An Exercise in Ass-Covering (Or, This Job Is Killing Me)

Posted on December 19, 2008

maskSo, I was sitting in my office yesterday, submitting my final grades for the semester, when noxious fumes began to emit from the ceiling vent above my desk. Thirty seconds later, I was feeling dizzy and spilled out into the hallway for some fresh air.

To my surprise, I bumped into a woman standing right outside my office door and wearing an expensive suit that practically screamed “Legal Professional.”

“Dr. Apropos?” she inquired.
“We just wanted to inform you that we’re performing some routine maintenance on the furnace today and let you know that you might detect a faint odor in your office as a result.”
“Yeah, I noticed. Are the fumes dangerous?”
“We don’t have any reason to think so, sir.”
“So, is this some kind of liability thing? Is the university officially informing me of the fumes to avoid any potential lawsuits in case I keel over due to exposure?”
“No, sir. We just wanted to let you know and see if you had any questions.”
“But the fumes aren’t dangerous?”
“We don’t have any reason to think so.”
“You said that before — and it’s not exactly reassuring.”
“I’m sorry, Dr. Apropos, but we need to speak to a few more professors in the building. Have a nice day.”

So, yeah…I imagine I have a few more hours to live (at most). It’s been grand!

Posted by Jess | Filed Under Tales from the Classroom | 7 Comments

Why they shouldn’t let me speak to prospective students…

Posted on March 1, 2008

Random High Schooler: So, what kinds of grad programs and professional schools typically accept students from your department?

Me: Well, in the last year alone, we’ve placed two students with Barnum and Bailey, one with the Ringling Brothers, and another at DeVry.


Me: Nah, I’m just yankin’ yer chain. The Ringling Brothers thing fell through at the last minute.

Posted by Jess | Filed Under Tales from the Classroom | 4 Comments

Either I’m taking way too much cold medicine…

Posted on February 26, 2008

…or there was a camel parked in front of my office building as I left work half an hour ago. Seriously, it was just hitched to a tree. Nobody around to supervise it, no “Beware of Camel” sign. It was just there — a camel in all its dromedarian glory.

As a paranoid academic, I can only wonder…is the university providing some other professor with a camel as part of his or her contract? If so, I’m totally renegotiating for at least a burro when I go up for tenure. Or maybe an alpaca.

Posted by Jess | Filed Under Tales from the Classroom | 10 Comments

The kind of thing I say in class to see if anyone is awake

Posted on February 25, 2008

From today’s lecture: “Little known fact here, but the 1984 film Ghostbusters was actually inspired by Britain’s post-World War II welfare policies. True story — it’s all in the DVD commentary.”

Posted by Jess | Filed Under Tales from the Classroom | 5 Comments

Tales from the Classroom: I’ve been punk’d?!

Posted on August 22, 2007

Another semester, another onslaught of bizarre student e-mail:

To: Jess
From: Barrel of Monkeys (
Subject: Yo!
i need to get int your class. LEt me know when you can add me as soon as possible.
James (aka Barrel of Monkeys)


To: Barrel of Monkeys
From: Jess
Subject: RE: Yo!
Thanks for the e-mail. Which one of my four classes do you want to add? Please attend the first meeting, and we’ll see if any seats are available for additional students.
Best wishes,


To: Jess
From: Barrel of Monkeys
Subject: RE: RE: Yo!


To: Barrel of Monkeys
From: Jess
Subject: RE: RE: RE: Yo!
Mr. Monkeys,
I’m sorry, but I’m not sure if I fully understood your last e-mail. Is Ashton another student signed up for the class? Why should I call him? Do you have his number? Furthermore, precisely what is involved in getting “punk’d?” Should I be concerned and/or consult a medical professional?
Please clarify.


To: Jess
From: Barrel of Monkeys
Subject: RE: RE: RE: RE: Yo!


Posted by Jess | Filed Under Tales from the Classroom | 10 Comments

The First Day of Class with Professors Goofus and Gallant

Posted on August 19, 2005

A student introduces himself and says that he is originally from Canada.

Professor Gallant says: “That’s excellent! I really look forward to hearing your perspectives on the topics we’ll cover this semester.”

Professor Goofus says: “Oh, I’m sorry. I’ll speak slower.”

Just call me Professor Goofus.

Posted by Jess | Filed Under Tales from the Classroom | 8 Comments

End-of-semester tips

Posted on May 7, 2005

What you say to your professor: “What do I need to make on the final exam to keep a B for the course?”

What your professor hears: “What is the bare minimum amount of work I can put into studying for your stupid exam?”

Oh, and we’re also well aware that using Arial or Courier New instead of Times New Roman artificially inflates the length of your written assignments, so you can cut that out while you’re at it.

Posted by Jess | Filed Under Tales from the Classroom | 6 Comments

God Save the Queen

Posted on May 5, 2005

As one of my students handed in his final exam this afternoon, he told me that my horrendous impression of the Queen of England earlier this semester was the funniest thing he’d ever seen a professor do.

Meanwhile, not a single student complimented me on my up-to-the-minute coverage of the British parliamentary elections.

Note to self: replace lectures on Great Britain next semester with a weeklong comedy routine about the Queen of England.

Posted by Jess | Filed Under Tales from the Classroom | 5 Comments

Congo line

Posted on May 2, 2005

I’ve read over 4,000* essays about the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the past 24 hours. With roughly 190 sovereign countries around the globe today and 50 students in my class, where are the reports on Djibouti? Or Liechtenstein? Or this “Canada” I’ve heard so much about?

