Strip Clubs and Research Universities

In the 1990s, there was a high-end “men’s club” (strip club) in New York named Scores. Upstairs at Scores was a special lounge where you paid $500 (or so) to get in and $180 (or so) for a bottle of champagne. A friend of mine, who told me about this, knew a woman who worked there. The men who went upstairs expected to get a blowjob. But this wasn’t in the job description of the women who worked there. They didn’t want to give blowjobs — and they didn’t. She didn’t mind stripping but working in the upstairs lounge was really uncomfortable because of the differing expectations.

The same thing happens at UC Berkeley (and no doubt other research universities). When I was a grad student, and went to Berkeley to give a job talk, I met with grad students there. One of them asked: Which do you like better, research or teaching? Research, I said. The grad students were amused. The proper answer to that question is “I like both equally” — but, as all faculty and grad students knew, about 95% of Berkeley professors like research more than teaching. You just weren’t supposed to say so.

Why? Just as it was in the interests of Scores management to conceal the fact that you were not going to get a blowjob upstairs, so it is in the interests of those who promote UC Berkeley to the outside world to conceal the fact that the vast majority of Berkeley professors care little about teaching. UC Berkeley undergraduates, who have paid far more than $500, often realize this basic fact only when it is too late — after they have come. Just as at Scores, the difference in expectations makes both sides uncomfortable. It bothers the average undergraduate that the average professor doesn’t seem to care very much and doesn’t try harder. “Isn’t it part of their job to teach us?” the students say. The average professor dislikes that the average undergraduate doesn’t “care about learning” — a fancy way of saying that they want to be entertained. What goes unspoken among Berkeley professors — just as I imagine it did among Scores employees — is that what the students want is seen by professors as demeaning. It would be demeaning to try hard to give the students what they want; it would be like being their servant.

3 Replies to “Strip Clubs and Research Universities”

  1. Hmm…that’s a funny way to look at it. I never think of being a good teacher as demeaning myself to my students. I take pride in what I have to offer, and humbled by how often a student can ask a question that makes me realize my limitations. I view that as a challenge rather than an obstacle or weakness. Anyway, I get the impression that it is more common for other faculty at UCLA to feel like me about teaching rather than like the way you portray Berkeley professors. I prefer and enjoy research to teaching, but I realize that teaching keeps me grounded, humbled, and motivated and excited all at the same time. I guess part of it also comes from my viewing teaching as story telling (non-fiction, of course) and every story teller loves an audience. I wonder if the UCLA students have a better learning experience than do Berkeley students?

    I’m glad you didn’t blow the job at Berkeley with your honesty.

  2. I’ve had a rotten attitude about college. I avoided it, got a minimal degree via mostly correspondence and portfolio assessment, blah blah, mainly because I didn’t want to give money to someone for learning, when they wouldn’t take that job seriously.

    Being older and wiser now I’m sure I overreacted, but this sure brings back the old feelings.

    And I didn’t need to be entertained, but for several deca-kilo-bucks, I expect you to take me seriously. The universal attitude among professors is that I’m asking too much. Or maybe that I’m paying for something other than the teaching?

  3. Aaron, I think you’re different than most professors. I completely agree, undergraduate teaching can be seen as a challenge and invigorating. I learned a lot by teaching introductory psychology, for example.

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