Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Academic Dis-course

Good lecture last night on politics and novels--really smart about defining what we mean by politics and where we look in novels for political statements, especially in novelists whose work seems apolitical or, at least, less overtly political.

But I'm not here to report on a good lecture. I'm here to register my anger. Our department has someone who insists on asking brutally tough and vicious-sounding questions at lectures. I have no problem with asking tough questions; it's mainly the confrontational tone, the absolute failure of tact and respect I'm sick of. For example:
  • If you're going to ask a question, ask one. Don't ask three with your pitch and volume rising throughout, so the first question gets lost in the mix (and is often incoherent to begin with).
  • If you're going to accuse someone of misquoting, why not say, "I remember this quote differently. Are you sure that's how he put it?" I don't recommend beginning with, "You misquoted so-and-so." Though when it turns out that your accusation of misquoting is wrong ("would you like the page number?"), I do have the pleasure of hearing you shot down.
  • If you're going to be the first person to ask a question, don't immediately leave after the speaker has answered, whether you have a good reason to leave or not. (Letting your dogs out five minutes earlier than you would if you stayed for the whole q-and-a is not a good reason.) It makes you look petty and as if you're trying to draw attention to yourself.
  • If you're going to ask a question, don't yell. In fact, you don't even need to raise your voice at all.
  • If you do choose to stay after asking your question(s), don't talk through the entire rest of the q-and-a so other audience members can't hear. You may not be aware, but not only is everyone else being civil, you're supposed to be modelling professional behavior for graduate students. Does your incessant prattling mean I can take your class and talk during your lecture or during someone else's presentation? Can I pretend to authority by aggressive disagreement? Can I abruptly leave?
  • If you have a question, please decide what it is before you ask it. When you claim to have three questions, but really you have one question that you keep revising as you speak, it makes you seem incoherent. And the thing is, we know you're not incoherent. We know you're otherwise articulate and intelligent.
My least favorite defense of this person is that he/she doesn't actually hate the speaker, he/she simply feels it's his/her role to ask tough questions. But if the role a) doesn't accurately represent civil academic discourse and b) doesn't accurately represent how one might critically respond to a peer's work in terms of the content, you don't push forward the intellectual inquiry the university offers, you stunt it by drawing more attention to yourself than to the ideas. So please--be civil, be polite, be respectful.


Coral said...

Hmm...I'd wondered how that lecture went. Who could this rude person be? I have an idea, but mentioning names might be too, er, dramatic. Should've gone, but won't let myself do anything "fun" until I actually get some work done.

(P.S. I found your blog linked on Chickywang's page. Look me up if you wish, but I haven't posted to my blog in a year.)

Crazy Little Thing said...

Thanks for stopping by. We don't name names here, if only out of respect for our flimsy anonymity. But where's your blog? Me not able to find. Me not smart with internets.

Crazy Little Thing said...

Nevermind. Me figure out internets.