Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The famous prof who calls students 'idiots'

Slovenian superstar Slavoj Zizek is the "Elvis of cultural theory," one of the most famous and eminent philosophers alive and working today — second only, perhaps, to his arch-nemesis Noam Chomsky, with whom he spent the better part of 2013 in a highly publicized feud. His work is all but worshipped by his adherents. He is feted at conferences convened for no other reason than to celebrate him. He is also a grade-A, number-one, world-class jerk, who brings to life the worst caricature of the humanities eminence: someone who loves subjecting other people to his talks, but who loathes contact with students — who, being "like other people," are mostly "boring idiots."

At a recent Zizek conference in Ohio, the philosopher sat down for an interview about his early life. (Here's a big surprise: Slavoj Zizek had no childhood friends.) But the end of the conversation is where the real gems emerge. As the wonderful blog Critical Theory has noted, Zizek says aloud what the rest of us most fear when it comes to "superstar" research faculty.

"If you don't give me any of your (expletive) papers," Zizek says he told students at the New School in New York — who may have matriculated at that institution for the sole purpose of working with Slavoj Zizek — "you get an A. If you give me a paper, I may read it and not like it, and you can get a lower grade."

The only thing worse than having to actually teach classes, Zizek insists, is the indignity of holding office hours. "Here in the United States, students tend to be so open that sooner or later, if you are kind to them, they even start to ask you personal questions, (share their) private problems; could you help them, and so on. And what should I tell them? I don't care. Kill yourself. It's not my problem."

The Zizekophant doing the interview laughs at this, hard. I'm not laughing. It's one thing to lament the vicissitudes of college professordom when you are, say, a bottom-feeding adjunct, whose students come to you because you teach a required class — and who did not, in fact, move to a new city and go thousands of dollars into debt because they dreamed, for years, about studying under you. I don't mind if you gently make fun of students and criticize the college-teaching profession for the purpose of improving it — especially if your unadulterated passion for teaching and for your students (despite your usual pay of $18,000 per year) is the foundation for the criticism.

I have no idea what a superstar like Zizek gets paid, and I don't know if he actually fills his office-hours sign-up sheet with fake names so that none of the "boring idiots" come and bother him with their stupid problems, as one New School faculty member has apparently claimed. But I feel safe in guessing that he earns more to not-grade one "(expletive) paper" than many professors do in a semester.

The real problem with Zizek, in any case, isn't that he feels this way or that he says these things aloud. It's that he does so and people think it's hilarious. It's that his view is, believe it or not, a common "superstar" view of students — so common, in fact, that if you work at a research university and actually like teaching, you should maybe pretend you don't, lest you appear not "serious" enough about your research.

Many of his readers believe Slavoj Zizek to be the most important thinker of his time. Perhaps that's true. But let him sequester himself away in one of Ljubljana's beautiful towers, penning screeds and op-eds in peace. Stop hiring him to teach — and stop laughing when he says he doesn't care if students commit suicide.

The academy is in crisis. The humanities' relevance is questioned obnoxiously on a near-daily basis. Humanists need to think carefully about who our heroes are, and who should represent our disciplines to the public. Maybe, just maybe, this Zi-jerk has finally proved himself unsuited to the task.

Rebecca Schuman is an education columnist for Slate.com.

Comments
Florida State will host Florida Gators to open this basketball season

Florida State will host Florida Gators to open this basketball season

For the first time in almost two decades, Florida and Florida State will open the men's basketball season against each other.The Seminoles will host UF on Nov. 6, both programs announced Wednesday morning. FSU has won four in a row in the series."Any...
Updated: 4 minutes ago
Top things to do in Tampa Bay for June 21

Top things to do in Tampa Bay for June 21

Go Skateboarding Day: June 21 is the worldwide Go Skateboard Day and there’s free skateboarding all day at the skate park with free barbecue and a trick challenge. 8 a.m., Skatepark of Tampa, 4215 E Columbus Drive, Tampa. Free. (813) 621-6793; skatep...
Updated: 6 minutes ago
Homeland Security Secretary drafts plan to end family separation

Homeland Security Secretary drafts plan to end family separation

WASHINGTON — Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen is drafting an executive action for President Donald Trump that would direct DHS to keep families apprehended at the border together during detention.That’s according to two people familiar wi...
Updated: 10 minutes ago
Kevin Knox poised to become Tampa Bay’s highest NBA draft pick

Kevin Knox poised to become Tampa Bay’s highest NBA draft pick

Kevin Knox Sr. was watching the NFL draft 24 years ago when the phone rang. Buffalo coach Marv Levy was on the other line."Marv said they were taking me," said Knox Sr., a standout receiver at FSU.Soon after, Knox Sr. saw his name scroll across ESPN'...
Updated: 11 minutes ago
Wine dinners, beer projects and more will wet your whistle this summer

Wine dinners, beer projects and more will wet your whistle this summer

FILIPINO FOOD: WELCOME CHISMISHave you been to the Heights Public Market at the 73,000-square-foot Armature Works yet? It’s the buzzy food market in Tampa Heights with more than a dozen vendors offering up everything from rolled ice cream to Cuban sa...
Updated: 11 minutes ago
Top things to do this week: Go Skateboarding Day, Hollywood medium Tyler Henry

Top things to do this week: Go Skateboarding Day, Hollywood medium Tyler Henry

Tyler Henry: Hollywood MediumTyler Henry, the so-called Hollywood Medium who stars in an eponymous E! hit show, is coming to town with a live show called "Life Lessons I Have Learned From the Departed." The soft-spoken 22-year-old has done readings f...
Updated: 12 minutes ago
On stage this week: Freefall Theatre’s ‘The Musical of Musicals,’ Jay Pharoah

On stage this week: Freefall Theatre’s ‘The Musical of Musicals,’ Jay Pharoah

SENDUP: MUSICAL OF MUSICALSFive composers, a talented cast, choreography by Cheryl Lee and music directed by Michael Raabe — that’s Freefall Theatre’s recipe for a laugh-filled, season-ending summer musical, appropriately titled The Musical of Musica...
Updated: 14 minutes ago
What’s in theaters this week: ‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’ and heist caper ‘American Animals’

What’s in theaters this week: ‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’ and heist caper ‘American Animals’

OPENING FRIDAY:JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOMDinosaurs: Keep them alive or kill them off? It’s a question that haunts the human characters in between fireball-dodging cardio workouts in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, the spectacularly ho-hum new ent...
Updated: 16 minutes ago
Citizens considers hiking homeowners insurance rates about 8 percent

Citizens considers hiking homeowners insurance rates about 8 percent

Citizens Property Insurance Corp.’s is weighing another round of hefty rate hikes.Staffers with the state-run insurer of last resort have proposed raising the average rates for homeowners by 7.9 percent — just under the legislative cap of 10 percent ...
Updated: 19 minutes ago
Big concerts this weekend: Luke Bryan, Hall and Oates, Weezer, Logic and more

Big concerts this weekend: Luke Bryan, Hall and Oates, Weezer, Logic and more

HIS KIND OF NIGHT: Luke BryanIt’s been three long years since Tampa has seen the well-groomed hide of Luke Bryan, the Hollywoodiest hunk in Nashville. But he’s about to make up for lost time. On Saturday he’ll headline his biggest-ever show here, a b...
Updated: 20 minutes ago