Saturday, March 16, 2013

How to Tell if You Are A Pompous Ass

I'm always interested in ways to step back and take an objective look at yourself. Especially since people are always saying I'm crazy. I need to be able to look at myself and apply some objective criteria to see if it's true. That's why I write articles like "How Crazy Am I?" I want to know. If you look at my Physics Blog, you'll see I've asked myself similar questions when I took an online Crackpot Test to see if I was...well...a crackpot. I scored 155. I don't know where that puts me on the bell curve, but that's what I scored.

But it has to go both ways. In response to the Crackpot Test, posted by physics forum moderator John Baez, I put up a test of my own: How to Tell if You're a Self-Appointed Defender of the Orthodoxy. If you're a frequent poster on internet physics discussions, you might want to try it.

What I've got today isn't exactly a test. It's just that sometimes people give themselves away inadvertently, and when you see what they've done, there isn't much doubt. Let's suppose you're a university professor and you're asked to be in charge of a grade appeal. Some student has been given an F on a paper and he wants to appeal it. You round up a handful of other professors, and the student submits his work. You find that there is no merit to his appeal, and rule that the F stands. The appeal is rejected.

However, the student is still allowed one final appeal before a Senate Committee. So two months later, you get an email from the committee chair, asking you to explain in writing the procedures used in order to arrive at your decision. You write back:

"The Education Departmental Review Committee (DRC) consists of eight faculty members who have many years of experience and relevant qualifications in both setting and grading assessment instruments at the university level. Members on the committee include experts in science teaching pedagogy. We met on October 3, 2012 to consider the appeal...

Here's the thing: if you felt the need in these circumstances to include all that stuff about how you have years of relevant experience and about being experts in pedagogy...then you're probably a pompous ass. I'm just saying.

I've posted Professor Appel's letter in full the other day. Although he goes to some lengths to crow about the eminent qualifications of himself and his colleagues, he is oddly silent about one salient fact. He and his committee did not read the term paper which was the subject of the appeal! To be sure, they re-read the final exam, which was also part of the appeal, but the exam was worth only 15% of the course grade. It was the F on the term paper, for 30% of the course, which was the real issue of the appeal, and for some reason the committee never even read it before ratifying the final grade!

Most significantly, at the time Professor Appel wrote his letter, he and his committee were painfully aware of this oversight. So it must have been particularly challenging for his to write a letter describing the procedures used in deciding the grade appeal while avoiding any mention of this not-too-insignificant point. You would think that an explanation of the procedures in deciding an appeal should have included some discussion of why it was not considered necessary to review the material submitted by the appelant, and how that decision was arrived at. On the other hand, he had no problem commencing his letter with a self-serving preamble in which he puffs up his chest and proclaims his own importance.

But I guess that's what you do when you're a pompous ass.


  1. You might want to revise your title-- I think you mean "How to Tell if *You* Are" etc., etc.

    Went back and read the linked article & the linked essay. Let's see-- as far as I can make out, you wanted the UofW to give you a teachers' certificate. You then proceeded to piss off most of your professors, write an essay for a course that was supposed to consist of self-reflection & instead took pot-shots at the assignment itself, the provincial math curriculum, another professor, and (for good measure)the president of the university-- and excused yourself by citing your ethnic connection with an iconoclast. Full marks for chutzpah; but no surprise that you were turfed from the course!

  2. Yes, it was a surprise. I didn't think they could kick you out of school for something you wrote on an essay. Especially an essay where the prof assured the class that whatever they wrote would be "strictly confidential". I just wonder why this doesn't bother people like Ms. Redboots.

  3. It's much easier for Ms. Redbooks to smugly condemn you Marty than take the outside point of view, and it makes her feel all warm and fuzzy !