I have been working in research in computer science for 3 months in the Czech Republic, and have recently changed fields to major in mathematics, also in the Czech Republic. I'm stuck with bunch of courses I didn't want to study at all.

In my complex number computing class, the lecturer knew I was new. He called me to the front of the class and asked me to solve a task. I'm not very experienced in this field and I was very nervous and made a mistake.

He started to humiliate me in front of all my colleagues. He told me that this field is "not for everybody" and that in math classes there are "only very clever people", apparently targeting the fact I came from a different field. I felt like an idiot standing there and listening to his abuse. The other classmates were laughing at me and I was just standing there and waiting for it to stop.

He then told me to complete the solution. I wanted to solve the task step-by-step to prevent doing any more silly mistakes, but he didn't let me. After I wrote one step (completely correct), the lecturer told me he wants me to do it faster, not in so many steps and made some more "funny" comments. Finally, I solved the task and made a little mistake in notation of result. He pointed it out very loudly, so everybody could hear it.

This experience destroyed the lesson for me completely. I couldn't pay attention for the rest of the class and I was ashamed to talk with anybody. Now I'm terribly afraid of this lecturer, but it's not possible "to change" him, he's the only one for this subject, which is compulsory. I haven't offended the lecturer in any way, I literally had no chance to do it, because I've never saw him before the lesson. I really don't want to abandon this field either. I can't change this branch or else I would lose the whole year.

So, what would you advise that I do to prevent this situation next time?

I'm trying my best to adapt in the new field, but there are a lot of things I'm missing, so it takes a lot of time to learn it and with the research duties it's not really easy, so "just get better" advise would be great, but not achievable in short amount of time.


I got a satisfying conclusion. After the exam, I met with the rude professor. To my surprise he told me, that I've surprised him very much with my score from final test and that I was "fighting bravely".

So, he probably really wanted to see if a "non-math" person will be able to withstand the pressure and pass his course.

  • 60
    I'm not happy with this choice at all, because courses which I wanted are not opened this year, so I'm stuck with bunch of courses I didn't want to study at all. Forget the lecturer, this is the problem you should probably solve first.
    – JoErNanO
    Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 9:23
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    @JoErNanO No, regardless of study choice, public humiliation should not be a teaching strategy. Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 11:18
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    I find strange and worrying that the lecturer was publicly insulting a student and the other students were laughing. Have you talked with any of your classmates? Is this how they see what happened?
    – Davidmh
    Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 17:34
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    It's impossible to advise without knowing the cultural context. I can answer for the U.S. -- this sort of behavior is absolutely not tolerated, and a report to the dean of graduate studies in the department, or the department chair, would be effective. Swiftly. No recording would be needed. Commented Sep 18, 2015 at 4:35
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    Actually, a classical syllogism applies: Taking for granted what the lecturer said, (1) Only very clever people are in math classes. (2) You are in a math class. Ergo (3) you are very clever. - It seems the lecturer did not want to imply this, so he certainly made a much bigger blunder in elementary logic than you as a newcomer in that lesson ... Commented Sep 21, 2015 at 16:09

11 Answers 11


There is nothing you can really do to prevent this behaviour. You can just report it to the university.

There should be a committee dealing with teacher behaviour; things may vary depending on your country and university, so I cannot be more specific. If you have student representatives, contact them.

Describe the abusive behaviour with as many details as you can, refrain from putting your own personal judgement and emotions into the facts, and have a colleague student support you as a witness.

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    Agreed. Remember the worst the lecturer can do to retaliate is to bully you in class. Which they are currently doing anyway.
    – Peter
    Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 15:37
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    @Peter The more bullying that happens, the more wood the lecturer is collecting to burn himself. Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 18:53
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    David Hill's version seems more likely. And your suggestion is harmful in this case. Don't pull the trigger without any hard evidence.
    – jfs
    Commented Sep 21, 2015 at 8:22
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    @J.F.Sebastian I agree completely - I have pointed out the relevant body and assuming that the OP's story is accurate, but maybe it needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. In this case, hopefully having to describe the behaviour and look for the support of a colleague student will help OP put things into the correct frame. Commented Sep 21, 2015 at 9:55
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    We are seemingly moving into a "humiliation/offense" society. It was quite normal, in our time, for the lecturer to "slap the hat" of the students; as long as he didn't single out a particular person for repeated "slaps", this was unpleasant, but nowhere a utter humiliation. Usually, one should await whether there is a pattern. If there isn't, it is a generic put-down (someone linked it to noble-ness of the field), basically "only" the patronising arrogance of the "aristocrats of the field" to its foot soldiers. Once it is systematically directed to specific people, then it calls for action. Commented Jan 20, 2016 at 20:28

There is something a bit off about your description of events. You describe that your classmates were laughing at you as your instructor verbally abused you. I can't imagine that happening. If things were as mean spirited as you say, I would expect dead silence.

