What? Not the time for that? OK…

March 24, 2009

I recently received an email from my favorite college professor, Dr. Mieczyslaw Dabkowski. He has been nominated for the Regents’ Outstanding Teacher Award, an honor given across the entire UT system, and needed student letters of support as a part of his teaching portfolio.

He felt understandably awkward about asking for such letters from his current students. And so the privilege of testifying to the excellent qualities of a truly outstanding teacher fell to me. (I had written a couple of emails, thanking him, just after I graduated. I guess he remembered them.)

ANYWAY… one of Dr. Dabkowski’s most notable qualities is his profound humility. Given, humility means a lot more to me than it does most of the world. But, his humility really impacted me.

As it turns out, I am pretty passionate about that whole humility thing. (OK, I knew this already.) But there was no mistaking that fact when I went to write about it in my letter.

When I read those paragraphs aloud to my roommates, I could not stop laughing at myself… and how absurdly carried away I had gotten in those paragraphs. I somehow made  it through OK with Amanda, and simply added a couple of lines and moved it to the end of the letter (so as not to lose everyone at the beginning). But by the time I read it to Wendy, my brain kicked in and I KNEW that it was going to require severe revision.

I’m still really amused with myself. And the paragraphs are just too good to lose them forever. And then I remember… I have a blog for things like this. (No, that isn’t really why I have this blog.)

I can hardly believe that I typed anything like this with any intention of giving it to such a committee. In all honesty, a significant number of people who would read the letter are probably guilty of the very thing that I am railing at. Truth be told, I kind of do want to preach at them. I wouldn’t be railing at this thing if I didn’t find it utterly repulsive and was not so irked by it. But… a letter of support for a guy I really want them to love is NOT the place to do that. 🙂

And now… with no further ado… I give you the paragraphs that begged for revision:

Dr. Dabkowski’s humility is one of his most memorable, notable, and outstanding qualities. True humility is an admirable quality and it greatly aids the learning process. Pride, arrogance, and competitive exhibitions of self-perceived excellence are commonplace in any academic field and mathematics is in no way immune to the disgusting rituals of narcissism and self-exaltation that plague the academic community. None of us, however, go to college with the aim of being impressed by our professors or to learn about their greatness. Unfortunately, it is terribly difficult to try to learn anything else from someone who is primarily concerned with demonstrating his own superiority. When I showed up in Dr. Dabkowski’s classroom, I was exhausted from the frustrating task of learning from such men and wondered if I wanted to associate myself with mathematicians at all.

Dr. Dabkowski’s humility was refreshing and restored education as an enjoyable endeavor. His attitude made it easy to learn from him and created a safe environment to explore, ask questions, and clarify points of confusion. He was clearly brilliant and had greater claims at the admiration and respect of his students than any of the other men who were so desperately grasping for it. And yet, this man demonstrated greater humility than I had ever encountered in a teacher. His humility renewed my respect for mathematicians in general and showed me that it was possible to reach his level of achievement without becoming so prideful and unapproachable.



  1. Um, yeah… I think I have to agree with the revision! But, hey! Now we know you can preach!

  2. Gracious me! I doubt even John McEnroe in his prime could handle backhanded complements like these.


  3. haha… you know, i think you’ve already figured this out, but, it’s worth mentioning that in marketing, if you have a great product, you can focus on its strengths alone and have a guaranteed sell without ever mentioning the competition’s weaknesses (unless you are a politician or a fast food restaurant, it seems). while i appreciate your humor (quite a bit, actually, as i can honestly relate to much of what you said from my own college experience), you could probably just cinch that whole thing up, excluding everything from “Pride, arrogance…” to “…mathematicians at all” and be just fine. 🙂

    by the way, it’s good to see something here after the glue post. i was getting kind of worried that maybe you were wasting precious posting time by sniffing closet-rod-hanging glue instead. no bueno. glad to see you still have your wits about you. 😀

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