Photo by Tra Nguyen on Unsplash

The case for “asshole” professors

I realized, the other day, I tend to prefer “asshole” professors to Nice Guy (TM) professors. Not always though.

1. “Asshole” professors are usually entertaining. As someone with ADHD, the worst sin a professor can commit is being boring.

I need a “high energy” Wagnerian performance to keep my attention. And therefore to learn.

By contrast Nice Guy professors — who students often rave about as “chill”, “laid back”, “even tempered”, often give lectures as boring to me as PTA meetings. (I’ve never actually been to one, but I’ve heard they’re boring.)

2. “Asshole” professors tend be more tolerant of deviancy, rule breaking, and in general just more tolerant of being different. This is advantageous to non-neurotypicals.

(Remember — only Kramer got along with the Soup Nazi.)

This may seem counter-intuitive. But in my experience an “asshole” professor will let you do what you want as long as you can rationally defend it.

Nice Guy professors are stubbornly egalitarian, and believe the only way to be fair Is Rigorous Adherence To The Syllabus.

To me a syllabus is more like — cue Captain Barbosa — “guidelines”. I should be able to violate it if I can argue why to the professor’s satisfaction.

It’s not that I’m “Special”, it’s that I made a good argument. WELCOME ABOARD THE BLACK PEARL MISS TURNER!

3. You can win the respect of an “asshole” professor through Bravery in Combat in arguing with them on some intellectual issue during office hours. “Touche.” Even if they disagree with you.

Nice Guy professors tell you to post all questions on Blackboard.

4. Nice Guy professors will smile at you sweetly and then sandbag you with an F. Or encourage you to drop the class.

“Asshole” professor lets you know if you, um, are going to Fail. But they don’t expect you to drop the class. The expect you to work hard.

And most importantly…..

5. “Asshole” professors have backbone. They don’t mind being unpopular. Therefore they’re willing to go to bat for you when others won’t.

Nice Guy professors consider the optics.


I know I’m being a bit ridiculous here. I have, however, learned in life to be wary of The “Nice” People. They often get that reputation through talking out of both sides of their mouth. And won’t go to bat for you if it’s unpopular.

(Note this does not apply to most people who just so happen to be nice.)

I spent time on Capitol Hill. What politicians have in common is they all seem so, so, “Nice” in person. Go meet your Congressman: He or she will be the “Nicest” most empathetic person you’ve ever met.