I am wondering if the lecturer was just trying to insert some lighthearted humor and had no malicious intent. Instead of reporting anything to the university, maybe it would be a good idea to politely tell your instructor that you were very embarrassed by the situation (privately, of course). It may be that he had no idea and will be apologetic.

Having said all this, I have to add that public speaking is an important skill. It is worthwhile to develop the confidence to defend your ideas to an audience, and to avoid taking comments too personally. Later in your post you refer to "funny" notes made by your instructor as well as a loud public correction at the end. Remember that everyone is learning in this class and the comments may have been for the benefit of the students who are making the same mistakes (and the last public outcry was probably because a lot of them are making that particular error).

Anyway, I'm very sorry you had a bad day. I hope the situation is as I described. If talking to your instructor doesn't go well, then perhaps you should consider reporting the behavior.

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    +1 We're hearing a dramatised story from a student with a freshly bruised ego. While the professor may have been insensitive to OP's embarrassment, it's hard to imagine it rose to the level of "abuse" and "ridicule". Is there really a question here or does OP just want people to agree how badly-behaved the character is in this version of events.
    – blmoore
    Commented Sep 18, 2015 at 11:04
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    I have definitely been accused of being mean spirited by a handful of students over my time when I was trying to help defuse awkward situations using humor. Based on my evals, most all of my students appreciate it, but it's impossible to know everyone's background. While I normally joke about gender agreement issues in the first year language classes (Oh, Mr [muscled star football player], you have a boyfriend?), I suppose there's always the possibility if the person has gender identity issues, the joke may ring a bit too true and offend. A quick e-mail to the prof'll make the intent clear Commented Sep 18, 2015 at 12:38
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    I can't imagine that happening. If things were as mean spirited as you say, I would expect dead silence. Then you had a much more pleasant educational experience than a lot of people. The cruel kids who had no problem being exactly that mean-spirited in high school don't magically turn into mature adults just because they're now in college. Commented Sep 18, 2015 at 14:56
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    "I can't imagine that happening." It happens like this pretty often. The crowd is often happy to support a bully. Also, I see no point arguing the assessment of OP. Even if he/she is in mistake, the question (what should one do in a situation like this?) is a valid one.
    – Greg
    Commented Sep 18, 2015 at 19:56
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    @guifa It doesn't necessarily take "gender identity issues" for a muscled star football player to have a boyfriend.
    – Danica
    Commented Sep 19, 2015 at 7:51

Why are you letting this person get the best of you? You say:

he started to humiliate me in front of all my colleagues

I was feeling like an idiot standing there and listening to his abusive speech

This experience destroyed the lesson for me completely.

I was ashamed to talk with anybody.

These are pretty serious reactions, and I can only see them happening if you willingly participate and play his game. At the end of the day, he's just some guy talking about stuff at a blackboard. The title is "PhD", not "his majesty". If he thinks you are stupid, that's his opinion, and he has a right to it - and you have a right to dismiss his opinion as irrelevant.

  • Not being good at math is not something to be ashamed of. Plenty of perfectly respectable, even great people are not good at it.
  • Not being good at his particular narrow topic is nothing shameful. Nobody is born knowing everything, everybody starts somewhere.
  • Not being intelligent (the fact that you were did not know something at the very beginning of the class doesn't even have to do anything with your intelligence, but nevermind) is not something to be ashamed of. The vast majority of people aren't very intelligent by most measures - so what? We don't go around mocking and shaming them, that would be ridiculous.

The way you've described them, his contentions have absolutely no basis. He asked some specialized trivia that you weren't taught, and then tried to act horrified that you didn't know it. It's a ridiculous thing to do, so why'd you take him seriously? Your response should have been, "so what?". "Yeah, I don't know this. So what?" "Yeah, I can't solve this problem easily. So what?"

It would be one thing if he gave you some homework, and you brazenly refused to put any effort into it, and then came to class complaining you can't solve the problem that the homework was meant to teach you how to solve. But this is just ridiculous. If the student is fulfilling all the duties they've been given, and still failing, the instructor is the one who should feel ashamed.

