Thursday, May 14, 2009

Sad Saga of a Georgia Professor

As the semester winds to an end, I am taking a break from grading to mention one of the interesting sagas of the last few weeks.  

Only if you live in a hole could you have failed to notice the media reports of the man in Georgia who apparently shot his wife, a couple of her acquaintances, and then himself.

The story itself is sad, but I have been fascinated by the fact that we heard endless about the story because the shooter was a professor.   It shows us something about professors strange place in modern culture.

The fact that the suspect was a professor drove this to the newspapers -- after all how often do you see the headline "Police manhunt for plumber underway . . ."  

The fixation obviously has to do with the seeming incongruity between "professor" and human being.  In the same way that students seem surprised to run into us in the grocery store or mall, the fact that a professor might be driven to fits of murderous rage caught the media's fancy.

At the same time, how often are we ridiculed by legislators and others because we aren't in front of students 40 hours a week?  How many times can they cut our pay in Madison and then insist we have no grounds to complain?  How often are we lampooned by radical right activists as communists in cardigan sweaters?

My father always insists that professors also carry special respect in society because of our position as experts and scholars.  

The case of the murderous Georgia professor crosses all of these stereotypes and cultural images.  Here is the erudite, liberal, respectable, wimpy professor shockingly acting out in rage and violence.

Professors lie at a strange intersection of respect, fascination, and derision.   If only there weren't so much grading to go with it. . . .

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