Christmas is usually the halfway point of the annual epidemic of Professors’ Disease. This dreaded condition afflicts academics, and the Lansing area exhibits high rates of the disease because of a never-ending supply of Patient Zeroes who teach at MSU, LCC, Cooley, Davenport and Cornerstone.
The disease is caused by an ideavirus that can be traced all the way back to Lord Acton’s axiom (all power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely). It appears that anyone who teaches and is therefore regularly surrounded by sycophantic students first risks developing a blind spot. Left untreated, that tiny spot can grow into an enveloping blindness that allows the sufferer to believe that it is personal brilliance and charisma — and not the power of the grade – that engenders apparent adoration from others.
This is a chronic ailment that can be hard to detect in its early stages. (There is a test for generalized cold-bloodedness, but it suffers from a high rate of false negatives.)
Once infected, however, sufferers will eventually display all of the following symptoms:
- An inability shut one’s mouth and keep it shut – Sufferers give long-winded and tedious 15-minute answers to questions that require no more than a 10-word response. People with PD also expect listeners to smile and nod expectantly, while maintaining constant eye contact. Some studies suggest this symptom is the result of injuries sustained from trying to stretch eight hours of content to fill a 16-week semester.
- An unwavering belief in personal infallibility – “What, me worry?”
- Narrowing of vision over time – “But enough about me. What do you think of my work?”
- Mocking anyone younger – “The problem with students today . . . (fill in the blank).”
Without treatment, the disease often leads to complete social isolation.
Treating the affliction by surgically reducing the size of the ego shows promise. However, the most effective treatment remains harsh, cold doses of reality, administered daily.
As a recovering person with PD myself, I hope that years away from the classroom will give me back some perspective. But I would still suggest that you do not ask me a question unless you have the time to spare.