He told me that this field is "not for everybody" and that in math classes there are "only very clever people"

Well, if he thinks the class is not for you, he should kick you out of the class (as in, officially, through the school's system). He's not doing it, is he? That's because he's full of hot air. The course is literally "for everybody", evidenced by the fact that the school system as supervised by the president of the school has allowed everybody (including you) to register for the course. That's really all there is to it, if he doesn't like it, he can go petition his dean to require a mandatory IQ test to take his course, or whatever it is he wants.

So, what would you advise me to do to prevent this situation next time?

Well, if you really want to take the class (maybe you think the material is worth learning in spite of him, or you are required to by the school administration), I think you have the following options:

  • Next time he tries to humiliate you, refuse to be humiliated and act as if you don't even see what's wrong. He will be forced to explain what's so worthy of humiliation, and when he explicitly says it, it will be plain to see how ridiculous and incorrect he is. It won't work, and hopefully he'll stop doing it. Beware, though, as he will probably take this as you challenging his authority, and may try to shout at you or eject you from the class - he doesn't actually have that authority, so if you stick to your guns and refuse to comply, he should eventually back off, but it may be difficult not to be suckered into complying if you can't handle people shouting you down.
  • Stop going to lectures, and only show up to exams. Independently study the material yourself. In my experience, the vast majority of courses these days are better learned from the textbook anyway, and it sounds like this guy is awful and wouldn't teach you much. The danger is if he somehow builds in required attendance (whether by actually taking attendance or doing daily quizzes or something), or if the course doesn't have a textbook you can study. In that case, you're out of luck.
  • Ask to speak with him privately. Firmly and clearly tell him that you disagree with his behavior, you don't appreciate it, and you won't allow it. Don't make excuses like you have in this question (eg. "I'm not from this field so it's hard for me") because you have nothing to excuse, and the excuses would legitimize his attitude. If he tries to take a childish tone with you (eg. by mocking) refuse to participate and speak like an adult. It takes a lot for someone to just say, "fine, I admit I'm being petty and childish, but you know what, I'm not ashamed, and I'm gonna do it anyway!" Even Nixon couldn't do it.

It really comes down to one of two things: Either you force him to admit he is treating you unfairly, at which point he should give up (assuming he is not truly malicious, which most academics are not), or make yourself too difficult to bully by fighting back (in which case it doesn't matter if he is malicious).

You also have the option of going through official channels, but I'm skeptical that for your situation it's likely to precipitate an immediate and perceptible improvement (the old joke about a garbage bin labeled "student complaints box"...). If bureaucracies worked, people wouldn't hate them.

But really, if you want to "prevent this situation next time" - the situation is being in a class with a bad instructor. You don't want it? Don't take classes with bad instructors. It's easier than trying to "fix" the instructor, and eventually questions will be asked about why this one instructor has so much trouble getting people to take his course (maybe even by the instructor himself).

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    There's some very good material here. I would remove the first line, though -- it is coming across more blaming than I think was intended. I especially like the suggestion to speak with him in his office hours, and let him know that you are not accustomed to being spoken to that way, especially not in public. Commented Sep 18, 2015 at 4:31
  • I agree, you have to stand up for yourself firmly and politely before you blow your lid at the wrong moment ;)
    – Calchas
    Commented Sep 23, 2015 at 12:03

Depending on university policy, but I would ask to record the lecture for "notes". If he allows it, the recording alone is likely to change his behaviour, and if it doesn't you have proof of how he acts. If he refuses, ask kindly, and only once, ask why if he still refuses drop it. Then move onto other solutions.


Edit (July 2023):

I just read your question again, a few years later, because someone downvoted my answer ... and now I want to rewrite the whole thing. Instead, I'm going to keep the original as a quote, and put my updated view here.

It's one thing to make one remark that the lecturer might think is witty (but is also quite inappropriate), but it's something else entirely to keep at it, while watching the reaction of the recipient. Completely independent of that, it's also not very smart to keep a student in front of the class after seeing that the student is not able to solve the task in the way they're expected to. Teaching is about learning what you don't yet know, not about filtering out the people who haven't mastered everything yet.

It's also remarkable how easily people may rationalize or even defend such behaviour, particularly if it's something they themselves have to deal with. (...)

