I Almost Got Kicked Out of Grad School for Being, Well, Me

People don't like it when you use their logic against them. It will get you into trouble. At least, it got me into trouble when I was in graduate school.

But that doesn't mean I learned my lesson.

I said I went to grad school, I didn't say I was smart.

It was the early 1990s, and I was in the Speech Communication program at Ball State University, the same place I went for my undergraduate degree. So I knew all my professors, including the guy who didn't like me very much.
Good ol' BSU. I caused a lot of trouble here.

I managed to get all A's and B's in college. In fact, I only got one C. (Believe me, no one was more surprised than me.)

That was in Professor Katzenjammer's class. For some reason, Professor Katzenjammer (not his real name) never seemed to like me. (Believe me, no one was more surprised than me. In fact, no one else was surprised at all.)

I had Professor Katzenjammer my first semester for nonverbal communication. On our first day, we discussed one of the big issues that communication scholars (i.e., nerds) have debated for decades, namely, "Where does the meaning of a message lie, the sender or receiver?"

That is if I say something to you, does the meaning lie with how I meant it (sender) or how you took it (receiver)?

If I call you a big fat baby and make you cry, can I say, "Oh, but I was just joking?" and get away with it? Or am I a big jerk because it didn't feel like a joke to you?

If the meaning lies with you, then the message hurt your feelings. If the meaning lies with me, then it was a joke, and you're just being sensitive.

Most communication scholars (i.e., nerds) believe that communication is receiver-based, and my nerds comments hurt their feelings. It didn't matter that I was joking; it mattered how they felt.

Or, as I like to say, "It's the impact, not the intent."

Because what every scholar really wants is to boil their decades of study down to a bumper sticker.

We argued about this for an hour, some for the Sender side and others for the Receiver side.

At the end of class, Professor Katzenjammer said, "That's all good, but most scholars believe communication is receiver-based. So for this class, we'll follow that idea."

I didn't care since I didn't think I would ever apply this in real life.

Except life finds a way.

A few days later, we were given one of our weekly quizzes, which were only worth ten points. One question was written in a way that there were two possible correct answers, so I made my choice. An argument could be made for the other, but I was certain.

When we got the quizzes back, I had missed that particular question and only that question. It wasn't a big deal because I still got an A.

It should not have been a big deal.

It was a big deal.

In those days, I was a know-it-all in competition with a woman who irritated me because she did not recognize that she was wrong.

She got every answer right that day, which made my hold on the title tenuous. Also, her gloating hurt my feelings.

"But my answer was correct," I protested. "I think I should get this point."

"Except it wasn't the best answer," said Professor Katzenjammer.

"But if you read the question this way, then it's true and the other one is not," I said because despite being a know-it-all, I did not know enough to shut up over one lousy point on a meaningless quiz.

"Except that's not the way I meant it. I meant it to be read the other way."

There comes a time in a person's life that the planets align, God smiles on fools, and life hangs a fastball right over the middle of the plate. I was actually giddy over what was about to happen and even pointed triumphantly skyward.

"But remember when you told us that for the purposes of this class, all communication was receiver-based, and that it was how we 'took' a message and not how it was 'meant' that mattered?"

I smiled, waiting to be praised for showing that I could apply academic knowledge to real life.

Professor Katzenjammer's face turned deep red with pride.

"Everyone out!" he shouted.

Oh, he must want to praise me in private, I thought.

Just kidding, I knew better. I decided to get lost in the crowd of eight other students and walk out with them.

"Not you, Erik."


Everyone else scrambled out, and Professor Katzenjammer stomped over to me. I was about six inches taller, so he had to look up, but I felt like he towered over me.

"If this were a Ph.D. program and you embarrassed me in front of the class like that, I'd have you thrown out before the day was over. And if you ever do that again, I'll do it anyway."

Then he stomped to his office and slammed the door.

I didn't care. I was just excited that I could rub my 100% in Ms. Doesn't-Know-It-All's face.

Photo credit: momoneymoproblemz (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 4.0)

My new humor novel, Mackinac Island Nation, is finished and available on Amazon. You can get the Kindle version here or the paperback version here.