Reverse Respect and My Mom, the Dean



The default position for me has always been to respect people in inverse relation to their status, money, and authority. The error rate is pretty low but there are times when the privileged can work their way out of the hole and ways for highly respected people to lose my respect.

How does a person come to that view of others? I think when your grandfather comes from Italy at 16 and is told at Ellis Island that his name, Diaco, too hard so he is Ross now, works as a coal miner till he drops dead putting on his boots, marries a hillbilly, has 5 kids and 10 or so grandkids and only two in the lot finish college and your family get togethers are warm, friendly, and happy but always include subjects like nightshift, car payments, trouble with the law, and so on, you learn to respect lower class people and distrust upper class people.

My Mom, one of those 5 kids died two days ago. She worked hard, sometimes a day job and a night job.The last job--at 70 something -- was handing out samples at Publix. By that point she did not need the money but you could not convince her that it was OK not to get up and go to work every day. She never quite understood what it meant to have a Ph.D. or to be a law professor. To her, almost all law was criminal law. She was extravagant in two ways -- gifts to her grandchildren and jewelry (when she thought she was getting a good deal which she actually never really got.)

I cannot help but think how different her life was than mine and how  she might have reacted to some of the things I see in the privileged world of law professors. Let's take some examples and her reactions if she were Dean for a day.

1. A professor tells her  what he will teach, when he will teach, what room he will teach in and how any students are permitted in the class. Her reaction.  "Could you repeat that because, if you asked what I thought, there's the door. Don't come back. I think Publix is looking for people."

2. A  professor with the most expensive education in American asks to "teach" a class of only 12 about feelings. Her reaction: "Could you repeat that because, if you asked what I thought, there's the door. Don't come back. I think Publix is looking for people."

3. A professor asks a secretary to scan a casebook so he does not have to worry about carrying it around. "Could you repeat that because, if you asked what I thought, there's the door. Don't come back. I think Publix is looking for people."

4. Ten or so people want to fly to Rio for a day long conference and then many will branch out and take a vacation essentially on the school's dime. "Could you repeat that because, if you asked what I thought, there's the door. Don't come back. I think Publix is looking for people."

5. The Dean (my mom) announces that budgetary problems mean that we should not all have our own separate printers with unlimited toners supplied by the school. One faculty member objects, calling the measure "punitive." And her reaction,  "Could you repeat that because, if you said what I thought, there's the door. Don't come back. I think Publix is looking for people."

6.  A faculty member complains about missing meetings because a secretary did not open the faculty member's email and tell the faculty member about the meetings."Could you repeat that because, if you said what I thought, there's the door. Don't come back. I think Publix is looking for people."

7. A faculty member proposes  a groovy new teaching arrangement. She will teach in the summer using taped lectures that will be available on line. Even though on line, enrollment is limited to avoid too much grading. For this there is teaching income. And, since the teaching is a breeze, she can also be paid to do research."Could you repeat that because, if you said what I thought, there's the door. Don't come back. I think Publix is looking for people."

I did not tell my Mom about these things and I am not sure why. I think it had something to do with shame, or perhaps the absence of it.