To everyone reading this: Please don't be like that. Don't be someone who puts people in such situations, and don't defend the abuse.

To everyone witnessing a scene like this: That's an object lesson in understanding that expertise in one topic does not make someone a better human (actually, it seems to make some people into self-important bullies). The fact that the lecturer was much nicer to the OP afterwards does not make their behaviour any better. If you're only nice to people who meet/exceed your expectations, you're not a nice person.

To everyone subjected to such treatment: Whatever your reaction in the moment, we all react as we do. It's an attack, and that can quickly shut down important parts of your brain. So, the best that most people can muster in the moment is to shut up, maybe even stop listening entirely for a few seconds, let the moment pass and then consider what to do next.

If you do manage to hang on to your wits: Try to leave the "victim" spot that the lecturer assigned you to. There are some ways to do that, but they're hard to get right spontaneously. Some of those are: Asking an unexpected (ideally well-informed) question back (you're the student, and it's their job to explain!), making a return joke ("... I guess lecturing is also not for everyone, either". Haha indeed!), or maybe just stating that that was enough fun for today and sitting back down -- really, anything that demonstrates you're not just going to stand there and receive whatever they decide to hand you. This sort of thing demonstrates confidence, and most potential abusers will naturally stop at that point (or explode with rage, at which point you can sit back and enjoy the show). A less good alternative is to directly fight back and accuse the person. That escalates the situation further, and you might not want that with a lecturer you still need to live with for half a year or more. It also carries the risk of looking like you're trying to cover incompetence with aggression -- particularly if you lose your temper halfway through your response. However: In some situations punching back is still better than taking a beating.

What to do afterwards? I think the other answers already cover this to a large extent. Depending on how you feel about the incident, it's often good to talk to someone that you trust and/or who was there, to assure yourself that you're not making stuff up, and to find out what the procedures are for complaints about teaching staff. And then you can form an opinion on whether to file a complaint, confront the person directly, indirectly (i.e. by talking to others in the offender's environment or through your own behaviour), or to let it slide. Letting things slide is often the "easiest" way (possibly hard on yourself but it avoids having to get up and confront anyone), but it's also the way that allows the offender to rationalize that their behaviour was totally fine because nobody complained. I hate to think that there are a lot of abusive people who continue exactly because most of the recipients of their abuse find it easiest to walk away, grin and bear it, or otherwise not force the issue. Some places have anonymous complaint procedures where the offender is not told who is complaining, in order to make that path easier, but there are of course some limitations to those... so it's not a very straightforward decision.

If, as you say, everyone was laughing, then I don't think he meant to be mean-spirited. Every time I saw someone be humiliated for serious mistakes, there was indeed dead silence, and everyone felt bad for the victim (although mostly no-one says a word...). If people are laughing, it means (in my own sphere!) that the lecturer made a joke.

8(!) years later: That's rubbish. One "joke" may be a clumsy accident, but keeping at it as you describe is not. The guy had a an attitude problem.

Now, does that mean you just got it wrong? No! Not at all.

I know a quite a few people (especially in academia) who are just socially inept enough to think something was a good joke when they actually just really hurt somebody.

I can imagine the guy thought he was just poking you a bit. And maybe he has a somewhat-secret, somewhat-ironic dislike of non-mathematicians (who doesn't like to poke fun at "the others"?). All in good humour, of course... (he thinks).

I'd guess he probably really did not think he was doing anything wrong (obviously because nobody does something wrong on purpose), but there was a good deal of "that stupid student must be taught a lesson" in there, and that attitude can just fuck right off. Pointing out a deficiency can be useful, but embarrassing people is not. The correct behaviour in such a situation (student is at the board, trying to solve a task) is to not call students to the front unless they indicate that they can do it and to have a backup plan that avoids embarrassment if they fail. Generally, if a student doesn't get it, that's the lecturer's fault for not having explained it in a way that works for the student.

In case that wasn't clear: I think it's his fault for not realizing what he did, not yours for feeling humiliated. Last time I asked students a question during a lecture, most of them had no idea, and I think this is the hard reality most lecturers live with. So if you were able to answer correctly, the guy has nothing on you, even if it took you a while.

