Friday, January 29, 2016

A minority of one

"What is your hobby?" asked a student.

For all the autoethnography that I engage in here in this blog, in my newspaper op-eds, and even in conference talks, when students ask me questions about me or my views, I don't open up.

"I like cooking" I told the student who asked about my hobby.  Thankfully, she didn't ask me about my views on cooking and eating animals ;)

In another class too it happened. I had barely walked in to the room when a student shot a question at me: "How come unlike other professors you are not wearing a union tshirt, Dr. Khé?"

I typically do not respond to such questions in the classroom.  It is not because I do not talk about my what I do when not "working" or what I think about the faculty union.  There are plenty of blog-posts on all those and more.  Yet, I try my best to deflect those questions away for one simple reason--we get together in a classroom for a specific reason, which is to learn about the scheduled topic.  To talk about the union or my hobby is nothing but an abuse of the power and privilege that I have in that classroom just because I am the instructor.

"I don't want to take up class time on that" I replied.  "I am old-fashioned that way" I added.

"No, you are not old-fashioned" came a quick retort.  "Other professors have been talking about it in class" jumped in another.

It looked like I had to satisfy the mob ;)  The clock said it was not class time yet--two minutes before the official start time.  I dragged myself to responding to why I wasn't wearing a union tshirt.  But, that opened up more questions.  "Are you against unions?" "Are you the only professor not a union member?" "Do you benefit from not being in the union?" "Are you worried about groupthink?" Important questions that students and taxpayers need to think about, and juicy topics for me.  But, I am old-fashioned!  Perhaps my responses were all way briefer than what they wanted to hear.  But, as the clock indicated it was class time, I began the process of putting them to sleep via my lecturing ;)

I worry that I will become one of the many who do not think twice about using and abusing their power and position.  Right from when I was young, I have found it difficult to work with people with power and authority because almost always they abuse it.  Whether it is the police or the politicians or the World Bank or the union or the religions or  even a lowly Ramamritham, rare is the person who does not abuse the power and the privilege that come with that position.

Over the years, and especially from my own personal experiences, I have also come to understand that it takes a lot of effort to resist the urge.  If a union leader can abuse the position's power and privilege, and if a lowly Ramamritham can, then should we be surprised when a Bill Clinton takes advantage of an intern, or ...?

Thus, I continue to tilt at real and imaginary windmills.  As George Orwell put it so well in 1984:
He wondered, as he had many times wondered before, whether he himself was a lunatic. Perhaps a lunatic was simply a minority of one.
It looks like within my small professional world I will forever be a lunatic, and in a minority of one.  That's ok too.

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