+ FAQs

Course FAQs

1. May I email you my essay for extra comments?


I always give each essay draft a full set of written comments. And I’m committed to meet with any student who would like to go over them as many times as necessary. However, I usually do not take requests for extra comments via email unless there is no other possible way a student can meet with me in an office hour or at some other scheduled time. Considering how easy it is to attach a file to an email, almost every student would seek this additional help. As a result, I would be deluged with requests for help, often at the very last minute, making it impossible for me to thoughtfully respond to them all.

  • I am happy to discuss your work during office hours or at other times by appointment.
2. May bring my laptop to our office meeting?

Grumble, grumble…ok.

In the past I’ve said no to this question because I found that students who bring laptops to my office often type the words that I say directly into their laptops. This potentially blurs the line between critique and authorship. Since it is important that you do your own work, it is best to avoid this problem/temptation by using a hard copy. But if you can avoid this temptation, I’m ok with your fancy technology.

3. I can't make office hours; can we meet another time?


I will be happy to accommodate students whose schedules conflict with my office hours. Contact me and we can work out the details. If we are unable to find a time that works for both of us, RWIT is another excellent option.

4. May I have an extension?

Sort of.

Sometimes life intervenes in our plans and rudely sets us back. If you get hit by a bus or contract ebola, asking for a paper extension is a reasonable request. But generally it is a bad idea to request an extension unless you find yourself in a similarly extreme situation. Many faculty are reluctant to give extensions because of a duty to the principle of fairness: if one student is granted an extension, the other students who turned their work in on time are disadvantaged. Of course, if you have a serious emergency that prevents you from completing work, I will be happy to work out a new due date.

5. How many times can I bring my paper to you?

As many as you like. But…

Your professors want to help you. Really, they do. But at some point, seeking help becomes a form of dependence. Taken to extremes, your help-seeking becomes an avoidance of your own responsibility as a writer, a thinker, a student, a human.

Over the years I have had many students who bring their work to me excessively and want my approval on every edit of their written work. The students who do this just want to do well, but consider what they lose in the bargain. At some point the essay or project ceases to be the work of the student, as the line between authorship and critique first blurs and then becomes indistinguishable. The student has completely surrendered their right to think and know and argue on their own terms, blithely giving away their freedom to an authority figure in the person of their teacher.

College should be a series of experiences through which you gain ownership over your own thinking and define for yourself your ideas and values and meanings. While your teachers are here to provide feedback, critique, and assistance, you should do your own work, think your own thoughts, write your own papers, and, through those experiences, become who you are.

6. Why aren't you grading me? I want to know how well I'm doing.

Consider why you want this…

  • If I told you what I thought your work was worth, would that be the right answer?

  • What does it say about you that you need me to tell you what your efforts amount to?

  • How hard did you work? Do you think you improved? What did you learn? What is the value of those things to you?

  • Has seeking a good grade ever made you compromise some belief that you held, however small?

  • Has seeking a good grade ever made your relationship with a teacher less honest and sincere?

7. What should we call you?

Honorifics and such…

Almost every year a student will ask me “What do we call you?” on the first day of classes. So how should you address your teachers at college? This is a difficult question to answer. Let’s think about this rhetorically and consider our audience:

The Prouds

All of your teachers at Dartmouth have terminal degrees in at least one academic field. Usually this means a Ph.D. They publish books and articles. They are asked to give speeches and talk on television. Some of them are legitimately famous. For some faculty this has become so central to their sense of self-worth that they will visibly cringe if you call them “Bill” or, even worse, “Mr. Smith.” Let’s call this group the Prouds.

The Brofs

A second group, although just as accomplished as the Prouds, are less dependent on their academic accomplishments to gain psychological uplift. They would actually prefer if you called them by their first name in order to better signal a desire to close the distance between teacher and pupil. Let’s call them Brofessors or Brofs for short.

The Pseudo-Brofs

A third group, perhaps the most interesting of the bunch, are the pseudo-Brofs. While they will look you directly in the eye and say “I don’t care what you call me,” or “call me Phyllis,” in truth (for psychological reasons too complex to go into here) they crave the honorific “doctor” or “professor” even more than the Prouds, but they are too ashamed to admit it and too cowardly to enforce it.

The Student

Now, students, what does this mean for you? It means that unless you love to court danger and/or have too much integrity to submit to any form of authority, the safe move is probably to call all your teachers “professor X” or “doctor X” to avoid giving offense.

8. Do I need to print out and annotate this reading?

Follow this flowchart.

9. Will we use the X hours?


X hours are X-tra. They exist so that we can make up days that we miss or if we get behind for some unforeseen reason. For example, if I miss some classes due to illness, I may use the X hours to catch up and get the course back on track. Otherwise, I will use the X hour time for my office hours.

10. Are you as grumpy as this FAQ suggests?