What you should do? I think you should talk to some of the other students to get their view. Maybe you were easily humiliated because you're more used to success than others? Maybe they thought it was in good spirits (though maybe in bad taste)? Ask them how difficult they thought the problem actually was. Or what they thought the lecturer actually meant to say. What they say will not be "the objective truth", but maybe it'll help you understand better what the episode meant. If it turns out that actually, yes, he thought you were under-performing and wanted to make fun of you for it, by all means go ahead and report it (as others have suggested). But I'd suggest that before you do that, you should not just collect evidence from other witnesses but also try to get more of a perspective of what was going on, because that will help you understand it in your own mind -- which you have to do anyway.

Ugh. I mean: by all means go and get more perspective, and of course understanding the other is valuable -- but bear in mind that "understanding" is not the same as "excusing". It's more a tool to find a lever that you can pull. Something that gives you an idea on how to either push back or improve the situation. It's also really useful to get out of the "offender <--> victim" relation because it can give you confidence, agency, and an element of control that the offender may not have. The better you understand where the other's behaviour is coming from, the easier it becomes to stand your ground, talk back, or otherwise improve matters for yourself and hopefully others.

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    An agressive "joke" towards an unwilling person on which you have an authority and in front of an audience is not a joke, it's a humiliation. Whatever sense of humor you have, this is clearly not sane, and is not an excuse. A classroom is not the place to make fun of people, students don't need their teacher to make fun of them. If you really need to joke with someone, you have your collegues or your friends for that.
    – gaborous
    Commented Sep 22, 2015 at 20:36
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    A agree in principle. The problem is that a) there is a fluid boundary between a witty remark and a humiliating joke, b) every individual puts that boundary in a different place, and c) although there are good indicators to tell whether something's crossed the threshold, most people are not aware of them. I also agree that aggression should not be excused because it was not "meant", but a violation out of ignorance needs a different response than an outright intentional attack. I don't know what that response should be in any particular case but it's worth clarifying things before acting.
    – Zak
    Commented Sep 23, 2015 at 9:47
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    I just don't agree with you @Zak, there are at least three objective, clear limits that draw the boundary between a witty remark and a humiliating joke: 1- when there's a relationship of authority , 2- when the person is unwilling, 3- when mocking someone in front of an audience. The first being the most important, because a (personal) joke cannot in any way be shared between the two protagonists if there's any relationship of authority, that's just tricky. You can joke about something else, but not about the other protagonists.
    – gaborous
    Commented Sep 23, 2015 at 15:43
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    To illustrate what I meant: let's say your boss comes to you, joking that "you're just too ugly to be smart". What are you supposed to reply? If you attack him back, he can kick you out, or at least make your life a hell. If you don't, he can continue however he wants to. If you mock him just like he did to you, he can also kick you out. You see, there's no possible "fun" joke because the situation cannot be spontaneous, honest, because the relationship is asymmetrical, unequal. You just cannot defend yourself.
    – gaborous
    Commented Sep 23, 2015 at 15:46
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    So to summary what I mean: I agree that humour is always a tricky thing, and it often depends on the context. So it's quite common to cross one or two boundaries unintentionally when trying to joke. But when you're crossing this many boundaries, it's clearly intentionally done to hurt, not just to have fun.
    – gaborous
    Commented Sep 23, 2015 at 16:06

I (unluckily) experienced a very similar situation to yours. I will first describe my own experience, and then my advices to you.

My story

I had a teacher who fancied bullying every students, particularly when they were at the blackboard. Every single mistake was spotted and laughed at, with lots of ad hominem attacks (you did a mistake ? => you are less worthy than a scum ; your writing is not that pretty? Just like your face! ; your answer is correct? Yes but you're wrong because you didn't write it fast enough! ; there's a mistake in the lecture? No, it's just you being too dumb to understand that this mistake is insignificant, even if it's a basic theorem of the field and the mistake change every subsequent results). The thing is that he forced randomly picked students to go the blackboard, so you just had to wait your turn. I spotted his behavior since the first lecture, and I was ashamed that almost every other students were also mocking the student at the blackboard, not realizing that their turn would come. This was a very sad scene, seeing each week a student at the blackboard being bullied and clearly suffering from the situation, while at the previous (and the next!) the same student was laughing with everyone else.

After one lecture where our teacher corrected (with "funny" remarks aloud) group homeworks, I took the opportunity to reply and speak for our group. Even if my collegues agreed with me about the teacher's wrongful behavior, they instantly feared and backed off when the teacher's got upset by me replying. The tipping point was when he started to menace me and our group to make me fail this course, without even evaluating the exam (which is totally illegal in my country).

