Lies and Untruths

Peter Gillette

My father-an avid, critical reader of this column-can quote pre-1980 Saturday Night Live with near-encyclopedic acuity from his productive days at Michigan State.
My mom’s stories about MSU, on the other hand, tend to deal with the inside of classrooms, while my father’s stories about professors tend to recall what was written about them inside of bathroom stalls.
While both of my parents are highly intelligent, you can take an educated guess: Which had the more conventionally successful college experience?
Upperclassmen may well recall ex-president Warch’s infamous “Your Business Is to Learn” address. In it, he argues that Lawrence has failed us if, after four-plus years, our taste in leisure reading or recreational music has remained unchanged. I remembered Warch’s admonition to us the other day, and considered my own tastes. When the last SOUP comedian came, most of his Jessica Simpson jokes went over-or, rather, under-most audience heads.
You see, I find that instead of a pop culture we have professor culture. I used to get bored in class when I was a freshman, and I learned to stop paying attention to the material and start studying the mannerisms of my professor. I began to realize that impersonating and lampooning my betters, with varying degrees of affection, was actually more effective for me than note taking.
During the process of impersonation, one has to internalize the cadence of the professor’s voice, and exaggerate his or her favorite refrains. And soon I found that, in order to deliver a better mock-lecture in the Grill, I had to pay closer attention during class. For midterms and final exams, I’d just do the same thing into a blue book. Professors often agree with what they lectured before, you see.
I find that we really have very little to talk about, and so, conjecture and fantasies about professors’ lives really, for better or worse, occupies an inordinately large place at the Downer table. Dating? Bad reviews of their work online? Marital troubles? Sexual orientation? Pathologically digressive pedagogy? For better-and for worse-it makes its way into our conversations.
As we meet these (occasionally) larger than life characters two or three times a week, perhaps over the course of several years, and as their syllabi and grading scales often control the degree to which we enjoy a weekend or don’t, it is sometimes easy to overlook the simple fact that they have PhDs, or at least master’s degrees, and we don’t. And, whether or not we’d always like to admit it, the vast majority of them are much more intelligent than we are.
Professor-hunting is the unofficial sport of the Lawrence University student body, but maybe that’s okay. Because maybe, just maybe, when we’re wondering out loud “Didn’t she wear that pantsuit on Monday?” we might just be studying.