Questions you shouldn’t ask

Robert Valentine
Senior lecturer
of advertisingRobert Valentine Senior lecturer of advertising

Column by Robert Valentine, Senior lecturer of advertising

College students come to campus seeking answers to their questions about life, love, beer, careers and the nature of the universe itself.

All their questions deserve answers or, at least, the best guess the professors can provide.

Most teachers will tell you they don’t get enough questioning – that modern students are too ready to accept what is written or said. They would love it if you would ask and ask again. After all, it’s your job to ask and their job to answer.

And yet, there are some questions that will only cause disappointment and heartbreak for the ambitious student.

There is a short list of “Questions You Should Never Ask Your Professor,” and you should learn them as soon as possible.

We can assume that professors try to be as objective as possible when it comes to grading but, let’s face it: some things are just hard to forget when the red pen comes out.

Probably the most common Question You Shouldn’t Ask (QYSA) is the one you usually ask when the professor runs into you on campus after you missed her 8:30 a.m. class.

You are obviously not dead; there are no apparent injuries and seriously ill students are not usually seen laughing like hyenas and telling jokes to a pair of Alpha Delta Pi’s.

You’ve been caught.

Wisely, you skip the excuse about a mysterious and violent illness that rendered you unable to walk the two blocks to class. Unwisely, you say, “Oh, hi, Doc. Did we, uh, like, do anything in class today?”

This sudden interest in her lecture is far too late. Instead, the professor will assume you believe that she has wasted 150 minutes of your time each week.

Regardless of your opinion on the matter, she thinks she has been earning The Nobel Prize in Undergraduate Teaching. She will not appreciate the suggestion that “doing anything” is a remarkable change of plan.

The best thing to do is to look at your watch and exclaim, “Hey! He’s late again. Has anybody seen my worthless twin brother, [insert your name here]?” Then wander off, continuing to shout your own name with a sense of real concern.

Drop the class.

A second QYSA has to do with turning in assignments.

Submitting assigned work is a good thing, and the professor will usually tell you how to do that, and when. There are exceptions of course, but generally that’s when and how she wants it.

When you failed to complete it on time and pull ye old “broken printer” excuse out of its well-worn bag, try to avoid the casual question, “Can I just email that to you?”

It’s another way of saying either “Let’s use up your toner; better yours than mine,” or “I don’t know how to follow simple directions.”

Pick one. They are equally bad for your reputation.

A third QYSA has to do with the passion of the professor, and the timing of a question which might cast doubt on the sincerity of your interest in the subject.

After a half-hour lecture on the causes of the Civil War, during which the instructor wept, shouted and exhorted your generation never to repeat the errors of the past, it is a bad time to pick up a pencil and pose the QYSA, “So, like, will that be on the test?”

“Ask,” says the ancient teaching, “and it shall be answered.”

Just be sure you know how the question will sound when you say it out loud.