We’re always buried in books & papers, why are you complaining now?

Oh lord. I cringed so hard at this op-ed in Inside Higher Ed I think I might have pile-drived my cervical vertebrae right into the lumbar. Ouch. The author, Kristie Kiser, is giving advice to faculty about how to compose themselves for this new era of Zooming online.

In a world where conversations around us are terrifying, a student who has perceived Dr. Jones as a strong female role model, who is polished and eloquent at all times in the classroom, may be quite alarmed indeed to find Dr. Jones wearing her Pokémon pajamas with disheveled, unwashed hair, lamenting the added workload associated with social distancing. Your piles of unattended laundry are not trophies for the amount of time you are putting into your coursework. They are distractions, signs of disorganization and, quite frankly, unsightly and off-putting. Educators, please rethink your approach to your students. In these trying times, the last thing that they need to see is their adult, professional, highly educated instructor falling apart at the seams.

You see, if we don’t wash our hair, we’re falling apart at the seams. We’ve been driven out of our university offices, but it’s unprofessional if you post video from your bedroom. Don’t be unsightly. So what if your workload has abruptly doubled and you’ve found yourself in completely unfamiliar territory — for the honor of your institution, which is not paying you any extra for extra work, you must also perform all the superficial cosmetic stuff, because you must also look as poised and polished as if you’re appearing in the university’s recruiting brochures.

Heck, I don’t meet those standards under normal conditions. One of the painful realities of these committee meetings in zoom is that I get to see all my younger, better-looking colleagues in the gallery, and my face is also right there, to make the comparison easy to see. Yeah, I’m the homely sludge-beast squatting in the corner of your screen. I’m not brochure-quality at the best of times, and this is the worst of times. I can console myself that students are supposed to be taking in the quality of the information I can deliver, not the quality of my eyeliner nor my lean, muscular physique, but then the Pretty Police show up in the education journals, and the lies I tell myself all crumble.

Oh, well. All I’m seeing around my corner of the web is Kiser getting dunked on. See SkepChick for a complete tear-down, as deserved.

It’s been so thorough that I’m feeling sorry for Kristie Kiser. This is not to say she doesn’t deserve it, but she’s young — a doctoral student — and of an academic rank that requires guidance. Someone should have looked at that article submission, blanched, and said “You can’t possibly be planning to shame your colleagues for their appearance at this difficult time, can you?”, but instead…they published it. They might as well have nailed her up on a wall and provided baskets of stones. Now I’m wondering which would be worse: that an editor accepted it with a vicious smile and the knowledge that they’d be chumming the academic community with her blood, or that the editor actually agreed that their slovenly peers needed to be chastised. Either way, the editors were assholes and should be called out as well.


  1. Bruce says

    A hundred years ago, colleges didn’t have ~any female professors. And they didn’t spend any time on rating the looks of professors.
    I’m glad that now there are many female professors.
    But I still don’t think we need to encourage students, faculty hiring committees, or anyone else to be rating professors’ appearances. We don’t need to care if Kristie Kiser’s hair makes her an 8, 9, or a 10.
    We need to reject the idea that unwashed hair and background items somehow make one “falling apart.”
    Who says: this university needs fewer messy Einsteins and more Biff Hendersons?

  2. robro says

    Sounds like someone is taking Marie Kondo a little too seriously. Tidy if you must, but don’t judge others if they don’t. The mess might be an important element of their comfort zone. As a colleague put it on our Slack channel, “Do you guys think Marie Kondo is regretting not having so much stuff in her house right about now?” I’ll add that I’ve seen plenty of professor’s offices…and a few of their apartments and homes…piled high with “books and papers.” Neatness is not next to intelligence.

  3. says

    The area around my main computer chair has started to acquire, in a near perfect circle at arm’s length, a surrounding pile of bits and pieces from projects and work and crafting.

    I should put it away, I suppose, and yet there is something weirdly comforting about it, too. My tools, materials, the things that make me feel like something other than a pointless fleshlump, are within reach all the time.

    I am beginning to understand dragons.

  4. billseymour says

    It’s not just the New York Times but also the PBS Newshour where Brooks has a weekly spot as a Serious Pundit. He’s paired with Mark Shields, a guy who often forgets what he’s saying before he gets to the end of his sentence.

