In one of my classes this semester, there is a student of approximately my age. We actually have the same rather unusually-spelled name that marks us as being part of a single generation. In class, she has trouble answering the questions and sometimes seems aggressively rude, but on other occasions she genuinely adds to the conversation.
She plagiarized her second paper. Blatantly plagiarized — copied one half from one website and the other half from another. This was after she had given me three successive stories about why she hadn’t turned it in on time. I caught her on the plagiarism and gave her a zero on the paper. Considering the blatant nature of the plagiarism, I would have had every right to report her to the dean had I chosen. I felt I was generous. So I was pretty astounded when I received an email from her admitting she had plagiarized but telling me that she has a lot going on with her four kids and worrying that she wouldn’t pass the class. I did not respond: Well, that’s why you shouldn’t plagiarize was all I could think of to say.
On the next assignment, she came and saw me. She gave me a rough draft. I suggested corrections. On her final draft, she hardly made any of the suggested corrections and did not really fulfill the stated instructions of the assignment. I gave her a 75%. In return, I received a very angry-sounding email about how she felt she was being “punished” for her plagiarism and how she had come in with her rough draft and I had still “punished her” and now she didn’t know if she should continue putting in “so much hard work” into my class [this was someone who shows up maybe 2/3rds of the time] because she thought she would fail.
I had to go take a walk before I responded because what was running through my head was “She would not dare do this to an older male.” I felt insulted. I felt almost like pulling her aside and talking to her as a woman. Instead, I wrote a very tactful response, which seemed to gratify her. And then she missed two out of three of the next classes.
Seriously, in what universe does she think this is okay?
In the universe I allow her to inhabit.
I’m still getting into the knack of authority. Perhaps as a consequence, I still feel trodden over a good deal of the time.
A few weeks back, I went through an ugly episode with Department Chair. The immediate situation was as follows: in June I was obliged to submit an activity report to the dean. Without telling me anything about the protocol for this submission, he became angry that I did not realize that I needed to submit to him rather than to the dean and then called me “frustrating and uncooperative” and said my behavior “was getting to be a problem.”
A close friend of mine had just lost a job similar to mine; contracts were not yet out; I started hyperventilating.
For a while, I had trouble understanding what I had done that was so “frustrating and uncooperative.” Certainly getting angered at me for not knowing how to submit an activity report or what he wanted on it before he told me seems a bit irrational. I imagine what really triggered this episode was much more complex. First, as I was informed by a female colleague who has also been on the receiving end of such attacks, before Department Chair became Chair there were some perceived negative feelings among certain colleagues, among them Very Friendly Colleague, about Department Chair’s competence. So he now might be annoyed by the way in which Very Friendly Colleague has taken me under his wing. Very Friendly Colleague and I both graduated from much more prestigious schools than Department Chair– and this is made something of a deal of both by Department Chair (“I come from a very different world”) and Very Friendly Colleague (“the market was so bad that this school got people like us”). Very Friendly Colleague had just presented a glowing report of my teaching to the Chair. And I had just successfully negotiated that contract after receiving the offer from Dream City University (throughout that process, Department Chair became increasingly convinced that this was Very Friendly Colleague’s idea and that I shouldn’t have “gone behind his back” in doing this).
I guess Department Chair was just re-establishing the pecking order. Still, it seemed like a rather elaborate show of force on a person’s whose job– and thus income and health insurance– were as incredibly fragile (and as incredibly dependent on his performance review) as mine is. I’m hoping that in acting contrite and in informing him of everything I do I have successfully downplayed whatever threat I may have caused.
But I don’t know if I have the authority to say that.