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H is for Hubris -- Your professor's hubris, to be exact.

Surely you've heard that thing Henry Kissinger once supposedly said, the thing that rapidly became the last word about Academia?

It went something like this: The politics are so vicious in Academia, precisely because the stakes are so low.

(Ouch, Henry! That hurt!)

Some academics say he never said it; some academics get into vicious arguments about whether he did or not.

But I would just like to point out that no matter who said it, the whole thing's a little misleading. Because it gives the impression that Academia is uniquely riddled with vicious behavior by people who haven't got a lot of power.

Ever work in an office?

Or ever watched The Office?

British or American version?

Everyone says kids can be cruel; Kissinger may have said academics are; but probably no group of humans is quite as cruel in the end as that segment of society known as cubicle workers.

Which brings us back to H and Hubris. More specifically: it brings us back to your egomaniacal professor, who has a thousand ways of forgetting to do what he's (or she's) supposed to do--grade your papers sometime before graduation, perhaps? learn how to move the slides back and forth in PowerPoint?--yet somehow also has a thousand ways of making students feel like beer-hat-wearing losers.

Rejoice. This guy (or lady professor) is a godsend.

These days nobody wants to say that college is supposed to get you ready to work. We talk about personal growth and building community and learning to learn for a lifetime.

But unless you plan to stay in your parent's basement long-term, college is also about getting a job. And all joking aside: one of the most important skills you can master if you want to be someone who works and gets paid with any regularity is the skill of dealing with egomaniacal bosses, bosses who are jerks and sometimes even cruel. Why not practice with that prof?


You're a customer at college in a way, but that prof is also your boss. This is a low risk time to learn how to show interest without brownnosing. How to excel in your performance without pissing off your peers. How to challenge an egomaniacal jerk in a substantive conversation in a way that he (or she) has trouble faulting you for.

Of course it's a little misleading to use the word "hubris" - because hubris is from the Greek, and in Greek tragedies hubris means a kind of ego that leads to a tragic downfall in the end.

And sad to say you'll probably never get that satisfaction with the jerky professor-boss. (If you want to know why, skip right down to T is for Tenure.)