Thursday, March 26, 2009

the nerve

I've mentioned that an unintended consequence of working with college students includes writing hundreds of letters of recommendation for my wonderfully talented, exceptionally brilliant, all-who-strive-to-save-the-world-type students. Yesterday while I attended a sophomore team's thesis proposal defense, a casual glance across the hall to my office revealed one of my seniors lurking by my office door. I hadn't spoken to him for weeks. I had no idea that he planned to stop by or what he wanted. I was otherwise engaged with the sophomore team, so I ignored him.

I returned to my office an hour later to listen to a voice message from this senior student, advising me to call him immediately. After he answered the phone, this student launched into a five-minute monologue about how he was nominated for this student leadership award in his department, but ignored the application process because he thought that he lacked the qualifications to win, but "several faculty had sought him out and assured him that he was a strong candidate".... yada, yada, yada....

My heart sank. I knew immediately where this conversation was going. And to tell you the truth, I don't particularly care for this student. He's a bully. Often aggressive, rude, and condescending, he's a real treat to be around sometimes. I knew that I would rack my brain to find enough positive things to say about him to fill even the shortest, most generic letter. And I just didn't feel up to it.

I tried to play dumb. I finally interrupted him with, "so why are you calling me?".

He told me that he needed a letter of recommendation. And it "needed to be a good one". A "really solid, in depth letter that highlights my experiences with x, y, and z." And oh yeah, if "you can throw in something about a, b, and c too, that would be great". And by the way, "I need it in less than 24 hours."

To say that I felt flabbergasted is an understatement. Not only did he dictate to me how to write a letter (like I don't know!), but he honestly thought that he could demand a letter with less than 24 hours notice? Does he think that I sit in my office all day just waiting to drop everything and cater to students' needs? And what type of letter did he think that his atrocious behavior would solicit? Certainly not a glowing review!

I cut him off immediately and bent his ear for a good minute or two about his rudeness. And then I basically hung up on him with a quick "hope you find someone else... bye!" when he began to protest.

I've noticed in my nearly nine years of full-time work with undergraduates that they sometimes think that a frequent smile and a friendly persona means "easy" or "pushover". But I am no doormat, and the smart students learn that the first time they try to walk all over me. It takes a bit longer for the narcissistic ones to catch on.

This senior falls into the latter category. Although we've gone round and round before, he still hasn't learned who he is dealing with.


Susannah said...

Good for you! Let him have it!

Smiling Mama said...

Good for you! You know, as a undergrad who really toed the line as far as academics, I was always frustated when certain professors caved to demanding, last-minute or always late students. I really felt it wasn't fair to the rest of us who did our work on time no matter what or gave appropriate notice for things like this. So, on behalf of all your other students, thanks for saying no to this one!