Offensive Words/Phrases: Who Should Know Better?

Required reading for any academic is Philip Roth’s “The Human Stain.” In the first few pages an older, tenured professor is “forced to retire.”


There were two students who never were present when he called roll. Even after roll when they would technically just be “late,” they weren’t there. After weeks of this, he called their names one day, found them to be absent still ever yet, and said to the rest of the class—direct quote:

“Does anyone know these people? Do they exist, or are they spooks?”

The truant students, who again this professor had NEVER MET in part as they had NEVER BEEN TO CLASS, happened to be black.

So the professor subsequently was labeled a racist, and fired.

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Posted in attracting math majors, books, funny things students say, math in the media, minorities in mathematics, outreach, public awareness of mathematics, social aspects of math life, Social situations with students | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

How do you determine whether or not to attend a particular conference? As a working example to see through to natural generalizations, let’s use the JMM. [Just to choose a conference we’ve all heard of, attend at least once in our careers, and a conference that literally has something for everyone. Not to mention a conference that just concluded.]

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Posted in balancing research and teaching, collaborations, conferences, joint math meetings, networking, reimbursements, research, time management, traveling, workshops | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment


Literal bed time reading.

Recently, I have been re-reading Michel Houellebecq’s 2015 novel Submission. It’s about a hedonistic literature professor who sleeps with his students, has the diet of a frat boy, and occasionally does “work” researching an obscure (at least, to me) 19th-century French novelist.

Obviously, the man has tenure.

He’s employed at a public university which is not-so-subtly government run. In a surprise election, a conservative faction—led by Muslims—takes power. Polygamy is legalized. Women must wear veils. The main character is offered a more lucrative job in terms of pay and power. There’s just one catch: to get this job (and not lose his current), he must convert to Islam.

The book was highly controversial because of its description of Islam and its (ironic?) timing of being released the same day as the Charlie Hebdo shooting. To me, beyond any politically incorrect statements about religion, it lambasts academia (see below) and really makes me think about “compromise.” Specifically, compromising personal beliefs and character. The climax of the story is whether or not this professor will give up his preferred lifestyle for more pay. Will let his bosses choose his wives for less teaching. Will fake being a social and religious conservative and take on a faith he doesn’t believe in just for a check.

Spoiler alert…

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Posted in bias, books, elections, math in the media, teaching evaluations, tenure, Uncategorized, work-life balance | 1 Comment