« Some Solace for Job Seekers? | Main | My Most Awesomest PrawfsBlawg Post Ever »

Thursday, December 03, 2009

"What section are you in?"

Since joining the Boston College Law School faculty a few months ago in July as a first-year law professor, I've been asked that question on six occasions. And I don't like it. But I'm not quite sure what to do to prevent it from happening again.

The first time was at our annual welcome reception for students in August. Wearing a suit, as I do every day, I greeted 1Ls with a handshake and a hearty "welcome!" (or "welcome back!" for 2Ls and 3Ls). As I was making my way over to the food--which is always one of my very first stops at any social function--a student introduced himself to me and asked if we were in the same 1L section, mistaking me for a fellow student. This has happened several times since then, but not just upon meeting students. Some law school staff and faculty have made similar remarks.

Now, I suppose I do look young. Certainly not this young but young enough to look like a 1L, whatever that means in an era when the age of entering students can range from 19 to retirement.

So what should I do to send an appropriate signal to others--including law school staff, students and faculty--that I am not a student?

It appears that wearing a suit every day doesn't quite do the trick. (Though perhaps I should consider wearing a three-piece suit with a bow tie in the tradition of the most recognizable professors in popular culture, like him or him.) 

Alternatively, I could perhaps introduce myself as "Professor Richard Albert," instead of simply "Richard Albert." But quite apart from making me come off as a little pretentious, that just doesn't sound right to me.

Does the Prawfs community have any helpful ideas from personal experience or otherwise? 

(Bonus points may be awarded for funny responses.)

Posted by Richard Albert on December 3, 2009 at 11:46 AM in Life of Law Schools | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference "What section are you in?":


Edward, Andrew and McPan--you all get a Pass+. I particularly like McPan's useful suggestions. Thanks!

But I think we have a winner: Jay Wexler! Funniest post I've read anywhere in a while. Jay wins. Hands down. The game is over.

Posted by: Richard Albert | Dec 6, 2009 12:40:50 PM

I generally respond, "Well, this year I'm teaching Section [whichever]" and that ends it. I'm finding, though, that fellow faculty tends to ask me this more often than actual students nowdays. I think this is generally less common now (at least at my school) because there are so many second-careerists that anyone could be the student or professor.

Posted by: mcpan | Dec 5, 2009 11:04:14 AM

The next time a professor asks if you are a student, say "no, im the professor hired to take over (insert the course that said professor teaches). The last professor wasn't doing a good enough job."

P.S. looking forward to having you for Con Law next semester

Posted by: andrew | Dec 4, 2009 10:42:43 PM

Jay - hilarious! But we dont have the discretion to change from a PASS + to a PASS +++ without a finding of error, etc. Your comment was just not +++ material.

Posted by: anon | Dec 4, 2009 11:12:26 AM

You should realize that when students ostensibly mistake you for another student, they are simply manipulating you. Whether you beam and gently correct them, or play along, you reveal pretensions to youth and vitality; if you string it out, you reveal, comically, your perception of how students behave (e.g., playing along while using slang like "Daddy-O" or "23 skidoo"). Videos of these staged encounters are then posted on YouTube.

The only safe reaction to anyone supposing you're a student is to upbraid them fiercely and report them to the dean. As to how to project professorship and avoid such putative confusion, I favor quoting myself at length, then making appreciative noises and pausing for an awkward interval. And turtlenecks and leisure suits work much better than any species of tie.

Posted by: Edward Swaine | Dec 4, 2009 9:32:36 AM

Umm, I hate to be one of those students who seems like they're complaining about their grades, and I'm not saying anything about you personally or anything (your class was great, and I learned a lot!!!), but I'm just wondering why I only got a PASS+ if my idea was so damned funny. I mean, do you have like a grading sheet with raw points or anything that you could look at, maybe check over and see if I was supposed to get maybe a PASS+++ or something? I'd have to file something official with the dean.

Posted by: Jay Wexler | Dec 4, 2009 9:27:34 AM

why not just avoid interactions with students at all costs? then, although you might not look like a professor, you can at least say you act like one.

Posted by: andy | Dec 4, 2009 12:10:22 AM

As I prepare to grade my first set of exams in a couple of weeks, I will take this occasion to get in the grading mood by grading the responses to my post. And, in honor of the growing number of law schools moving to an ungraded curriculum, grades will be Pass/Fail, with the possibility of a Pass+ for bonus credit awarded to funny replies, as advertised in my original post.

Anon: Grow a beard? No! --- FAIL

Howard: Good point. But the sandals are a no-go for me. --- PASS

Mark: Meh. Fine. --- PASS



Rob: Funny, with good advice. --- PASS+

John: Never! But you justify your views. So fine. --- PASS

Steve: You might be right, Steve. Good advice. --- PASS

Paul: I hope it will not concern as much going forward. I’ll keep the group posted, though. Sage, helpful advice. --- PASS

Jay: HAHAHAHAHAHAH!! I would love to try that. But I’m too risk averse. --- PASS +

Keith: Hmm… are you a student? --- PASS

David: Excellent advice. No funny stuff in there but so useful that it merits a bonus point. --- PASS+


Vladimir: Brilliant. Absolutely genius. --- PASS+

Keri: Yup. Suits tend to have that effect. (Although not during on-campus interview season.) No advice really given here. But very nice diction and use of irony. --- PASS


Orin: Very clever. Very clever, indeed. I’m not sure I will try that but maybe. --- PASS

Posted by: Richard Albert | Dec 3, 2009 11:45:55 PM

I should add that Sarah Lawsky wins the thread, at least in my book.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Dec 3, 2009 10:56:39 PM

This happened to me when I was a new professor, including once when I was wearing a suit to a 1L orientation event. My favorite response was to play along and just tell them the section I was "in" -- on the theory that if I taught that section, I was sort of "in it" in some sense. (Once, when I did this, I was told that my section was supposed to have pretty good professors. I responded something along the lines of, "Cool, that's good to hear. Which was true -- it was good to hear.)

