Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Down the hatch

The drinking was a problem, as I saw it. The whole point of some of the impromptu faculty get-togethers was to allow certain members of the department to get a buzz on.

When you're an adjunct hoping to work your way into the full-time ranks, you try to play the reindeer games. You knit everyone a Christmas scarf. You buy birthday and sympathy cards. When someone's out for surgery, you step in and guest-teach a class or two. You go to the going-away parties and you chip in for the shower gifts.

It's a delicate dance, trying to act like you're part of a group that you're really not part of.

So if you're not a drinker and your boss pops her head in the office and says everyone's meeting at the pub at 5, what do you do?

I went a few times, hoping for a little collegial fun. But there wasn't much happy at these happy hours. Everybody drank fast and with fervor. Tongues loosened by alky-hawl, they tore into students--naming names and gossiping like little old ladies at a mah jongg table--and then they ripped into whatever profs hadn't come along. Now you know I like me some juicy tidbits, but I got uncomfortable at some of the vitriol (I didn't always agree with their asseessments) and I knew that if I weren't present, I'd probably be getting the red-ear from all the sniping being done about me in my absence.

The department chair was never in a good mood at these after-work tipplings. Personally, a divorce weighed heavy on her. Professionally, she was on a constant trawl for money to feed into her department. This new tack--every department on campus raising its own budget money--made her dollar-crazy. She always wanted to know who the wealthiest students were among the new majors and if we thought their parents would like to pour some shekels into the department's coffers. She got loud when she drank, too.

Pub time would extend into dinner time and the drinking would continue. I'm not a drinker. I think in the past year I've probably had three glasses of wine and one margarita. It just doesn't interest me. But dept/chair liked her cocktails and she could really put them away.

Drinking with co-workers has always made me hinky. In the early days of my journo-career, my colleagues would repair to a crummy Manhattan dive called Fleet Street. We'd occasionally run into Jimmy Breslin there, which was enough of an incentive to frequent the joint. But the bar also sold cheap beer and had free eats, including the worst Swedish meatballs ever made. I didn't drink much then either. And I never had the same respect for my married boss after I saw him get liquored up after work and hit on the woman who sat at the desk next to mine. I just went along to go along. And to maybe share a "howya doin'" with Jimmy.

As my years as an adjunct ticked by, I stopped going along so much. Some profs seemed to be drinking more and earlier in the afternoons. Stories from students about how much this prof or that one boozed up filtered back to me. On one school-sponsored trip to NYC, one of the profs got so blotto, two students had to help her stumble back to the hotel. One of the girls was under 21 and was so fritzed out by how much the prof/chaperone drank, and how she wrangled students into drinking along with her, the girl called her parents, who offered to let her fly home immediately. This same prof showed up one semester with her arm in a cast. She'd gotten blitzed and tripped over a fireplug, a story she didn't seem to mind sharing.

"Who here likes to drink?" asks one of the department's tenured teachers on the first day of classes. When students raise their hands, she says, "You guys will be my favorites. I like to drink."

Another teacher routinely holds evening classes at a nearby pizza joint that serves beer and wine. She doesn't mind if students drink during class sessions there. She does, too.

One of the kids in my class went to a study-abroad thing this summer. A pair of married profs were in charge of the program and one weekend took some of the students to Amsterdam. "They smoked out right in front of us!" the student told me. "I guess they thought it looked cool."

I don't think this is cool. But I'd like to know what you think. What are your experiences, either as student or teacher? When does drinking with colleagues or in front of students go from casually cool to uncomfortably crude? Post your musings. I really want to know.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I attended a California state school where the profs were on a first-name basis with their students. At the end of the quarter one of my classes ended with a casual grill-out. Beer was flowing freely. I was underage and I know my prof was aware of that, but he never said anything as I drank right alongside him. None of us got sloppy drunk (including the prof) and we all had a good time. I still have fond memories of that night. Thankfully I never saw a prof get blitzed at a party. That would have been pretty pathetic.

8:31 PM  
Anonymous Tina said...

