You thought I might use a soothing voice? Me, the one who writes off whole classes of people based on three bad encounters? You do see only the best in me.
Back when I wrote those posts, I'd always get comments (and emails) telling me that broad generalizations about whole classes of people make the baby Jesus cry and there is always a counterexample and besides their feelings are hurt. I never understood those comments. Dude, I don't come to these generalizations easily and I work pretty hard to mean what I write. If you don't agree, don't go trying to change my mind. Revise your opinion of me down and MOVE ALONG. Move along without a Big Drama Announcement. My blog will be fine without you, TV reporter. So I don't object on those grounds of tarring the good and bad alike. Whatever. I write in the qualifications I mean and I believe in judicious application of condemnation. I also believe that you're accurately reporting what you've seen and that you give people some initial benefit of the doubt. So I don't doubt that you're describing real professor behavior.
On my own, I don't think I'd have picked a fight with professors, who are some substantial subsection of our readers and write interesting popular blogs and are some of my good friends and, um, my mom*. But if you're in a fight, I'm in a fight! If I'm in a fight, I can't say I approve of this backing away from an initial strong assertion with detail but not enough cursing, and qualifying things so that people know whether you are talking about them, and requests for enlightenment and appreciation for other points of view. When I'm in a fight, I like to scorch the earth in front of me and burn the bridges behind me! So let's do this thing! Back to your original question: are professors really small-minded, mean, pigfucking assholes?
Hmmm. You know, honestly, I don't think I've seen so much of this, and with my twelve years of undergrad and grad school, I've surely had opportunity enough. I have noticed an overemphasis on academic forms of knowledge. A couple times, a professor told me that I had not had the experience I was recounting because the peer reviewed research contradicted it**. That startled me. I have definitely encountered professors who know that the Path and the Truth is in peer reviewed articles. Nothing else is truth and if something isn't addressed in a peer-reviewed article then Truth hasn't come into existence yet. I took them for unfortunates who had never been outside the academy and have never been in a system where anything else is valued. I suppose that if you have a system that calls itself a way to reveal Truth, and everyone you respect uses that system, and you could never have arrived where you are if you hadn't used it, you might get real invested in that system too.
Professors who engage in intra-department scheming and power plays don't bug me, because it seems like they're fitting themselves to the rack and turning the winch on themselves. That whole endeavor seems like so much torture that my contempt could hardly add a sting. Similarly, believing that your tiny field is the entire world of interest, being bad listeners, being uncurious all seem like self-inflicted miseries that we should leave them to without further concern. Picking your companions based on credentials is another good recipe for staying unhappy. When unpleasant people are doing such a good job committing themselves to critical, detached and negative lives, I'm not the one to stop them.
What is not OK, of course, is damaging your students along with themselves. I particularly object to the few professors who used their authority to break original thinkers. They deeply offend me, because I think suppressing thought is counter to their mission. But I thought that was relatively rare. I remember a handful of those (sadly, two in my direct path at my second grad school) and many more professors who encouraged and supported and who delighted when their students found skills and enthusiasm.
As for professorial demeanor, I've mostly just found professors to be sorta genial authority figures. I like the ones who maintain professional boundaries. I've already cheated by looking at emails from people, and Cara suggests this may be geography. Out where we're casual, perhaps we don't get so many people who are deeply vested in a snobby high-status version of professorial authority. Maybe where you are, professors wear tweed jackets with intent to signify, but here I stop by their offices and we're both wearing jeans so I play with the puppy. Maybe you're talking about the East Coast, where people do all sorts of tool-ish status things that 1. baffle me and 2. I would have sworn were a ridiculous parody until I saw them in person this summer. Anyway, darlin, the solution is clear. You should move here.
*Considering the number of professors who do read this, it strikes me as likely that some of you have a copy of my mom's textbook on your shelves. If you happened to notice my last name and wondered, yes. That's my mommy.
**I told her I'd evaluated an irrigation system (undertree sprinklers on almonds, Sac Valley) with a distribution uniformity of 94%. Hmmm, she mused. No you didn't. The research says that aren't any DUs higher than 90% in the Sac Valley. She didn't even tell me I took the the measurements wrong, which would have been insulting enough. She told me I HADN'T DONE what I experienced. (That system was unusually good, so much that I myself thought it was an anomoly. BUT I TESTED IT.)
When I told another prof that in two years of work at public agencies, I hadn't seen any of the bureaucratic turf-reinforcement described in the theory he was teaching, he had the grace to tell me that my sample was too small and I must have worked in some anomolous cluster. That, at least, is plausible. I will still decide on a case-by-case basis whether I believe my own observation or peer reviewed theory.