This post originally appeared in August 2006.
Yesterday on campus, I ran into a colleague I hadn’t seen in several years. "Max" and I were hired around the same time as adjuncts in the early 1990s; I eventually was lucky enough to get a full-time job. Max (who taught sociology and psychology) was not. He taught at PCC for a number of years, and then gave up his dreams of teaching and went into the business world. He told me yesterday, as we greeted each other, that he’s back to "adjuncting" again — his business success has allowed him to return to his original passion of college teaching, even if only part-time. He’s maybe a decade and a half older than I am, somewhere (I think) in his mid-fifties.
I never saw Max teach. But I vividly remember a discussion we had a few years ago, not long before he left the college. He was in the faculty lounge one morning, going over his class roster. He stood up excitedly when I walked in: "Hey Hugo, look at what I’m doing!" I came over, and saw that he had placed numbers next to the names of many of his students. My heart sank; I thought Max was going to share with me some new and complex grading theory that would be very tedious to have to listen to.
But it wasn’t about grading: "Hugo, I’ve ranked all the girls in all my classes!"
I was stunned, staring at the sheet. He’d ranked them two ways. One, "ordinally", from 1 (the "hottest" in his estimation) up to about #20 (there were that many women in the class). Then, he’d put a second number (in a different color pen) next to the first number. This reflected, he explained, where the girls stood on the classic 1-10 "objective" scale. His #1 in the class, therefore, ranked as an 8.75.
I was so bewildered, all I could think to ask was "Max, how long did this take you?"
Max told me he did this with every class each semester. It took him a few weeks to make decisions, he explained. "I can’t make a final decision on where they rank until I see them in different outfits; it’s usually not until the midterm week that I am sure of what numbers they deserve. But hey, Hugo, you should try it — it’s objective and subjective grading at the same time!" And with that, I got a slap on the back and off he went.
I really agonized for a while about confronting Max about this. The temptation to "let it go" was overwhelming. I was certainly still quite tentative in my commitment to challenging older men. But after running Max’s story by a friend of mine who was an active feminist (and not on campus), I summoned up the courage to confront him. Of course, it didn’t go well.
I invited Max into my office, and I told him how uncomfortable I was with what he had showed me. I used words like "sexist" and "unprofessional". Max became very indignant. "This is bullshit, Hugo. I’m only doing on paper what every man does in his head. I’m honest about it — but you, you’re a fucking self-righteous fraud!" And he stomped off. Later, he came up and apologized for his language , but not for his "ranking system." And having said my peace, I let it drop. When I saw Max yesterday, I instantly flashed back to our fight over his "rankings". Honestly, I’m surprised I hadn’t remembered it earlier to blog about it before.