Your post rings true to my experiences in grad school. I had a prof that drank wine in her office and always has migraines (aka was hungover). She held classes at places where we were almost expected to drink and if we didn't, she openly criticized us. When she drank she expressed her true opinions about students, even with other profs and the student at the table.

There were happy hour meetings and parties at her house and I didn't attend because I tend to lose respect for people after watching their behavior once they've hit the bottle.

In my experience, alcohol is a requirement at every get-together. Bleah.

8:32 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

At my undergrad, profs were top notch. It was a very intense place but socially liberal. I knew no booze hound profs. I took a senior seminar that was quite unique. Only half a credit, everybody met at different student and prof homes, once each week to discuss a book. That was it. The host supplied food, sometimes wine and beer (as seniors we were all 21). We once met in a bar. Drinking was always optional, and no one ever got drunk or even tipsy. I'd call it adult drinking, but maybe mature is more accurate. A great experience overall. I still love to think about that class. It was everything academia was supposed to be.

Contrast my grad school experience. I knew of more than one prof who kept a bottle in their drawer. I remember trying to "keep up" at a faculty/grad student party at a profs house. Ugh. Lots of drinking there.

9:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm female, and I work with all males (for the most part). All of my bosses are males. All of the people who work for me are males. Now, I don't think that there should be different treatment based on gender in the workplace. However, I have never felt comfortable "tying one on" with the guys. Ever. They tie one on fairly frequently and I always feel very guarded. Not because I'm afraid of what they will do, but rather because I am concerned about how I will act and whether I will be perceived differently.... less strong, less respectable, less "in charge"? It just seems like it would make for a very bad situation.

9:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a grad student I was always a bit uncomfortable at the semi-social and supposedly optional "let's continue this class discussion at ________ bar" -- some profs only did it at the end of the class, bought food for everyone and left early... while others bought a pitcher of beer and stayed until well after I had to go home.

I suppose one of the things that made me uncomfortable was the expectation that I would drink... coupled with the fact of my 60 mile drive home afterward. The other half was the idea that somehow my stature in the department hung on whether or not I could go to these outings --

9:59 PM  
Blogger Yvette said...

This isn't about professors as much as a comment on our society, particularly at the college level, regarding underage drinking. Does it ever bother anyone else that you're not "supposed" to drink yet everyone's expected to "rebel" and do so anyway? Yet I've never believed if everyone rebelled against something it still made one a rebel, so I don't go out of my way to drink... that simple. It seems odd, however, that while a handful of my friends understand this the idea is forgien to most friends on other campuses. Just an observation.

11:42 PM  
Blogger Phoebe said...

I am a student at a private university. I had hoped to get a sense that the culture of binge drinking would be less prevalent here than at state universities.
Too many times, however, I've heard students brag, in the middle of the week, about how "wasted" they got last night.
Two of my professors this quarter started out the first day of class alluding to a time when they got "wasted" in a bar, as if this confession would win them popularity points.
I am so disappointed in those profs for not even pretending to higher standards than those of the binge-drinking students they teach.

1:30 AM  
Blogger Lonely Londoner said...

I don't drink at all. Well, almost not at all; I've gotten drunk about three times in my life (I'm 23) and I might drink half a glass of wine with dinner a couple of times a year. In the past year or so, though, any amount of alcohol has started to literally make me ill, so I've given up entirely.

Truth be told, it worries me a little bit, this non-drinking thing, because I worry that when I get a job, I'll end up being excluded by default to a certain extent just because I don't have an interest in alcohol and oftentimes drunk people like to be around other drunk people. For self-validation, I guess. Even when I was in undergrad, I was fairly popular in general but there was a level of socializing that was always closed to me because I didn't/couldn't drink like everyone else did. In the UK, where I live now, even more than in the US, there's a real "pub culture" and drinking with colleagues is entirely normalized, to the point where someone who's pretty much teetotal like me is actually maginalized. Though it's been pretty okay so far; mostly I just order my own Diet Cokes and wink when people ask me how much rum the bartender put in. I suppose there are a lot of people who think I'm a terribly articulate drunk.

