Situation Ethics

The Chronicle of Higher Education recently published a piece entitled, “How Do You Get Professors to Respond in the Summer?” (May 10th online).  As helpful as this essay is, it omits the most potent strategy for producing an immediate faculty response:  using a panic-inducing falsehood to get the recipient’s attention.

Along these lines, here are five email messages that experienced department chairs swear by:

Accusation — “Dear Todd:  I was visited yesterday by a female student who was in your Romantic Poetry seminar this spring, and she had quite a story to tell.  It included photos.  Could you contact me when you get a chance?  I’d like the two of us to chat before I turn the matter over to Campus Police.  Thanks.”

Pay Cut — “Hey there, Millie:  The Business Office informs me that your salary is going to be reduced by 14% for the 2023-24 academic year because you missed the deadline for submitting your annual report to the Dean.  Were you aware of this?  We should probably talk.  Stop by my office the next time you’re on campus.”

Misrepresentation — “Dear Ajani:  I received an anonymous letter yesterday claiming that you are not Nigerian but Portuguese.  A 23andMe report with your name on it was attached, and it appears to support the claim.  Given that you head our Ph.D. Program in African Studies, we could have a problem here.  Please make an appointment to see me as soon as possible, and bring a Q tip with you so we can do a DNA swab.  Hope you’re having a good summer.”

Course Load — “Hello Tanya:  It looks like your senior seminar on Hemingway’s cats only has 3 students registered for the fall, so we’re going to have to cancel it.  In its place you’ll be teaching a Core Curriculum course on lust as a metaphor in the novels of Nora Roberts.  Its current enrollment is 175 and counting, so there’s no chance of this one tanking.  Let me know if you have any questions.  I’m working on getting you a teaching assistant, but no guarantees.”

Plagiarism — “Hi Glen:  Hope your first year as an Assistant Professor was a rewarding one!  Quick question:  I just got a note from Neil deGrasse Tyson saying that a chapter of your dissertation was copied, virtually word-for-word, from an article he published in 2015.  Your thoughts?  Let’s talk before he goes public.”

The Takeaway:  When you meet with them, your faculty will be so relieved to find out that you were simply engaging in harmless “fake news” that they will be more than happy to accommodate your actual summer request.  And they’ll appreciate your sense of humor. 

Okay, it’s time to go sit on your deck and have a tall glass of lemonade.  Don’t forget sunscreen.