FWIW, it hasn't happened since my second year if teaching, in '02.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Dec 3, 2009 10:51:39 PM

In my first year teaching civ pro, I sat in on one of the orientation classes about "the process of civil litigation." I later learned that the person I sat next to was super-intimidated because I had not been taking any notes. He was very relieved to see me walk up to the front of the room a few days later.

Posted by: Jennifer Hendricks | Dec 3, 2009 9:40:50 PM

I have the opposite problem. I'm a 2L, but twice this week I've been mistaken for a professor. (Granted, the people making the mistake were undergrads.) I was flattered but confused; I'm only 27 and I'm usually told I look younger than my age. (I was wearing a suit at the time because I had just come from work, so that might have had something to do with it.)

Posted by: Keri Brooks | Dec 3, 2009 8:53:51 PM

Richard, I commend to you Jay Wexler's delightful trick. Another thing I tried (back in my salad days), quite by accident, was this. A student was lost the day before classes started. She thought I was an upperclassman, and so she asked if I knew where section 8's orientation room was. I pointed her to it, and then said, "By the way, all of your professors are great except for one. That civ pro guy...oh my, watch out." I only wish I had remembered her face well enough to notice her reaction when I walked into the classroom two days later.

Posted by: Vladimir | Dec 3, 2009 6:18:13 PM

I'm on the elevator, coming from teaching basic tax.

Student [noticing I am carrying the tax code]: "Oh, who do you have for tax?"

Me: "Me!"

Posted by: Sarah Lawsky | Dec 3, 2009 6:00:23 PM

Back when this used to be a problem --alas those were the days-- I would introduce myself as, "I am David Levine, I'm on the faculty here." It seemed less pretentious than "I am Professor Levine."

Posted by: David Levine | Dec 3, 2009 5:38:49 PM

Have a big hairy fit about people using the internet in class. That will signal that you are a Professor.

Posted by: Keith T | Dec 3, 2009 5:06:40 PM

I think that for the spring semester, you should go to the classroom where you're teaching on the first day of class and sit in one of the seats with your book along all the other students. Five minutes after the class is supposed to start, when all the students are confused and fidgeting because the teacher hasn't arrived, you stand up, declare loudly that oh yeah, you're supposed to be teaching this class, and then go up to the front of the room and start teaching.

This may not solve your problem, however.

Posted by: Jay Wexler | Dec 3, 2009 4:27:39 PM

I'd like to know more about why it concerns you. Do you think it is related to the fact that it is your first year of teaching? I admit this kind of thing never really bothered me, but in addition to the point raised above that this is a problem that time will inexorably cure, you might also take comfort in the notion that the more comfortable you are in your job over time, the less you will likely care whether anyone mistakes you for a student.

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Dec 3, 2009 4:00:59 PM

It is not pretentious to introduce yourself to students as Professor Albert. The "which section are you in" question is much more awkward for the students who ask it than it is for you, so they will appreciate being saved the embarrassment.

Just don't introduce yourself as "Professor Albert" anywhere else.

I do not have a funny response to your inquiry, but one could imagine a Noel Coward play based on a young professor's reluctance to introduce himself other than by his first name. Complications and misunderstandings ensue.

Posted by: Steve Lubet | Dec 3, 2009 3:39:04 PM

Faculty restroom? Really?

Posted by: Mark D. White | Dec 3, 2009 3:22:14 PM

Two words: Bow tie.

Because they're cool.

Posted by: John | Dec 3, 2009 2:12:54 PM

During my first semester on the St. John's faculty, a very senior colleague, upon encountering me in the faculty restroom, told me "Son, generally the faculty restroom is reserved for faculty." He told me the same thing about a month later, so I wasn't sure if it was a sort of hazing, or if he really had short-term memory problems. In terms of the more general tendency to mistake me for a student (which never happens anymore), I found that wearing a tie helped tremendously.

Posted by: rob vischer | Dec 3, 2009 1:25:54 PM

Alternate the three piece suit and bow tie with a hat and a whip.

Posted by: Katie | Dec 3, 2009 1:23:49 PM

Wear a tweed sport jacket with elbow patches, baggy corduroys, Wallabees, and always have an unlit pipe clenched between your teeth? And mumble incoherently in the hallways?

Posted by: Jeff Lipshaw | Dec 3, 2009 12:24:25 PM

Sorry - I didn't refresh the page before posting, so I missed Howard's post.

Posted by: Mark D. White | Dec 3, 2009 12:18:26 PM

Enjoy it while it lasts?

Posted by: Mark D. White | Dec 3, 2009 12:07:32 PM

One more thing: I am bit surprised you encounter the confusion. Not because you don't look young, but because me experience has been that students seem to have the faculty web site memorized when they get here.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Dec 3, 2009 12:05:55 PM

Umm, Embrace it? Pretty soon you *won't* be able to pass anymore. On non-teaching days, I wear shorts, sandals, and a polo shirt and I carry a backpack. No one *ever* confuses me for a student anymore.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Dec 3, 2009 12:04:41 PM

Grow a beard?

Posted by: Anon | Dec 3, 2009 11:58:06 AM

The comments to this entry are closed.