When the Weird Turned Pro

A colleague of mine and I occasionally have a conversation about the quality of the professors at our institution.  We generally agree that the overall quality has greatly improved over the past two decades.  At the same time, though, we seem to be a far less weird bunch.

Because there really used to be some legendary weirdness among our ranks: profs who had scandalous affairs with other faculty members' spouses, profs who were discovered living in their offices, or who droned  on and on about their eccentric obsessions (like returning to the gold standard).  Some just had strange tics.  One kept a hand always firmly gripped to a purse strap during lectures, and another had a secret crawlspace under his house that he used to hide from his ex-wife's attempts to have him served with a subpoena for back child support.

Sometimes I think back to the sheer weirdness of some of my former professors.  I had a linguistics prof, a British guy named Dobbs.  He skulked about the room like Groucho Marx and would shake his finger at us and say in utter sincerity "Be careful, my dears.  Linguistics is a cruel mistress."  There was another professor in grad school who didn't care what she was assigned to teach.  In every course she threw out the syllabus and taught Edmund Spenser's The Fairie Queene

Another prof--guy by the name of Dust--would openly pour bourbon into his coffee during class.  Odd little man.  He looked like a down-on-his-heels Mr. Pennybags (the guy on the Monopoly money).  And I had a prof in a Chaucer course who began each course by telling an elaborate dirty joke.  Different one each day.  He also had a habit of referring to to Alison in The Miller's Tale as "honey child."

I suppose it's possible that the diminished weirdness correlates to the improvement in quality of our faculty.  Still I can't help thinking something has been lost.  The weirdness was a kind of value added benefit in one's education.  You could dine out on some of those stories for years.


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