How blunt is too blunt?

The following is a post from cac.ophony by David Parsons, a CUNY Writing Fellow, on a recent email exchange between Scott Galloway of NYU’s Stern School of business and a student, which has begun to generate all sorts of interesting discussion on the ways in which faculty members should or should not communicate with students. The original post is here.

UntitledA professor at NYU’s Stern School of Business, Scott Galloway, recently sent an email that has gone viral, due largely to its unique approach in response to a student’s particularly obnoxious behavior. The student, who remains anonymous, had arrived an hour late to class and been denied admission, and later emailed the professor to explain that he was late because he had been “sampling” different classes, the last of which was Professor Galloway’s, and that it was within his rights to explore different options at the beginning of the semester.

Galloway’s response has caught attention because of his brutal honesty in addressing what he sees as the student’s overall functional weaknesses. In short, he takes him down a few notches. You can read the full exchange here, but I wanted to focus on a specific piece of Galloway’s final advice:

“Getting a good job, working long hours, keeping your skills relevant, navigating the politics of an organization, finding a live/work balance…these are all really hard, xxxx. In contrast, respecting institutions, having manners, demonstrating a level of humility…these are all (relatively) easy. Get the easy stuff right xxxx. In and of themselves they will not make you successful. However, not possessing them will hold you back and you will not achieve your potential which, by virtue of you being admitted to Stern, you must have in spades. It’s not too late xxxx…”

Opinion on the web seems split, mainly centered on Galloway’s known personality quirks. The entire controversy, though, provides an opportunity to think about the appropriate tone and level of “honesty” in student-teacher communications. As an adjunct at Baruch for five years, I’ve certainly felt the occasional urge to respond to particularly ridiculous requests with a similar sense of disbelief. Galloway’s message, however, takes the impulse a step further, directly and personally addressing what he perceives to be the student’s overall failures. His main point seems to be that, by exhibiting such a lack of decorum, the student is effectively handicapping himself, making it impossible to succeed in college or the larger world.

I find Galloway’s response generally appropriate considering the student’s rather arrogant assumption that “sampling” courses (by walking in and out of several classes mid-lecture) was a reasonable behavior. His most memorable advice (“get your shit together”), while perhaps obscene, communicates an underlying truth. If the student wishes to succeed in the business world, his presumed career direction, he will have to drastically adjust the attitude and expectations reflected in his brief interaction with Professor Galloway.

On the other hand, is it right to draw larger conclusions about a student’s chances of future success from one embarrassing incident? Further, is it even within a professor’s rights or responsibilities to dole out such “advice” at all? How can we effectively steer our students toward more appropriate and “successful” behavior without being too harsh or judgmental?

Photo Credit: Creative Commons License photo by: morgan childers

About mgershovich

Director of The Schwartz Institue FT
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One Response to How blunt is too blunt?

  1. tom hendry says:

    Professor Galloway dealt with this student correctly, he didnt let him and then give him a hard time in front of his peers. He didn’t castigate him by focusing on his personal weaknesses. He gave him some real constructive advice.

    Sometimes you have to give a little of pain to put something right. A bit like an injection.

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