I will now pass the details, but I tried to reach for the supervisor of the course, which allowed me an interview, but it in fact turned out to be a punitive interrogation for me, and I was (illegally) sanctioned to exclusion from the rest of the lectures. I then appealed to the department director, which (explicitly) tried to shut the case off. In the end, I was still excluded from the last weeks of the course, but we had another examinator for this course's exam to avoid bias in the evaluation, so I had a fair evaluation and I could graduate.

My advices

Now on to my advices: you cannot do, at your level, anything to prevent the bullying from this person, for several reasons:

  1. it brings him pleasure, since he clearly has some type of narcissistic pervert personality. Thus, you can become however better you want, even better than him, he would still bully you (and probably more if you threaten his ego by being better).
  2. he has an authority over you, and a legitimate position. This is a point that currently all other answers are missing. You cannot just reply or defend yourself directly, because he has the authority to shut you up, and even to make you fail the course. He is also probably a respected professor in his university, so even if you go to the supervisors or deans, they will probably side with the professor (it's not a good thing for the university if a professor gets blamed for wrongful behavior, they obviously prefer to blame the student or shut the case off).
  3. the university's staff, and even your co-students, will probably deny everything and not support you: the staff because of conflicting interests as I explained in point 2, the students because of fear of retaliations and the just world fallacy (the belief that if something bad happens to you, then you necessarily provoked it. This is clearly shown in some other answers here...).

So, what should you do?

First, you should focus on your goal: graduating. So, if you can change your course and take another in-place of this one (even if it's a course of lesser interest for you), you should try that, because you will of course not be able to attain your potential in such a setup, and you will probably fail if in addition the professor fancies bullying you in particular (ie, if you're his whipping boy).

If that's not possible, and since he's the only professor for this course, then you have two choices:

  • stay low and just try to follow the course the best you can. If you can study alone then try that, if you can't because the material in class cannot be found or for whatever reason, try your best to not be affected. I know, that's very hard and impossible to totally be unaffected, but remember that your goal is to graduate. Once you graduate, you're free to never meet this awful person again in your whole life. (Note that this strategy can fail, particularly if you're already his whipping boy, because ignoring his attacks may infuriate his ego and he will bully you even more.)

  • report and request action from the supervisors/deans/directors of your university. In that case, you should first try to collect objective information, because everything will be denied. Written emails, remarks on your homeworks, or even a hidden voice recorder to record the bullying when it's taking place. Usually, it's perfectly fine to record a lecture even without asking the teacher, since the lecture is public (ie, you're not talking about your or his private life). However, be sure to not post or share or propagate this audio record to anyone nor anywhere on Internet, because in some countries this can be assimilated to diffamation and punished by law. However, having this kind of proof will allow you to defuse any denying in case things go wrong in your requests (ie, the university trying to blame you and cover the professor) just by citing the transcripts. In my case, this allowed me to get the replacement of my professor for the examination, and thus my graduation. If there's a students association, you can also try to ask them for help and to accompagny you to interviews to defend you (they were a bit useful for me but not that much, they've got a lot to do with bigger matters). Anyway, if you want to choose this path, be aware that this will be even harder on you (the burden of proof will be on you, and you will probably be interrogated like you were the abuser, instead of the victim), and it is also highly costly in time. Remember that your goal is foremost to graduate, not to make the world just and fair.

Lastly, I would like to say that I am deeply sorry for you, scholar humiliation can deeply affect your trust in academia and thus your whole subsequent career, so I wish you to be able to overcome that bad period and I wish you to have a great career.


Congratulations OP for passing. Unfortunately this does not make your "rude" professor’s behavior OK, but at least you won’t have to meet him again.

What you wrote, especially:

I got even my satisfaction in the end - after the exam I met with the rude professor. To my surprise he told me, that I've surprised him very much with my score from final test and that I was "fighting bravely".

Seems to confirm what I suggested: your professor is indeed engaging in bullying rooted in "nobility" of academic field culture, as the sociologist Pierre Merle identified. Unfortunately, you won’t be the only one to suffer from it: you survived it, other students’ careers may/will not.

But that’s not your problem, but this IS a systemic problem in academia that will have to be tackled eventually by universities administrations.

(For Pierre Merle reference, see: Pierre Merle, « L'humiliation des élèves dans l'institution scolaire : contribution à une sociologie des relations maître-élèves », Revue Française de Pédagogie, no 139,‎ avril-mai-juin 2002, p. 31-51.)