I worry about binge-drinking profs, but then, I worry about anyone who has an addiction that affects social behavious and who is in a position of authority, or a position in which that person is meant to be a mentor. Mostly, though, I worry for their students, whose unhealthy behaviour is at best implicitly validated and at worst encouraged by an irresponsible binge-drinking prof. These days, many profs are acting in loco parentis to students who are fresh from their parents' homes and it can turn into a very destructive dynamic.

I'm lucky, I suppose, in that I've never encountered a prof like the ones in your worst examples. Though perhaps that's because those profs wouldn't have gravitated towards sober old me.

4:48 AM  
Anonymous Shelly said...

My opinion of public drinking hinges on the idea of self-esteem. I feel that being able to remain in control of myself of my behavior is the least that is expected of me in polite society. When I lose that control, I feel ashamed that I have broken my part of the social contract. That said, I have been on both sides of this debate. At a company holiday party several years ago, I got positively hammered. I didn't do anything more embarrassing than dance, which many other co-workers were doing, but I still cringe in shame when I think about that party. Now, when I go out with co-workers at a new job, I drink very little or not at all. And have gotten some strange looks or felt out of place. I think we all have to find a balance in each situation that we find ourselves in. As to professors drinking, I personally would have lost all respect for my profs had I seen them staggering drunk. The few times I was in social situations with professors when I was in college, they all drank a small amount and remained poised and articulate. I think it is an important point that profs are to a certain extent role models for their students and should conduct themselves as such.

9:16 AM  
Blogger G. Brooke said...

When I was an undergraduate, a small handful of the profs were 'way too familiar with the students: drinking, dancing, improper disclosure of personal info, etc. The department chair had a bad habit of sleeping with, then marrying, his students (he was on his fifth during my time).

This made me so nervous that, as a graduate student, I erected rigid boundaries between myself and my profs; so much so, that I think most of them never really got to know me (which I think makes it difficult for them to advocate for me on the job market).

I think it is awfully self-indulgent for a prof to pretend that the power relationship is not there, and to act like "one of the gang." Students can never forget where the power is, and in general would like to see the power in control of its freaking faculties.

9:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You know those stories that you heard from the other profs at happy hour after a few drinks? We heard the same ones and some. There are things I learned about some of the professors that never allowed to to see them in the same light again! I am totally fine with them having a glass of wine for our 'class at the bar,' but they took it too far many times!

And although I have enjoyed my fair share of happy hours (that last 5 or more hours), I always felt weird drinking with the professors during "class." And the one that I had sophomore year (before discovering the wonders of alcohol) that asked if we like to drink (which led into a story about how she was currently hungover from drinking an entire bottle of wine the night before), I never really did too well in her class, and I always felt it was because I kinda slid down into my desk at the question on the first day of class, while most of the other kids gladly raised their hands.

9:30 AM  
Blogger liz said...

My husband puts it rather well, socializing with co-workers means you're still at work. Don't drink on the job. He gets one glass of wine and nurses it all night. Or, if it's one of those parties, he gets a seltzer and lime in a tumbler with lots of ice and gets refills all night. If anyone asks: "Vodka and tonic"

Me? Allergic to alcohol. "Designated Driver." I say.

10:09 AM  
Blogger Rand said...

I have had positive experiences with professors in social situations when they drank responsibly and treated students as adults. With that said, not everyone entering college is ready for that nor does every professor I know drink responsibly.

11:07 AM  
Anonymous Hillary said...

My opinion -
We've got so many taboos in our society that the "no no no!" of one makes it more appealing. Pot, Alcohol, sex, lying.
Perhaps having an open eye to these things would make people less intrigued, you know? I mean, it's not going to stop by legal or soceital pressures, oh no.

I've never seen a supervisor or teacher intoxicated (except once when my Law professor accidently took 2 Vicodin instead of asprin right before class). But if I did, personally, I don't think I'd go straight to a bar and get wasted because we college kids are so 'impressionable'.
These teachers, your coworkers, are doing the exact same thing as you do in this journal and they are just more open about it.
Hm, both taboos.

