Reprinted, with permission, is an E-Mail I received yesterday from a graduate student:
ATTN: ABIGAIL VAN BUREN
The fall semester ended in early December and it has been approximately seven weeks since I was last academically bitch slapped. Life on the outside is supposed to be normal, but I already miss him—his glares of disapproval, the profanity, the constant questioning of my knowledge base. Others seem to enjoy their freedom and seem to do fine without being subjected to intellectual thrashings. However, in my case, I kind of miss it. Sure the bruises to my ego hurt . . . the fear of Score IDs were at times paralyzing, but you see to me . . . to me that was normal. I'm not quite sure how to adjust to life on the outside. How do I move ahead and prepare for comps without the daily beatings? Should I go back to him? Are there half-way houses for students like me? What do I do?
Please Help!—Maladjusted Student
My response is not the central point here: I began with “Dear Concerned—What kind of language is "bitch-slapped" for a pious son of the church?” but then reminded him that the high standards he maintained in my classes were his choice, his reaction to whatever he thought he was getting in there, therefore the problem was partially that he was allowing the heat he had been turning up on himself to decrease back to “simmer” because of the standards of people around him. I also pointed out that if he wanted me to do something he should suggest precisely what it might be. That is neither here nor there; this guy is a favorite of many faculty around here: fine musician, hard working, self-motivated, always willing to participate, good sense of humor—really the whole package, and someone who will have more faculty support and letters of recommendation than he knows what to do with when the process is over.
My real point is this: I will put the smile and glow I got when I first read this letter up against whatever financial or corporate bonus you’d care to name.
True, I have all necessities (family, friends, health, food, domicile, fulfillment) well covered. But this kind of echo, this kind of return on labor, is something that I think only teachers really experience and understand. And in this era of seemingly ever-increasing bad news in higher education, a letter like this is the best tonic there is. Take note, young’uns: wherever you manage to place yourselves, this awaits.