Anyone who had ever attended more than one college level course has run in to a particular type of professor that is completely taken with him- or herself. They are the type to mention what degrees they have, all their professional certifications, everything they have published (and often assign their work for a report), and anything else they believe it is important for you to know. They usually have the hardest courses that are actually easy to pass. All you have to know is the right buttons to push.
I had a few such professors, but two truly stand out. One I knew was arrogant going in to the course, but the other surprised me. She always came across as down to earth (except for insisting on being addressed as “Doctor”). I started to get an idea that she might be slightly enamored with her own accomplishments when I read over her syllabus. The was the usual course name and then her name, below which was an extremely long list of acronyms. There was the familiar B.S and Ph.D, but then there were many I did not recognize.
I made the mistake of asking what they all were. She got a gleam in her eyes and then spent launched in to a detailed explanation of each certification and endorsement. We spent most of the class on it. Many of my classmates shifted in their seats and looked a bit bores, but I sat in rapturous attention. I had an idea (and a theory I wanted to test).
It would be a little while before I could put my plan in action. Finally, we were assigned a paper to write and I had my chance. I spent more than my usual energy crafting an exquisite paper. Then I scattered a few non-sensical sentences randomly through my paper. I don;t remember all of them, but one was about purchasing mummies through a post office box in Schenectedy, NY.
She had a specific format she wanted our papers to follow (which I diligently followed). Our names were the firs thing on the paper. I placed my at the top of the page and then added a few, um, embellishments.
Beneath my name, I typed “HSG, CDS, HB, MTP, C.U.S.A.” I then turned it in normally, never saying a word or drawing attention to my addition. The next week, we got our papers back. When she handed me mine, she mentioned, “Leighton, I’m actually impressed, I didn’t realize you had any certifications or endorsements.”
“Oh, yes”, I replied, “But to be honest some of them were easier than others. Of course, this one took me four years to earn.” I pointed to “HSG.”
She seemed dutifully impressed and said, “Well, I’m impressed someone so young takes learning seriously. Good work on the paper as well.” I beamed.
When she moved away, a classmate next to me asked, “May I see your paper?”
“Sure,” I said as I handed it over.
She looked it over for a moment and then exclaimed, “You are such a liar! There is no way you have all these certifications!”
I made a shocked expression and said, “I have too! They are actual certifications that apply to me.”
“Then what are they?”
I went down the list, “High School Graduate, Closet Design Specialist, Human Being, Male Type Person, and Citizen of the United States of America. See, I’m certified.”
The best part of the experience? My little made up factoids did not get a single comment. My professor just wrote “Good Job” at the top and I received an “A.” I signed all my papers that way the rest of the semester (though I stuck to proper content from then on).
I used to always laugh about that experience, but times and added experience now gives me pause when I think about it. It is a funny story (about this there is no doubt), but it’s also a bit tragic. Like too many in academia, that professor allowed “impressive” credentials to blind here to the work I actually did. I now realize that we must all ensure that we do not allow someone’s background, level of fame, intelligence, or anything else we find impressive to overly cloud our judgement on their actions. By the same token, we must make sure that we strive to be men and women of integrity, thoughtfulness, compassion, and consideration. These are the most important endorsements. The degrees, certifications, and job title should come second.