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Re: [Synoptic-L] Advisor problems

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  • Jim West
    ... That s both ridiculous and unacceptable. I would contact not the Dean but the President, and I would find the email address of every Trustee I could find
    Message 1 of 15 , Jan 15, 2005
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      John C Poirier wrote:

      Does this kind of stuff go on a lot in higher academia?  Do other advisors take nine months to read their students’ work?  How much of this am I supposed to take?  Is it right for me to continue paying money towards an advisor’s salary when he can’t even read a dissertation in nine months’ time?

      That's both ridiculous and unacceptable.  I would contact not the Dean but the President, and I would find the email address of every Trustee I could find and raise cain.  I would call the local paper too.  And the tv station- and explain to them my situation.  Also, if your local news has one of those "consumer help" segments, contact them. 


      What should I do?  Seeing that it’s so hard to find a decent teaching job even *with* the Ph.D. in hand, is it worthwhile for me to continue this nightmare?

      The PhD isn't just about getting a job, its about personal accomplishment.  Don't let a bad advisor rob you of something you have clearly worked very hard for.  Raise hell.



      Jim West, ThD
    • Horace Jeffery Hodges
      John, you haven t yet reached the length of time it took me to finish my Ph.D., but that was my own choice. Your advisor s (in)actions are unacceptable. The
      Message 2 of 15 , Jan 15, 2005
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        John, you haven't yet reached the length of time it
        took me to finish my Ph.D., but that was my own

        Your advisor's (in)actions are unacceptable. The Dean,
        too, seems to be doing little to help you. You
        shouldn't have to be paying for this in money, time,
        and career.

        Perhaps somebody on this listserve knows your advisor
        and could apply some pressure. Some of Jim's
        suggestions might be worth following, e.g., contacting
        somebody higher up than the Dean. Or possibly other
        scholars in the department?

        Jeffery Hodges

        University Degrees:

        Ph.D., History, U.C. Berkeley
        (Doctoral Thesis: "Food as Synecdoche in John's Gospel and Gnostic Texts")
        M.A., History of Science, U.C. Berkeley
        B.A., English Language and Literature, Baylor University

        Email Address:


        Office Address:

        Assistant Professor Horace Jeffery Hodges
        Department of English Language and Literature
        Korea University
        136-701 Anam-dong, Seongbuk-gu
        South Korea

        Home Address:

        Dr. Sun-Ae Hwang and Dr. Horace Jeffery Hodges
        Seo-Dong 125-2
        Shin-Dong-A, Apt. 102-709
        447-710 Kyunggido, Osan-City
        South Korea

        Synoptic-L Homepage: http://www.bham.ac.uk/theology/synoptic-l
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      • Thomas R. W. Longstaff
        Although it s probably unnecessary let me add one comment. I agree with Jeffrey that your advisor s action (or really inaction) is unacceptable. So, too, the
        Message 3 of 15 , Jan 15, 2005
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          Although it's probably unnecessary let me add one comment.

          I agree with Jeffrey that your advisor's action (or really inaction) is
          unacceptable. So, too, the course that your dean seems to be following seems
          irresponsibly negligent at best. I don't think that I would recommend, at
          this point, writing to trustees, the news media, etc. although at some point
          communication with trustees may be in order. I would suggest that you
          arrange a personal appointment with the president to talk about the
          treatment that you have received, and are receiving, from your advisor and
          the dean. He/she may be able to set things in motion and should do so. If
          that fails, you should contact the chair of the board of trustees rather
          than individual trustees. Having been both a department chair and chair of
          the board of trustees of a graduate school I am convinced that this is the
          best way to go and the one most likely to gain you the assistance that you
          need. You want to get results, not to build hostilities insofar as that is

          I hope that the responses from list members provide you some support and
          guidance as you attempt to deal with an unacceptable situation. While these
          comments are not "on topic" for the list, I trust that professional support
          for one another will not be considered inappropriate.

          Thomas R. W. Longstaff, Ph.D., Biblical Languages and Literature, Columbia
          University (where I was fortunate to have a superbly helpful committee
          composed of J. Louis Martyn, Reginald H. Fuller and Raymond E. Brown).

          Synoptic-L Homepage: http://www.bham.ac.uk/theology/synoptic-l
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        • E Bruce Brooks
          To: John Poirier Cc: Synoptic-L On: Advisor Problems From: Bruce [I wasn t going to reply, other than a note of encouragement to John privately, but as I was
          Message 4 of 15 , Jan 15, 2005
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            To: John Poirier
            Cc: Synoptic-L
            On: Advisor Problems
            From: Bruce

            [I wasn't going to reply, other than a note of encouragement to John
            privately, but as I was writing that note, I see words of advice popping up
            on my screen via Syn-L. Since my experience of academe (which I admit does
            not include schools of theology) leads me to believe that acting on that
            advice might well be detrimental to John's present hopes, I venture to reply
            at large also, hoping to lure further voices in the same vein, and so
            balance things out. The reply is nevertheless addressed to John, and is
            meant for him].

