Cardinal sin of academia

Un-sCWRU your lifestyle

Theresa Smetona

The first few meetings of any given class can be a little, well, boring. As the professor goes through the necessary motions of covering course policies and introductory material, I occupy myself with debating if I should take advantage of the two week drop/add period to switch into a class that will allow me more time to indulge my ever increasing aversion for homework.

Even as the professor transitions into more interesting and complex topics, I am still somewhat bogged down by estimating the amount of time I will need to spend on the assignment just mentioned. This and similar daydreams would probably extend indefinitely and render my tuition dollars useless if not for the inevitable interruption of a token student who, in his own words, has “a prodigious vocabulary.”

Without fail, and regardless of whether or not the professor has opened the class up for discussion, a magnanimous and brilliant student notices the rather subdued atmosphere that pervades the class and decides to take charge. With a pomposity that is hard to fathom, this enterprising scholar tackles the daunting task of enlightening his fellow classmates. He is neither too shy nor too selfish to share his profound thoughts and illuminating opinions with the rest of the class, and begins to expound his theories with a fervor that is matched only by the utter lack of interest from his audience.

The student litters his speech with allusions to Voltaire, Wittgenstein and any other intellectual that has a foreign-sounding name. When he manages to include a reference to the taxonomic categorization of words or cultural hegemony, you can see a triumphant smile play around the corners of his lips, and his head actually expands slightly. After stringing together several poorly chosen and unnecessarily long words in a single sentence, the student begins to feel the intoxicating effects of his eloquence. His face acquires a type of absent expression, which is mirrored by the glazed look found in all of his listeners’ eyes.

After a minute or two has elapsed, and the student´s supply of elusive references is running low, he dives into the recesses of his memory, desperately fishing for a word with more than four syllables. The struggle is almost visible. He stops talking to take a breather and to consult his trusty thesaurus. As he reaches into his bookbag, he happens to pull out a book entitled “The Burden of Intelligence,” which bears evidence of having been annotated quite thoroughly.

In the silence that follows his address, the student congratulates himself on his ever-increasing oratorical abilities, and briefly wonders why the room has not burst into applause. He concludes that the students, out of respect for the professor’s feelings, are hesitant to recognize him as the true master of the course material.

I wish that this account was exaggerated. Unfortunately, a similar version of this routinely takes place in nearly every one of my classes. Within the humanities, it seems impossible to avoid pretentious and prolonged monologues from certain students, eager to mount their pedestals and to unveil the depths of their knowledge.

What is both obnoxious and amusing is the fact that these select students seem to have no idea that their pompous comments do not demonstrate their intelligence, but rather give everyone the impression that they are insecure and desperate for affirmation. If you cannot make your point in a few sentences, you should quit while you’re behind. Don’t talk more than the professor does, please.

Students attend class for a variety of reasons, but I can guarantee that no one came to class with the goal of serving as part of a conceited classmate’s adoring audience. I would point anyone who is seeking to impress his classmates to the words of Woody Guthrie: “Any fool can make something complicated. It takes a genius to make it simple.”

Theresa Smetona is a senior majoring in Spanish and English. In her free time, she likes to drink coffee and consider the possible benefits of her future unemployment.