Friday, November 03, 2006

Danger! Danger, Will Robinson!

Yesterday I met with Dr. Octopussy, the deputy director of the program, and Dr. Freud, my faculty advisor. I was supposed to meet with Dr. Octopussy next week, but she'll be out of town then, so they double-teamed me.

I had asked them for some more concrete examples of my sins, and concrete suggestions for what I could do to improve. They told me that my behavior, both in and out of the classroom, has angered many people in the program, faculty and students, who thought I misread them and got angry too easily. And I needed to be aware of the impact my behavior, words, and tone have on other people.

I was glad I took a couple of tranquilizers before meeting with them, because I don't think I could have survived this meeting without some chemical support, since no emotional support from either of them was forthcoming. (I don't count the vapid smiles and falsely empathetic, "What can we do to help you, Ayelet?" they granted me at the end of the meeting.)

Apparently my mistaken disclosure at the lecture was just APPALLING to both of them. Why would someone new to the program want to make themselves known that way? The fact that I did it because I was trying to provide a teachable moment didn't make a dent. So I apologized and promised never to do it again.

Then they told me that after the lecture, when the director of the program -- I'll call her the Dragon Lady, or Dr. Dragon, because she's beautiful, emotionless, and vicious -- came up to me and asked if she could help, I was sharp and disrespectful to her.

Rude? I had just stopped sobbing convulsively. My emotions were raw and racing. I told her my most immediate concern: I was worried that my insurance wouldn't cover my medical costs -- which, as it turns out, was a legitimate fear, since it hasn't. And she perceived me as being rude! Because, of course, she has nothing to do with our lousy insurance.

I tried to explain to Drs. Octopussy and Freud that I have nothing but respect for Dr. Dragon, and that I was so emotional I couldn't think clearly at that moment. They acknowledged -- briefly --that this might perhaps have been a teeny factor influencing my behavior. I also promised to apologize to Dr. Dragon formally in a letter.

I updated them on my progress with Dr. Jerk -- his refusal to take my injury into account and suggestion that I take a medical leave. Rather than saying he was out of line, they reiterated that a medical leave was something people in my position often take advantage of. I told them I didn't think it would come to that, and was also less worried about how he would grade me because his response to one homework assignment seemed fair. They were pleased to hear that.

Then they told me that my contributions in class were annoying other students. Apparently some professors -- they didn't say which -- were noticing a lot of eye-rolling and heavy sighs every time I opened my big yap; this indicated tension, a sign that I was monopolizing class time and too often shifting the subject to myself.

And they told me they thought I needed therapy. Fortunately, I was able to tell them that I'm already in therapy, and that I do discuss my school issues with my therapist. (I didn't share with them his recommendation that I treat difficult faculty members as difficult patients.)

Then, after tearing my heart out and grinding it beneath their feet, they smiled and asked what they could do to help me. I said they could tell me if I was in danger of being removed from the program. They said I was right to be concerned about that.

I thought schools were supposed to provide reasonable accommodation for disabled students, not take their money and kick them to the curb. Yes, I made a huge mistake by disclosing in the lecture, but I thought I was helping! How many times do I have to apologize for a mistake? Why do none of them have any compassion for the physical pain I'm in and how it might affect my behavior and judgment? (Incidentally, they interrogated me about the injury, asking for details. Which legally they have no right to know. It seems they suspected I might be lying about it. Fortunately, I was able to dispel their doubts with a detailed description of what was revealed by the MRI I paid for.)

I also asked them to talk to the adjunct professors who teach me cognitive therapy and statistics, and see if they had the same impression of the tension-building impact I allegedly have on class culture and on students too rude and immature to hide their displeasure. (Honestly -- why aren't these students being called on the carpet for their behavior? Or the students who chatter to each other throughout Dr. Adorable's class?)

I spoke to my statistics professor before class and told him Dr. Freud would be asking him about my behavior in class and why. He was surprised to hear that I was perceived as rude and annoying, since he didn't experience me that way at all and didn't think I bothered the other stats students. He promised he would tell that to Dr. Freud.

"Thank you," I said, tearing up a bit.

"It's the truth," said Dr. Stats.

And I'm fairly confident the cognitive therapy professor appreciates my contributions; she usually emphatically agrees with everything I say. So I wanted her take on me to be part of the judgment, too.

I know I said I was going to stop faculty-bashing, but I'm so appalled by this that I don't know what to do. I honestly considered re-applying to some of the schools that rejected me last year, but I don't think I'd have better luck this year.

After the awful meeting, I thought of something they could help me with and sent them an e-mail:

Dear Dr. Octopussy and Dr. Freud,

Thank you for meeting with me this afternoon. I will certainly be more mindful of my behavior and its impact on people in and out of the classroom, and I will do my utmost to limit my self-reference. I will be giving Dr. Dragon a written apology on Tuesday.

You asked if you could do anything else to help me, and I thought of something specific. Could you please let me know in which classes the other students were nonverbally expressing displeasure with my contributions? I think that would help be a tremendous help in determining when my contributions to class discussion are appropriate and when they are not.

Thank you, Ayelet Survivor

It's unfair to accuse me without allowing me to confront my accuser(s). I realize this is not a democracy, it's an oligarchy, but don't I have any rights? At the least, I have the right to know in which classes the teachers are saying my contributions cause such problems. I wonder if Drs. Freud and Octopussy will let me know.

If it's the T.A., who's ridiculously intimidated by me, then I want the other students in the lab to refute her perceptions. Three out of four (I haven't talked to the fourth) of them were surprised to hear the T.A. thought I was dominating lab discussion and stifling other students. "It's a good thing you had something to say," one of them told me. "Until we actually started working with the IQ test, we didn't have much to talk about in lab. We never took the full two hours. And it was boring. So it was better when you had something to contribute."

If it's Dr. Jerk -- well, I have my doubts as to his reliability. I told a classmate/friend about this latest meeting, and she was truly shocked; she said she'd never noticed people rolling their eyes or sighing when I spoke up, and would have considered them rude if they did.

If it's Dr. Adorable -- well, I'll just have to stop speaking up in class. He's always trying to get people to participate, but if my contributions aren't appreciated by him or the other students, I'll have to curtail them significantly.
Copyright (c) 2006 "Ayelet Survivor"

1 comment:

  1. Wow. The NERVE of those people. I'm appalled at their insensitivity and lack of professionalism.