            You ask, and I think it is the central question, "Does this kind of stuff go
            on a lot in higher academia? The simple answer is, Yes, and a lot worse. The
            complicated answer goes on to say, And there is not a thing you can do about
            it except go elsewhere, quietly. A professor is worth more to a school than
            any student (for one thing, they have more money invested in him). To
            contend formally with a professor is, in effect, to contend formally with
            the school (the school will automatically feel involved with the professor;
            students are The Other). And the rule in school administration is that
            schools are always right, and they will invariably close ranks against even
            the most objectively justified complaint about one of "their" professors.
            That can quickly lead to formal litigation. You can publicize the complaint.
            One MA student in my experience did just that, with a very similar problem.
            She gathered signatures. She wasn't expelled, but also, the problem wasn't
            corrected. The general result of pursuing a formal challenge within the
            institution will be (1) you will never get a degree from that school, and,
            quite possibly, (2) no other school will accept you as a transfer student,
            meaning, you will never get a degree, period. The extreme case in my
            experience was a professor who stole his PhD student's research and
            published it as his own. The facts were obvious, but the result was that the
            student quietly [key word here] left that institution, and resumed his
            degree work elsewhere. He finally got his degree, and is now teaching - in
            another country. There were no repercussions for the professor, who
            continued a high-profile position as an institute leader, and continued to
            employ the prettiest secretaries in the whole building, and to be courted by
            everybody in the program, including his own senior colleagues.

            Clarification: You best know your own institution. But my perception is
            that, despite some recent attempts to put education on a consumer basis,
            with implied warranty and all the rest of it, the general presumption of
            institutions is still that you are not paying for instruction (and teachers
            are not paid, at least not by the hour, for giving instruction). You are
            paying for the personal prestige and career enhancement that a degree from
            that school will eventually provide. You can try to make a consumer case, in
            the courts, and the lawyers will take your money, but you won't win, and if
            you should win, your only award will be money, not reinstatement, let alone
            degree (the court can't award degrees, and almost no court will venture to
            reverse an academic decision as such). By putting things on that basis, the
            ultimate form of confrontation, you will only dig yourself a deeper hole in
            which to lose. Let me add that I entirely share the indignation that
            permeates previous responses. I could probably top any examples that the
            previous respondents have to offer. There are cases known to me personally,
            right now, where a tenured professor has violated every expectation of his
            employment, and every decency of his implied obligation to students
            (including refusal to return student papers, or to finalize degree
            proceedings that stretch over years). The institution, and even the
            professor's colleagues, are simply not interested; nay, they are
            enthusiastic. If you make trouble as the victim of such a situation, you
            will be branded a "trouble-maker" and excluded from the school's, and very
            possibly the profession's, good graces.

            The same guideline applies, in my view, to outside litigation and also
            taking things "higher up" within the institution. It might conceivably be
            different if you had a relative on the Board of Trustees, or were a close
            friend with a major donor. But the scenario at best is one of winning a
            confrontation, and academe does not like confrontation, and, by and large,
            it systematically penalizes those who (in their view) provoke confrontation.

            It should be different, I totally agree. In some places it *is* different.
            Between my writing this paragraph and the previous one, another Syn-L
            respondent has provided an example. But the general pattern, from all
            evidence available to me, is as I describe it, and it seems your institution
            is running true to form. If so, I think you are stuck. It's beyond the power
            of any individual to reform an institution, let alone the "culture of
            scholarship" in which those institutions exist. Not only is there no
            structure for bringing such instances to a proper (morally defensible)
            ending, either intramurally or otherwise, but such imperfect structures as
            exist, for determining professorial nonfeasance or even scholarly
            misconduct, are vanishing from the scene. The trend, as far as I am aware of
            it (and I read the Chronicle of Higher Education, which is what the
            administrators also read) is in the direction of worse, rather than better.

            So follow previous advice if it appeals to you, but only if you have
            sufficient income, from non-academic sources, to fund that battle and to pay
            for your life also. Indefinitely. NB: Lawyers cost about $300 per hour,
            minimum, and the minimum may not be good enough, for a difficult trial case,
            and you may at some point need competent legal advice, even in an intramural
            case (the other side will certainly have some).


