often the highlight of my day.

J. Fleming said...

Hi Professor...I just read your excellent book The Autobiography of an Ex-White Man.
Thanks for your transparency and in particular for your analysis of the history textbooks of Commager,
Morrison, Nevins and Bailey. I also appreciated your economic analysis of the fictional Smith and Robinson
families. Excellent thought experiment. Great reading list by the way.
All the best to you.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Thank you so much. You are one of a regretably small group of readers of that book. Delighted you found it helpful.

Tom Cathcart said...

I’ll give you better than an Amen. I’ll give you a Haha—-the Haha of recognition!