12:00 PM  
Anonymous handworn said...

No professor I ever had ever showed up drunk or became unusually so in front of students at social events. My wife had a class at her seminary where on beautiful days and very much on occasion the professor would bring some beer and they would all sit around outside and talk about God. (Beer, of course, being living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.) But they were all adults, of course-- this was graduate school, not undergraduate.

So the fine point that interests me is this-- for you, is it a matter of the students being kids, more or less, or is it the clash of the inequality of the student-teacher relationship with the equality which drinking tends to promote?

12:05 PM  
Anonymous leslie in ca said...

Wow, I guess I've been lucky. All my undergrad and grad time has been spent in California, at state schools. I don't remember any of my profs ever talking about their drinking experiences. In one of my graduate seminars, we shared a bottle of wine among us at our last meeting; that was the extent of classes involving alcohol. At grad social events involving students and profs, I've never seen anyone (students or profs) get blotto or even noticeably tipsy. And I'm certain that none of my profs ever made statements in class encouraging their students to drink or treating it as a cool thing to do, let alone a mandatory one. I have to confess that I find the behavior you've described very disturbing, PP. Excess drinking is enough of a problem without professors actively promoting it.

4:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

top this--

I'm a high school student and at a Spanish Honor Society meeting at our teacher's house, she made us all margaritas and let us put baileys in our coffee... and then let us all drive home. talk about a message to send to teenagers!

7:20 PM  
Anonymous lucille said...

I teach in the CA system, and have to second "leslie in ca." I've never seen profs drink with the underage, and you have to get university permission to have alcohol at events -- added to which, the U. won't pay for it. At the small private liberal arts college I taught at previously, there was one big binge night where profs all drank with the seniors on the night before graduation. That seemed like an OK time for boundaries to be looser, but I definitely didn't want to be one of those middle-aged ladies dancing around with a lampshade on her head, so I had only a drink or two. The students went wild, but such is the privilege of (legal) youth.

8:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm currently an undergrad student. I was taking an EMT class last year for part of my Fire Science degree and the prof. hosted study sessions at the local bar, where just about every student drank. I actually found it pretty amusing- yes, I drank too. And I aced the class. =)

8:51 PM  
Blogger Chad said...

At the end of one spring semester, my fellow students and I invited our professor to the local dive for a post-semester drink. We had just finished finals and relief was desperately sought by all.

Our professor said he must drop off our blue essay books at his office and he would be on his way.

Half an hour later, we were sharing a drink and talking about various things.

We all had a deep respect for this prof, he was the co-chair of the English dept, and the kind of professor that makes you want to change your major to English.

I remember feeling so grown-up. I'd had plenty of great conversations with this professor during the previous two years, but something was different about this time. It was as if the wall had come down, and we were all invited into the inner sanctum.

We were all great students. I think it was most impressive because it felt like we were at last equals to our professor, as much as any student could be to their teacher.

It was, and is, a warm memory of my favorite professor.

8:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Drinking. I remember visiting my grandfather as a child. His second wife at the time, was 15 years younger than he. She was tall and model-thin with a sultry voice. She was also a drunk. In the middle of the day, she nurses a Scotch. After awhile, she slurred her words. Then the cursing began. At the age of 11, she quickly lost her beauty. She became almost monster-like.

At college years later, when my date offered me a drink, I said, "No." He was shocked and somewhat angry. This made me more determined to refuse him.

I wasn't trying to prove a point. But I'd seen the dark side of drinking. It was filled with pain, horror and fear. It was anything but fun.

10:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why is it that frat boys try to push liquor on their dates? Why is it that girls are so foolish to accept this behavior? Often the guys make the girls feel foolish if they don't drink. Can you imagine the hypocrisy? To make a young girl, barely 18 years-old, feel guilty about not sliding around on the floor, ankle-deep in beer. Or, crawling in the back seat and having sex with a complete stranger.