            After all that, I should now offer some positive advice. This is it, with
            all modesty, and with the usual "no warranty" disclaimers, but in good faith
            and in helpful spirit. (1) Don't do anything to call attention to yourself.
            Within that admittedly hard limit, (2) Quietly see if there is another
            person in the department (or whatever) who could take over the job of thesis
            advisor. If so, very gingerly and privately and with use of all the
            subjunctive and conditional and implicational resources of the language, see
            if that person would be willing to do so. Perhaps only a shifting of roles
            on the thesis committee would be involved. In any case, don't make your
            complaints part of the inquiry to the alternative advisor. It won't help,
            for reasons listed above; it will polarize things in the wrong direction.
            Also, if the present advisor routinely delays or denies feedback and other
            student guidance, his colleague will know it, and may already be shouldering
            the burden it creates (I know one guy who is doing his own work, plus the
            work of two no-show tenured colleagues; he gets very tired by the end of the
            week). If not, (3) see if there is another institutional program in the area
            that would take your project on. That is, explore the possibilities of both
            long-range and short-range shifting of your work. Transfers at the graduate
            level are difficult, whether within a department or between institutions,
            but they do happen, they are perhaps even a little more common now than 50
            years ago, and that option is a lot more peaceful to the soul than the
            demands of litigation (which, even if you have providently kept a full
            "paper trail" of your own work and your advisor's nonfeasance, are much
            greater than you may imagine; copying, filing, annotating, midnight oil,
            general psychic wear and tear). With those alternative possibilities known
            (never, repeat never, enter the office of a superior without being prepared
            to lose everything in the ensuing conversation), (4) talk to your advisor.
            Ask if there is some problem (eg, a problem of doctrine, or a problem of
            sources, or simply a problem of personality) with your work. Nonfeasance is
            one way a professor may take to tell you so. If such a problem emerges, see
            what can be done to solve it. Utter subordination is the right mode in which
            to put these questions. The solution may be to adopt conclusions, or
            methods, or style, more in keeping with those of the advisor. Some thesis
            advisors (and I would think, especially so in the NT field) see themselves
            not as research facilitators, but as orthodoxy enforcers. Your solution in
            that case is to embrace orthodoxy, whatever that may mean in your particular

            Whether you are comfortable doing that is up to you. A word of personal
            experience: I have often been told, at various stages along the way, and by
            persons entirely sympathetic with my aspirations, Oh, just do what they
            want, you can say what you think later. Often. But I have never been told,
            OK, now you have paid your dues (that is the idiom), you are officially one
            of us, so tell us what you think. Never. Students may imagine that they are
            being trained to think. Would it were true. Once in a while, it is indeed
            true. More typically, they are being trained to accept, and devotedly
            promulgate, what their teachers think. The students of one modern China
            expert now populate Chinese and history departments across the continent.
            They are recognizable by their almost comical predictability. They all know
            the same answers to the same question. It is that situation that many
            trainers of graduate students are looking to achieve.

            I was once crossing Harvard Yard with a very senior colleague in the French
            Department, who had shifted his field entirely from the one he had long ago
            been hired for. He grinned at me and said, I have tenure; I can do whatever
            I want. That, I may say, is an extremely unusual use of tenure (or
            equivalent protection). The usual use of tenure is to do nothing, except
            cash the checks (this was before the days of direct deposit). Nonfeasance
            (and hopefully your case is nothing worse) proliferates accordingly.

            I know, principle might dictate something less abject and conciliatory. I
            have principles too. The thing with following principle, though, is that one
            wakes up one morning and realizes that one is not working for a career in
            the field (as was originally the idea) but for immortality in the form of an
            article in the New Yorker, profiling one's struggles and empathizing with
            one's failures. It's fame of a sort, but be sure that it is worth it, as the
            sole reward of a combative response to the situation, before embarking on a
            combative response to the situation.

            As for one's very natural indignation, which I repeat that I fully share, go
            out to the neighborhood bar and drink it off. That's what they have
            neighborhood bars for. Or write the New Yorker article yourself, and leave
            it among your papers, to be submitted under a nom de plume by your executor,
            sometime in the future.

            I don't mean to be cynical, but I do mean to be helpful, and I wish you well
            in extricating yourself from the situation with a minimum of friction and a
            maximum of degree.

            Use what tact you can, and beyond that, may good fortune attend you.


            E Bruce Brooks
            Warring States Project
            University of Massachusetts at Amherst

            Synoptic-L Homepage: http://www.bham.ac.uk/theology/synoptic-l
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          • John C. Poirier
            I d like to thank everyone for the thoughtful advice about my problem. I m not sure about the course I ll take, but I ll probably sit tight for a little while
            Message 5 of 15 , Jan 17, 2005
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              I'd like to thank everyone for the thoughtful advice about my problem.

              I'm not sure about the course I'll take, but I'll probably sit tight for a
              little while longer before I take the next step. And that step, if I take
              it, will probably be to write to the Chancellor of the school.

              Unfortunately, I'm my advisor's first ever Ph.D. student, so I have no way
              of gauging whether I'm an exception to the way he treats students. (It's
              probably not good to be someone's first ever student.)

              John C. Poirier
              Middletown, Ohio

              Synoptic-L Homepage: http://www.bham.ac.uk/theology/synoptic-l
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