  • thank you for sharing your story. I don't know where you live but at my old institution teaching was taken extremely seriously and anyone accused of insulting students like this would be straight onto the audit list. Even as an undergraduate though I would never have tolerated these kind of insults from someone I was paying to teach me.
    – Calchas
    Commented Sep 23, 2015 at 12:12
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    @Calchas: my story happened in France at one of the biggest and most renowned university (both nationally and internationally). In theory, yes, this should have been taken very seriously, but in practice it's just shrugged off.
    – gaborous
    Commented Sep 23, 2015 at 15:34
  • I can only say it would really not be taken lying down in the UK, probably not by the student either! Indeed some staff will claim it's gone the other way, even a suggestion by the students that your teaching is subpar will result in the head of the teaching committee sitting through your lectures to check how good you are.
    – Calchas
    Commented Sep 23, 2015 at 15:40
  • I think it also depends on what kind of department you were in. There were some studies by Pierre Merle about the impact of the perceived "nobility" of the field you're studying, and it seems that scholarship humiliation was more prevalent in more "noble" fields, mathematics being at the top. But also I guess the univ staff I had was just really not good at all at managing this kind of issue...
    – gaborous
    Commented Sep 23, 2015 at 15:55
  • 2
    This is a very good answer. There are some schools out there, my undergraduate included, where students are routinely bullied, failed and sometimes forced to bribe faculty to pass their exams. There are no mechanisms there to report such things and if you still do you'll get kicked out immediately.
    – user21264
    Commented Jul 19, 2016 at 9:30

This is an excellent lesson for a student. There are a host of people, especially in senior positions, who will bully, ridicule, belittle, or otherwise be obnoxious to you throughout your life. Einstein, Tesla, Hertz, and a host of others have stories of school troubles.

You get to decide how you want to deal with these people. You can become a victim, and waste your time and energy trying to correct them, get revenge on them, change them, etc. why?

Pursue your life goals and your passions. Ignore them, work around them. Let them become speed bumps instead of real obstacles. If you simply marginalize them and carry on with your life, you'll be far better off. Then, when you are a successful and happy adult, you can look back and laugh about the poor mean fools who tried to sabotage you to make themselves feel better about their own inadequacies.

Any teacher who ridicules students isn't a real teacher. They're just weak minded bullies who are bad at their job. The last thing you want to do is allow such fools to drag you into their ridiculous game.

  • The lecturer must have very low self esteem. He gets a sense of self worth based on his superior knowledge of the subject matter compared to that of a novice. Pragmatically speaking, since this person has power over the poster, I think it would be important not the threaten the lecturer's fragile self esteem in any way. It might even be a good idea to suck up to him, distasteful as that would be.
    – dan-gph
    Commented Sep 22, 2015 at 2:22
  • 1
    Neither Tesla nor Einstein were poor students.
    – March Ho
    Commented Sep 22, 2015 at 13:01

I have witnessed something similar before in the Czech Republic. It is an exception, but it can happen.

Unfortunately, this behaviour is not taken seriously enough in our country. Even if you report it, you may not achieve anything and more people can turn against you. It would be better to find out if something similar was reported before at your faculty and what happened afterward.

If you fear the teacher can revenge if you report it, then at least note it in the student survey. If he is a TA and there are other parallel groups running, you can ask to change the group. That is probably not possible if he is the main lecturer of the subject.

The peers which are worth caring about probably feel sympathetic to you anyway. And they know who is behaving wrong.


A long prelude to my actual answer:

You can see from several of the answers here that you'll have an uphill battle even getting folks to acknowledge the validity of your observations about the situation. This is where bad culture enables this kind of abuse: it doesn't even acknowledge the reality of it.

So, for starters, I will say that I take your observations and descriptions of the event at face value. His actions as you describe them certainly have an overt or pronounced quality to them, so that there really can't be a valid question that what he did was egregiously harmful. Likewise, the students who had mirth at your humiliation were egregiously heartless.

It's possible the man isn't consciously aware just how uselessly destructive his behavior is, but whether he is aware or not, I second one of the comments that his behavior is absolutely not acceptable. I'm talking about objective truth here; I frankly don't care much for casting things in a frame of reference of culture. If culture tolerates this kind of thing, culture itself is objectively bad.

Which leads to my answer: find literature about how to effectively handle abusive behaviors and rotten folks. Learn to be prepared for every kind of awful verbal and emotional muck which people might hurl at you.