And why don't the girls simply refuse? Why don't they walk out of the room? Or, why don't they just drink a tall glass of ice water? Or a coke? It's easy. It's nice to feel in control. And it's nice to get all that attention. After all, you may be the only girl in the room sipping a non-alcoholic drink. Doesn't that sound adventurous? It's not only fun, it's gutsy.

10:51 PM  
Blogger SuperHolmie said...

I teach high school, so the chances of me drinking with my students are zero. I mean, ZERO. It will never happen. Ever. I have former students who have graduated from college, and I've been out to dinner with them at ages 22, 24... and still won't drink with or in front of them. I just... can't.

Perhaps this is because of my college experiences.

When I was in college there were several professors who routinely drank at the bars in town with students. I never went, never wanted to. Those professors always had an element of sleaze to them, and even though my grade might have improved if I hung out with the teacher, I was too afraid of seeing their drunken behavior.

On a college band trip to San Antonio, the director informed us that he knew we would all be drinking, and "I'll definitely be drinking", but to show up to the concert ready to perform. This guy was a jackass, and what we wanted more than anything was to capture his drunkenness on video. Alas, it did not happen.

One of my grad school professors routinely showed up for class snockered off his ass. He reeked of gin or scotch or rum; pick one. He always got right in our faces to converse with us. He got fired the next year.

I guess I felt embarassed by them, or for them. I thought their drinking with us/near us made them seem pathetic and sad.

Now that I'm out of college, and teaching, I drink a LOT. Mainly to stay sane. My colleagues and I do happy hour about once a week. We don't drink in the same town where we work, and we don't wear any kind of school logo t-shirt while we're out. We are loud and obnoxious. If one of our students happened to walk in while we were getting lit, I think we'd all shove the bottles and glasses under the table. We don't want our students to see this side of us. I flat out lie to them when they ask me if I drink. I also don't let them make any kind of reference to alcohol in class. I realize this is hypocritical, but look at how many high school teachers land on Channel 8 for less serious infractions.

Good post, prof.

11:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

During my undergraduate days, I did not really see the professors drinking, let alone socializing with the students that way. Now, graduate school was a different ball of wax. Get togethers at professor's homes, a gathering at some pub or eatery was not uncommon. The open bar at the student conference (my school held a student literary studies conference, an in-house affair) was present. Since I did not usually stay much longer than necessary, I spared myself seeing the worst as the drinking went on. I understand these are adults, but still, adults should behave accordingly. I do enjoy the occasional drink, but I pretty much never drink in front of coworkers if they go to some gathering unless they do as well. In other words, I would not order myself a glass of wine if no one else did for instance. On the opposite, if they do drink, I will get something, but make sure I take my time with it. I grew up learning a philosophy of moderation. Sure, you can have your drink, but why ruin a good time by letting it rule you? I found very insightful many of the comments here, and I usually post comments on my name, but this time, I think I would rather just share and keep the names out of it.

12:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been to a happy hour or five with my professors at the university you speak of. I also went to London with that married couple and was in Amsterdam the same weekend they were. They do not take the kids with them, they stay in different hotels and were genuinely terrified if they saw one of us. I think you are a bitter old professor that needs to lighten up.

4:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A friend of mine who went to WPI was walking down the street with his girlfriend and one of his CS profs popped out of a bar--at about three in the afternoon. He recognizes my friend, strikes up a conversation, and tries to hit on the girlfriend.

My friend was careful to relate this story on the evaluation forms that came around when this professor was up for tenure.

1:47 PM  
Blogger BlondebutBright said...

These are all very interesting stories, but the great majority of them seem to come from those that don't drink, and feel that they are in the minority for not participating - or those that simply have observed drinking behavior from somewhat of a distance.

Where are the comments from all of those hardcore drinkers that create such a culture in academia? Why aren't they commenting? This is incredibly interesting to me. Is there a shame surrounding this behavior, and if so, why does it continue so rampantly, save wide-spread alcoholism?

4:51 PM  
Blogger Greg - Cowboy in the Jungle said...

As a leader and a developer of young minds it is imperative that you provide a positive role model when it comes to alcohol.