    In addition to the “Shields and Brooks” segment on Fridays, there’s “Politics Monday.” I remember one from back when Sanders was still a serious contender and in which Amy Walter could hardly construct a simple declarative sentence without “electability” in it.

    I’ve lost a great deal of the respect that I once had for the Newshour.

  5. billseymour says

    Me @6:
    Oops…I meant to respond to the David Brooks post. (I guess folks figured that out already.)

  6. wzrd1 says

    It sounds rather like one rather ingenious individual, who was a commissioned officer, who complained about how the men’s uniforms weren’t pressed and tidy – while they were fighting an equipment fire that threatened the fuel point!
    Where I was unable to offer the appropriate response to that officer, were that in one of my journals on information security, my response would be, “You are cordially invited to kiss my ass in Macy’s window during the New Year’s Day parade”.
    I have an engineer’s temperament and outlook, function over form, not form in preference to function. So, if someone doesn’t like seeing my frigging laundry, like any self respecting person not liking to see a train wreck while passing, don’t look!
    Otherwise, the conferences in the future will be graced with the finest view possible of the back of my head, my good side.

  7. garysturgess says

    coldhardrealist@3: This isn’t talking about job interviews. This is talking about professors willingly giving up extra time in crisis to continue to provide students with the education they have paid (in the US, paid a crapload) for. The assumption that an overworked professor providing unfamiliar online lectures might have not had time to brush their hair does not imply, in any way shape or form, that the same professor looking for a new job in a post COVID-19 world would not take the time to improve their presentation for a job interview.

    But that’s obvious. So I can only assume you’re suggesting that, as a hiring manager, you would go online and see if you could find any lectures by this prospective new employee where they were less than immaculately presented during the COVID-19 crisis, and deny them the job if you found one. That sort of attitude, if replicated throughout your company, could only mean that the professor would have dodged a bullet rather than be forced to work with anyone that has such a despicable policy.

  8. wzrd1 says

    @13, cvoinescu, It says that it’s unavailable. I’ll just go with my old standby. Quarter cup of household bleach in a gallon of water.
    Drop the telephone in, no more germs or annoying illegal telemarketers.

  9. David Richardson says

    My sister works at a college in the UK, where New Public Management has struck hard. For the first few days of online working, the various managers were nowhere to be seen – they need to have acolytes bowing down to them in order to feel a sense of self-worth … and here the organisation was rolling along without them and their ‘expert guidance’.

    In week 2, though, they finally found something to harass their teachers about and sent this wonderful advice out to all the teachers (which caused a great deal of harmless amusement here in Sweden):

    “A few things to remember about the importance of professional boundaries when communicating with students remotely …

    · Continue to follow the Staff Code of Conduct, the College’s Staff Computer Acceptable Use Policy and the Staff Social Media Policy as always.
    · Always conduct yourself in a professional manner throughout any conversation with a colleague(s) or learner(s) – remember that you remain an employee of MC throughout all remote communication.

    · Ensure you are professionally dressed if delivering virtual lessons and where webcams are involved. This applies for students also.

    · Be aware that not only can everyone see you, but students can see what’s around and behind you too. Try to avoid high traffic areas – do not position yourselves where children, spouse, pets, etc. can be seen.

    · Conduct video calls to learners or colleagues from a desk or other appropriate location, for example, not in bedrooms and where possible against a neutral background.

    · Language must be professional and appropriate, including any family members in the background.”

    My colleagues have now started looking for their pearls and designer blouses, so that they can emulate the UK. We were going to insist that students were smartly dressed too … but it’s probably against Swedish law to do that!

  10. robert79 says

    Yes… I don’t bother to wear socks or shoes when giving a lecture by webcam. As far as the students know, I might even choose to go completely bottomless, no pants, no underpants, bare bottom to chair, while lecturing. Of course, my students will never know, since I make sure my webcam is pointed at my upper body only, is that so hard?

    I’ve heard stories about students giving their PhD defense, usually an extremely formal event with a very strict dresscode (prof’s in academic gowns, etc…) online, seeing their prof in their bedroom in their pyjama’s with dirty laundry piled on the bed behind them. Yes, things are hard, but there are still occasions where we need to keep up appearances, okay?

  11. says

    I’ve bonded with pupils over Pokémon…
    It was funny seeing all my colleagues’ workspaces. And yes, I brushed my hair.