Suzette Haden Elgin's books are a great start. "The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense" is an excellent starter. Mrs. Elgin stated in that book that academia is too often home to very advanced verbal (and I would say emotional) abuse.

And no, I'm not an expert at handling verbal abuse.

One other thing I've learned is that agreeing with unfair accusations is the best way to put the lie to them. Even when the accusations are ludicrous, agreeing with them shows that you care and have an interest in improving yourself, which makes the whole accusatory nature of the situation moot. It demonstrates the futility of nasty accusations where someone clearly gives their best, to the point of acknowledging their shortcomings (or "shortcomings" where the accusations are false). It can also "kill them with kindness," because as a gracious response, it sharply contrasts with the most ungracious behavior of the accuser, who is then compelled to either keep up their cruel game willfully, openly and knowingly (in openly exposed shamelessness), or drop it.

Lastly, I second the suggestion that if you wish to, reporting his abusiveness to his bosses is appropriate.

  • 3
    I believe the OP is not lying, and that he truly felt deeply offended; and the professor's actions are wrong for that. What I am not sure of is whether his interpretation is accurate, and that is a key point to the solution. For all we know, the professor may be Asperger, and not realise the consequences of his joke, in which case he should be educated so it doesn't happen again. In that case, "kill it with kindness" may be misinterpreted and only reward the behaviour.
    – Davidmh
    Commented Sep 19, 2015 at 7:41
  • I see. Yes, good point. Commented Sep 20, 2015 at 3:50

I faced a similar situation in the [XXXXXXX programming language] community. Being a novice I used to make it a point to only answer questions of other novice level people. However one moderator guy kept correcting me (more like nit-picking) and that made me feel like this guy was trying to tell me not to try and answer any questions until I became an expert. It set me back by a whole year on the forum, as I had to build my startup also and didn't have the interest to go and be an active part of the community. Finally I decided to act on my problem and spoke to the moderator group that I was being attacked by this guy. Nothing much happened, but the net effect of this is that I was able to communicate my feelings and sensitivities to the community.

The problem you are facing is not restricted to your Mathematics teacher alone. There is a lot of arrogance caused by intellectualism today. Those who are in a position of power and influence easily forget that they were novices too. It is very important that you don't allow that to change your basic person. And that takes time. For me its taken one whole year.

I can even share one more example from my engineering days, there was this lecturer who used to take COBOL. He had a habit of acting very serious and senior, to cover up for his total lack of knowledge and experience in the subject matter. We were asked to write programs in a notebook and if we get even one period (.) wrong, he would NOT ALLOW US TO USE THE COMPUTER. He particularly singled me out for correction, because I was very good at English and communication, which I feel threatened him. Most lecturers in my engineering college were like this person, if you compare their experience and teaching ability. As a result I did not become an expert at COBOL, as I was miffed with the subject and the teacher. I am not suggesting that I did the right thing, but I was a vulnerable, impressionable young kid in a rural engineering college. I completely screwed up in engineering, and from being a top grade student, I just ended up with a first class and absolutely no technical knowledge whatsoever. It then took me two years to start learning JAVA, Swing and EJB from scratch and get a plum job.

The moral of my story is - never give up. RESPECT YOUR SENSITIVITIES AND YOUR LIMITATIONS. They are as much a part of you as your STRENGTHS.

  • I was going to comment: "Does your university really run a COBOL class these days?" Then I read this article and I've thought that maybe running COBOL classes is not such a bad idea... Commented Sep 20, 2015 at 18:36
  • oh that was a long time ago in 1998 during my engineering 1st sem. Now in my country COBOL is taught as early as high school (6th grade, 7th grade etc) Commented Sep 22, 2015 at 6:16

I'm very sorry to hear about your ordeal with this lecturer. Unfortunately there are lots of lecturers out there who are allowed to do this and get away with it. This is not a professional behaviour and certainly this would not be tolerated in other professions-you can't humiliate your customers/clients and get away with it or humiliate your patients if you're a medical doctor. I think the problem is that some academics don't see themselves as professionals and this reflects on the way they treat their students.

On the brighter side, I think you have to be careful how you react to this situation. You have to try to be in control and try to make friends with other students in class. The fact that you're new to the course means you have to give yourself a good chance and if anything prove that lecturer wrong. Of course, you can always report to the authorities if you feel this would help but sincerely, this may not change him and don't forget he is the one grading you for that course. I hope you resolve this and come out successful in your course.

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