Your model may be one of abstinance, moderation, or responsible boozing, but it must never be reckless and must never endanger the learning atmosphere by damaging your credability.

11:51 PM  
Blogger ding said...

i didn't start drinking until i got into grad school. then drinking became my best friend.

we drank after long seminars at ashley's pub; we drank after office hours at the brown jug; we drank after writing at the main street cafes. we drank with profs during the summer; we drank with the waitstaff at the posher restaurants; we drank at our own parties (15 Cosmos in one night! whoo hoo!); we drank right before grading papers; we drank after grading papers; we drank a little in the mornings to get us through professor R's boring-ass seminar and, when we passed our prelims, we drank for approximately 6 months straight.

we even showed up hungover to teach the next day and called it a 'workshop' day and crunched on aspirin while turning the lights down low. after graduation we'd drink with a few of our senior students and, inevitably, someone would make a pass.

fortunately, there was never enough alcohol to make seducing a newly graduated boy that appealing.

3:24 PM  
Blogger ding said...

(and if you think university faculty drinking is out of control, just go on a corporate weekend retreat. they can teach frats a thing or two.)

3:28 PM  
Anonymous Zash said...

My first real brush with alcoholism and worst brush was when I was a freshman in college. I took Japanese Fiction and Film which was once a week 6-9, I remember the time, because we never got out when we should have. The teacher, an old man who was both tenured and the head of my department, would invariably show up late and intoxicated. Because he was drunk, he'd spen 5 minutes finding the keys to unlock the classroom door, then ramble for an hour to an hour and a half about the late Yukio Mishima (a famous Japanese writer) and Mishima's widow before starting a movie that wouldn't end until at least 10pm. Then he'd chase us out and go home. He's have us write papers on the movie, but never gave us any guidelines or ideas of what we were to write about. And one class he took us down the street to a hibachi restaurant, where he proceeded to drink. Most of us did like to drink, but we were so disgusted by his drinking that we refrained from it that night and left as soon as we could without hurting our grades. None of us respected him at all, but we all knew there was nothing to be done about it. By the time we realized what we were in for, we were stuck in the class.

9:12 PM  
Blogger Charlie Gordon said...

I find that drinking with your supervisor usually leads to a lowering of your overall opinion of that person. Justifiably or not, once you see your drunken, married boss hitting on girls half his age at a bar during a business trip, you never want to ask his opinion on anything ever again.

Drinking with coworkers can be a good way to get to know them, when done in moderation. However, if there is a chance that you may one day supervise them, I suggest never drinking with them.

11:25 AM  
Anonymous hilltop grad said...

That dept. chair can really put it away...I've seen her in action on a school-sponsored trip and it wasn't pretty by the end of the night.

9:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Back in the 70s, a prof invited his classes to his Halloween party. I walked in, and besides wall-to-wall alcohol, the air was thick with pot smoke, and the prof was wandering around, offering all and sundry a hit off his bong. Disgusting. I lost a lot of respect for him. This was a school that had an enormous drug problem and to see a prof encouraging drug use among undergrads was demoralizing.

10:50 AM  
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12:00 PM  
Blogger pedro velasquez said...

No one at bet basketball Southern Methodist University knew for sure who The Phantom Professor was. The professor's blog, like those of many untenured academics, was anonymous and the university was never named. Sure, readers learned that the Phantom Professor's college had a lot of wealthy students, many of whom dressed alike, sportsbook and many of whom weren't particularly good writers. But that doesn't really narrow it down. And the Phantom's university was one where many adjuncts, like the author of the blog, felt invisible and ignored not exactly an unusual quality. march madness But at SMU, at least some students and faculty members (and the university's legal office) did become aware of the Phantom Professor and the many similarities between incidents at the Phantom's campus and at SMU. And in SMU's Department of Corporate Communications and Public Affairs, people recognized themselves and their colleagues. And word got around that the author was probably Elaine Liner, a popular writing instructor and a theater critic for a local alternative newspaper.

2:30 PM  

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