Academics are famous for not knowing how to play nice. Perhaps being the hapless tot relentlessly tormented by the other kids in class—chased around the room, cornered, then stuffed in the trash can—renders future college teachers incapable of learning the social graces. Whatever the reason, I always get a big laugh when I read the call of yet another college president or, better still, a “public intellectual” for the hoi polloi to return to civil discourse and polite disagreement.
As usual these myopic hypocrites ought to get their own houses in order before telling the rest of us what to do. For in those hallowed and hushed halls of higher learning lurk society’s least civil members, the entitled professorate. Take my advice: should you ever stumble upon two academics in the heat of argument, hurling citations, references, and peer reviews at each other, turn and run as fast as you can in the opposite direction, lest you become collateral damage. For when the fighting escalates, trust me, you do not want to get caught in the crossfire.
Consider a recent debate between Professor Tihomir Petrov and an unnamed colleague, two mathematicians at California State University—Northridge reported by the LA Times. You’d think a campus devastated by a 6.7 earthquake had withstood the worst damage it could. Not so. When these two brainiacs got into it, what began as difference of opinion soon escalated into a pissing match of seismic proportions. And, ultimately, the arrest of one of the intellectual combatants.
The trouble began in earnest when Professor Petrov took matters into his own hands. In the dead of night, when no one was around, he launched the first of two stealth attacks. Stealing up to his enemy’s door, he grabbed his willy and let fly a steady stream of hot, steamy invective right at Professor Unnamed’s door.
In the days that followed, Professor Unnamed plotted his revenge, positioning hidden cameras to catch and record the next nocturnal assault. It wasn’t long in coming. Flushed with the success of his first foray, Professor Petrov reloaded at the local brew pub and once again deployed his chemical weapon at the doorstep of his foe.
Alas, the cameras caught it all…just as the anger had trickled out of him, Professor Petrov was caught bare handed, arrested and charged with two misdemeanors. “What about my First Amendment right to free expression,” the captured warrior was heard to cry as he was escorted in diapers from the campus.
So while I am in complete agreement with those who call for a measure of politesse in daily discourse, I am inclined to regard any advice in this regard from academics as something less than golden.
NOTE to readers: Even though the mommy bloggers would have you believe otherwise, their little darlings are not the first to be teased or tormented by classmates. When I was in kindergarten or the first grade, one sad little boy, Vance Toweler, was routinely dumped in the garbage can by a gang of bullies. I cowered in my chair, afraid to do or say anything lest I be next. This went on forever, with no intervention until one day Vance was gone. The teacher announced he and his family had moved to England. I hope he had nicer classmates there.