So the whole Scott Galloway email thing has been making the rounds on the internet. I read about it this morning on ye olde booke of faces and commented briefly on what I thought were its obvious shortcomings: 1. lack of professionalism, and 2. bad writing.

But apparently most people do not agree with me.

It’s not that I don’t understand Galloway’s sentiments. The student walks into class an hour late on the first day–in the second year of graduate school, no less–gets dressed down for inexcusably bad behavior, and gets embarrassed. Once back home, the student mistakenly believes that some special set of circumstances makes their defense of the indefensible unassailable, and tries to score a point or two against the professor. The whole disingenuous “I just want to be open” part at the end really underscores that we’re dealing with a modicum of politeness as a veneer over straight-up vengeance ethics.

I get it. Everyone who’s had the pleasure of teaching students has had to deal with disrespect. And just like in Beowulf, when someone takes a swing at you, even if only by besmirching your honor, your first impulse is to swing back as hard as you can. The warrior ethic may prevail on Wall Street (I say may because here lately Wall Street seems to go a-begging more often than it goes a-pirating). But unfortunately for teachers who sympathize with Galloway, universities don’t operate by an eye-for-an-eye ethic, recent shootings notwithstanding.

Universities aren’t all about fair play or the life of the mind–see Cornford’s Microcosmographia for a keen description of how things tend to work–but they have always held themselves to high standards of professional courtesy. Like doctors and lawyers, professors do best to keep their communications straightforward–one might even say business-like.

So where does Galloway’s response go wrong? I think the first few paragraphs are pretty clever, actually:

Thanks for the feedback. I, too, would like to offer some feedback.

Just so I’ve got this straight…you started in one class, left 15-20 minutes into it (stood up, walked out mid-lecture), went to another class (walked in 20 minutes late), left that class (again, presumably, in the middle of the lecture), and then came to my class. At that point (walking in an hour late) I asked you to come to the next class which “bothered” you.

Correct?

You state that, having not taken my class, it would be impossible to know our policy of not allowing people to walk in an hour late. Most risk analysis offers that in the face of substantial uncertainty, you opt for the more conservative path or hedge your bet (e.g., do not show up an hour late until you know the professor has an explicit policy for tolerating disrespectful behavior, check with the TA before class, etc.). I hope the lottery winner that is your recently crowned Monday evening Professor is teaching Judgement and Decision Making or Critical Thinking.

Mostly Galloway turns a whiny email into an education: “Use the principles we’ve taught you, because the real world wants you to act a certain way even if it isn’t spelled out for you.” The subtext is clear and useful: making bad decisions doesn’t help you get ahead in life.

The last sentence, on the other hand, is flat-out insulting. I’ve never worked in an office where that kind of email would have been tolerated, but perhaps B-schools make nothing of mocking those who aren’t already acculturated into the kind of common sense they take for granted.

It’s when Galloway decides to keep going with the insult that his writing gets, if not technically awful, at least carried away and betrayed into needless mistakes and quirky stylistic tics. By the end you just feel bad for the guy:

In addition, your logic effectively means you cannot be held accountable for any code of conduct before taking a class. [the student explains the reasoning behind his conduct, which may be disagreed with but is clearly not without its reasons] For the record, we also have no stated policy against bursting into show tunes in the middle of class, urinating on desks or taking that revolutionary hair removal system for a spin [basically irrelevant: NYU does have a policy that allows students to pick and choose during drop/add: complain to the administration if you want, but it’s irrational to take it out on the students]. However, xxxx [why repeat the name seven times? bizarre–either he’s carried away with himself, or he read How to Win Friends and Influence People too many times in his impressionable youth. No actual human being talks or writes like this], there is a baseline level of decorum (i.e., manners) that we expect of grown men and women who the admissions department have deemed tomorrow’s business leaders.

xxxx, let me be more serious for a moment. I do not know you, will not know you and have no real affinity or animosity for you [what? oh, wait, this is just a set-up for the “you’re nothing to me–NOTHING–and I rule” high-school-dude bullshit in the next sentence]. You are an anonymous student who is now regretting the send button on his laptop. It’s with this context I hope you register pause …REAL pause xxxx and take to heart what I am about to tell you [punctuation other than the ellipsis might be helpful here, but “register pause…REAL pause”? who talks like that?]:

xxxx, get your shit together.

Getting a good job, working long hours, keeping your skills relevant, navigating the politics of an organization, finding a live/work balance…[another ellipsis] these are all really hard, xxxx. In contrast, respecting institutions, having manners, demonstrating a level of humility…[another ellipsis] these are all (relatively) easy [its also easy to respect those beneath you, set an example of the kind of manners you expect, and to be humble yourself, but these are points Galloway isn’t interested in considering]. Get the easy stuff right xxxx. In and of themselves they will not make you successful. However, not possessing them will hold you back and you will not achieve your potential which, by virtue of you being admitted to Stern, you must have in spades. It’s not too late xxxx…[was this written by a professional or a teenage Twilight fan on the internet? how many sets of these things do three paragraphs need?]

Again, thanks for the feedback [concludes sarcastically, not to be outdone by the disingenuousness of the last line in the original email].

This unprofessional display puts Galloway’s professorial status in serious doubt. But his faculty webpage gives us more reasons to doubt his professiorial skills. It curiously lists no publications and little education beyond an MBA. [Update: apparently he’s an adjunct. In which case, what does he do in his classes, in lieu of actual academic stuff: sit around telling stories about how much money he’s made?]

But if you do an internet search, however, you can find pictures of him swinging a sword in a fashion show and a description of his home. The revealing detail is this, about the captions underneath photos of himself and his former UCLA frat brothers, charmingly titled “The Muffkateers,” “The Snatch-Bucklers,” “The Vagilantes,” and “The Trim Reapers.” (I am not making this up.)

Maybe we should just chalk it up to a former frat-boy going through a mid-life crisis.

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