After Colgate University the senior class council president began telling tales of his drunken exploits during his speech at a senior class champagne brunch, one of the school’s professors made it very clear she wasn’t laughing.
Education professor Barabara Regenspan immediately walked out of the event and reportedly sent the following caustic email to the student:
Dear Matt: I was so disgusted by your speech today that I had to walk out on an event I was, before your words, thoroughly enjoying. Do you think that members of campus safety were entertained by the antics of you and your drinking buddies that caused them to respond to a call in the middle of the night?
Do you think most of the faculty sitting in front of you who have worked to develop the intellect and compassion of your fellow class members were entertained to hear that your prized memories of Colgate involve excessive drinking and causing working people to take care of a spoiled brat and his friends in the middle of the night?
Do you think that an international student and/or a student of color would be helped in his medical school interview by reports of such in-group bonding jokes at an interview? Does it not occur to you that the very faculty being honored today are opposed to the rich white boys drinking club and its network that is one (unfortunate) aspect of the Colgate experience, and forms a relatively small part (I have to believe based on my own wonderful dealings with one city’s association) of its otherwise inspiring alumni network?
Finally, my family and I are major fans of comedy clubs and our daughter is actually a comedienne in her own right. I can recommend to you about twenty fabulous contemporary comedians, none of whom have to rely on cheap drinking and abuse-of-working-people-jokes in order to get a laugh. If interested let me know. You could use some mentoring. I think you own [sic] an apology to quite a few people.
The student responded to the email, which is being circulated widely on the Colgate campus, to apologize and explain that he meant only to entertain the audience. Regenspan responded to his apology with another email:
Dear Matt: Thanks so much for your reply and also for writing to Professor Kelly so quickly.
I think you you heard about half of what I had to say, and that’s a start. You suggest that your speech only insulted the faculty and staff and that its problem was the attempt to provide comic relief for the students. You are reflecting the view that there is a place where it is appropriate to be stupid….in front of your fellow students.I am telling you that you and your fellow students have an obligation to not be stupid anymore. That is very different from not being funny.
Also, you bifurcate self-reflection and humor…another error. All of the best comedians are self-reflective.
I was born into a very funny family and my husband and children are very funny. (I don’t think I could have married a man who wasn’t funny.) But they don’t tell stupid drinking stories and they don’t insult working people. Further, they don’t reinforce the idea that you can help yourself to get into medical school by telling tasteless stories at your interview. Only a certain class of white boys can get away with this. Wake up and grow as a human being by setting a higher bar for your peers and yourself. Join the whole human race.
Believe it or not, at least half of the students in your audience were offended by your comments, too. And are you unaware of the reality that some Colgate students either don’t drink, or have a policy of never getting drunk?Why was it okay to give a talk at such an important event that would leave them out?Agreeing to not be stupid is agreeing to want to move humanity forward in its very pressing challenges: ending violence, ending war, facing realities like the need to develop sustainable energy sources, and helping to enliven things for everybody. To do this you need to know how to be inclusive in your joy about being alive, not act on the assumption that everybody is identified with the values of your close friends. There are a zillion ways to be very funny and uphold the most life-affirming values. I would have welcomed a differently funny talk from you; I expected a funny talk at such an event
Finally, you should be making a commitment to stop getting drunk and to stop telling drinking stories. First, excessive drinking is stupid, and second, telling drinking stories is stupid.
Also, would you mind doing me a favor and forwarding this conversation to the senior class orator, who was apparently a woman who spoke after you? (I had already left the event and missed her talk.) President Herbst wrote back to me, agreeing with my disgust, and said that her talk was just as stupid and depressing as yours. So I would like her to be included in this educational conversation, but I don’t know her name.
I can go back and forth re: these e-mail exchanges as much as I need to in order for you to hear me. I don’t stop teaching because it’s the end of the term, and you have offered here that you want to learn from your mistakes.So try apologizing to me again, and see if you get closer this time!
Reviews of the professor on Rate My Professors include the following: “She is absolutely out of her mind,” “Pretty much nuts but VERY enthusiastic,” “absolutely incomphrehensible,” and “You will be frustrated by her insane ramblings.”