*Admittedly, a rough estimate.

Posted by Jess | Filed Under Tales from the Classroom | 6 Comments

Always the last to know

Posted on April 27, 2005

So, I’m on a surprise day off today. By “surprise,” I mean that when I began my lecture on Monday, a student raised her hand to ask if class was canceled on Wednesday.

“Uh…not that I’m aware of,” I replied.

“Wednesday is Honors Day,” she informed me. “All afternoon classes are supposed to be canceled.”


“Yes, really. Doesn’t anybody tell teachers these things?”

“Apparently not. Wow…no class on Wednesday. That’s honestly the first I’ve heard about this. You’re not just jerking me around, are you?”

“Nope. It’s on the university website and everything.”

“Okay, er…I guess class is canceled on Wednesday. But that means we’ll have to take time away from the final exam review I had planned for next Monday to finish the material we’ll miss.”

“Can’t you just put the lecture notes online instead?”


As usual, I’m completely out of the loop and left looking like a dorkus-malorkus in front of the class. Anyway, the upshot of the story is that I have a surprise day off today. Woo-hoo! Unfortunately, it’s going to be spent grading essays. Aww…

Posted by Jess | Filed Under Tales from the Classroom | 6 Comments

If a vampire can teach kids how to count, surely I can teach them about politics…

Posted on April 25, 2005

There’s nothing more fun than teaching class in the middle of a thunderstorm. Take last Friday, for instance…

Me: The Cental Asian Republics also represent a significant security threat to Russia in the sense that their relatively weak border control creates a potential entry point for terrorists into the Russian state.

*massive thunderclap*

Me: Wouldn’t it be great if I could get a dramatic thunder effect every time I mentioned terrorism? I feel like The Count from Sesame Street. “One! One terrorist sneaking across the Uzbeki border! Ha ha ha ha!”

*students chuckle*

They have no idea who Carl von Clausewitz is, but at least they’re familiar with the work of Count von Count.

Posted by Jess | Filed Under Tales from the Classroom | 2 Comments

Chugga-chugga-chugga-chugga, whoo whoo!

Posted on April 14, 2005

The other day, I experienced an awkward coincidence of Seinfeldian proportions. I was hanging out in the departmental lounge, idly chatting with a fellow graduate student. I don’t recall the exact details of our conversation, but one of us made reference to “jumping on board the dissertation train” — at which point I punctuated the comment with the appropriate train sounds. You know: “chugga-chugga-chugga-chugga, whoo whoo!”

Just as I made the “whoo whoo” whistling sound, however, I looked over my shoulder to see one of my students — a female student — walking by the open door of the lounge. Hearing the whistle, she turned around to look at me, gave a half-hearted wave, and continued on her way. At first, I thought nothing of it. Then, I began to wonder — did the student think I was whistling at her? Could my innocent interpretation of a train whistle have been misinterpreted as a sleazy come-on? Not good. Not good at all. Plus, it’s not like I can go out of my way at this point to assure her I wasn’t whistling at her, since that would be even creepier.

Either way, I’m expecting a letter from the dean to arrive in my mailbox any day now reminding me of university’s sexual harrassment policies. What would George Costanza do in a situation like this?

Posted by Jess | Filed Under Tales from the Classroom | 14 Comments

Mmm… bicameralism

Posted on April 7, 2005

Whenever I find myself teaching legislative politics, I can’t help but think back to a class presentation delivered by a fellow student back in my own undergrad days. He was discussing the U.S. Congress and its two-house structure, but instead of referring to it as a bicameral legislature, he kept mistakenly pronouncing it as “bicaramel.” You know, as in caramel candy — only with twice the caramel, I suppose. He went on to repeat the gaffe about a zillion times over the course of his ten-minute presentation. Now, whenever I cover the U.S. Congress or British Parliament, their “bicaramel” structure is all I can think about.

New bicaramel legislatures — a delicious form of government, now with twice the caramel and a crunchy nougat center!

Posted by Jess | Filed Under Tales from the Classroom | 8 Comments

The underlying mathematics of spring semester

Posted on March 4, 2005

I’m a social scientist, so it’s an important part of my job to quantify complex social phenomena. To that end, I’ve developed this formula to explain class attendance:

Friday + 2:30PM + First class after exam + Sunny, 65 degrees = usual attendance/2

When does Spring Break get here?

Posted by Jess | Filed Under Tales from the Classroom | 8 Comments

More Dull Kombat

Posted on February 23, 2005

How better to explain the concepts of power and deterrence to my students than with veiled threats of physical violence? Here’s a brief tangent from today’s lecture (reproduced to the best of my memory):

“When it comes to this classroom, I’m the one in charge — the big cheese. I’m also a realist. There’s only one of me and there are nearly fifty of you. If you guys decide you’re fed up with the way I teach or just tired of the way I look, there are more than enough of you to overpower and remove me. I’m not going to lie to you, though; I’m a pretty good fighter. Sure, you’ll probably manage to take me down eventually, but when the smoke clears, there are going to be plenty of bruised egos and more than a few broken bones. On the other hand, if I started bringing a knife to class…”

Trust me — it just goes downhill from there.

Posted by Jess | Filed Under Tales from the Classroom | 8 Comments

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