What are the potential consequences, if any, of being rude and abrasive with the lecturer of a course I am taking? Could I face disciplinary action? Could it affect the way my work is evaluated? Is there a serious risk of me alienating myself with other people at uni, if the lecturer speaks badly of me?


I wrote to the lecturer and course responsible for a course which I am attending. The email I wrote contained a simple request, presented with common courtesy: could you help me determine whether I am eligible to take the exam in your course? The answer to this question would depend on the quality of the work I have submitted, feedback on which I have not received from our class instructor since I could not attend some classes due to scheduling problems with my part-time job. This I explained to the lecturer in my mail, in which I also added that feedback on said work was not present on the course website either, as is usually the case, and that I would've asked the instructor, except you have not presented us with any contact information for him (and during the classes which I did attend, I did not think of asking the instructor for such info, since I expected it to be on the course website if need be).

To my surprise, I received a rudely brief reply. I was merely told that this is my own problem, as I have decided to not show up for classes, regardless of what reason I may have, and that I should find a way to sort it out with the instructor.

I have some previous experience with this lecturer from another course, and as my perception of him is that of a lazy, unprofessional and unambitious external lecturer who probably only is in his current position due to the unfamiliarity which the administration and other key professors in my department have of the content he teaches, I couldn't stop myself from responding rudely. My reply was short, but it did contain sentences such as "let's hope the instructor has more of a clue of what's going on in this course than you apparently do" and "since my request bothered you so much, perhaps you should learn to use the basic functionalities of the course website. It's actually fairly simple stuff, but if you can't figure it out, I'm sure the office ladies in the administration can clue you in". I also said that I would make sure his rudeness would be reflected in my course evaluation.


I am not asking whether he really was being rude here, or whether my response was appropiate. The question(s) is(are) as stated above. Your opinion on my behavior or his is irrelevant.

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    "Your opinion on my behavior or his is irrelevant." You are asking about the consequences of your behavior, but our opinions on your behavior are irrelevant? Well, that makes it easy: I have voted to close. – Pete L. Clark Jan 12 '17 at 6:40
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    Vote to close as "unclear what you're asking". I read the question twice. I could not get what happened. What was the reason you want to take the exam in another professor's class? Because you missed the exam in the class you enrolled? If your e-mail was unclear like this question, no wonder the other professor would give you a rude reply. I guess the best you can do is to talk to the professor to sort out the problem. – scaaahu Jan 12 '17 at 7:25
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    Your response was very rude. I strongly suggest that in a professional/academic setting you should never be rude regardless of how rude you think someone was to you. – Bitwise Jan 12 '17 at 7:29
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    In reality, lecturers are generally crazily busy people who get more than a hundred emails a day. That tends to make them slightly brusque with people who try to create extra work for them, in particular extra work that by all rights should be the responsibility of the person writing to them rather than their responsibility. In this situation, you decided to prioritise a part-time job over your classes, and are trying to get the lecturer to fix this for you after the fact. It was inappropriate, and an issue between you and the instructor, not the lecturer. He's simply telling you this. – Stuart Golodetz Jan 12 '17 at 9:06
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    " Your opinion on my behavior or his is irrelevant.": Probably you should try to be more polite in general. Since you are asking for help, let us decide what's relevant and what's not. – Massimo Ortolano Jan 12 '17 at 9:08

No, we cannot answer the question without evaluating your behavior first. Your behavior was, simply said, stupid. Let's go item by item:

1) Are you enrolled in the distance-learning program? If not, then lecturer perhaps has the right to request that you attend all of his classes, unless there are valid and provable reasons (e.g. medical). In that case, scheduling conflicts mean that either you drop your part time job or you drop the course. I, as a lecturer, am extremely annoyed when someone presents part time job as a reason not to attend class, since the government in my country pays about 5000 EUR a year for his education. Being "free" for the students it does not mean that nobody pays, taxpayers do.

2) On your comment that the lecturer has his position only because no one else is familiar with the subject he teaches. Well, this is perhaps the reason why they tolerate him, and you should acknowledge this: the school thinks that this subject is important part of the curriculum and perhaps the lecturers familiar with the subject are difficult to find. This is one more reason not to annoy him, because he is clearly valuable to the school, although you may think otherwise.

3) Your comment was rude, because of the items 1) and 2) (especially due to 1). Perhaps everything you were asking him was clearly explained during the lectures you were not present at. Lecturers in higher educations have relatively large freedom of modifying and adapting their course as they see fit, even beyond the "official" requirements that are set on the web page. It would be perfectly normal if the university in general requires students to be present at the lectures, but the individual lecturers are less strict -- but then suddenly, due to low attendance, at a start of the next year, decide to enforce the rules.

Now on to your answer. What can happen in this case? Any lecturer has the freedom to ask you anything related to his course during the exam. Yes, he may ask you questions from the lectures you have been absent from, and then give you bad grade if you struggle with them. It is very rare that lecturers would go for any kind of the administrative action against the student, because their freedoms in lecturing and exams allow them to pursue more efficient means of retaliation, if they want to.

So you could only hope that he is 1) forgetful and will not remember the incident or 2) he is above the average professional and will examine you without prejudice even if he remember the way how you treated him.

And please note, it is very difficult to claim a prejudice and report him to administration - he has the right to ask you the questions from the lectures you missed - some will even argue that it is understandable to check whether you master the matter that you did not hear during the lectures, and assume that you know the rest.

  • I want to expand on the point about information given in lectures a bit. In my experience the lecture material was more important than self studies. You're always going to be able to check a textbook in your spare time; that information won't change. Lecturers on the other hand generally have information that extends well beyond the textbook. I've learned many helpful tips for how to approach problems and how to consider situations that textbooks would never cover just by attending lectures. – JMac Jan 12 '17 at 11:43

What are the potential consequences, if any, of being rude and abrasive with the lecturer of a course I am taking? Could I face disciplinary action? Could it affect the way my work is evaluated? Is there a serious risk of me alienating myself with other people at uni, if the lecturer speaks badly of me?

I think the likely consequence of the email style you described would be:

1: People might tolerate a brilliant jerk like a necessary but bitter pill.

2: If you are an ordinary jerk, the reaction is likely to be disdain and avoidance.

2a: Except that some iconoclasts and fellow jerks may be drawn to you.

2b: And except that somewhere along the way a masochist will probably attach him or herself to you and then you'll be set up for life in a mutually destructive relationship.


  • Haha, a short version of my response and quite to the point! +1 – Captain Emacs Jan 12 '17 at 9:12

"Your opinion ... is irrelevant" - well, following your response strategy of responding to rudeness with same-level rudeness, a potential valid answer would be "Your question ... is irrelevant". In fact, one of the responders above seems to think so, indeed.

Quite apart from that, if actual aspects of the OP's personality shines through in these posts (which, of course, I cannot judge, email/blogs are notoriously unforgiving at casting hard shadows rather than giving a fully-fleshed soft-contoured picture of a person), then lecturers are well advised to avoid having anything to do with a student that acts like that.

This can mean that they may, where they have the freedom, avoid working with the OP (e.g. avoiding accepting the OP for projects), give the OP only minimal required contact time, not have the quick helpful chat in the corridor that other students may enjoy.

Some may be tempted to put a record in the OP's file, but I would say this is atypical, as it requires a vengeful personality coupled with extra work, so I consider it very unlikely. However, the OP may have just reduced the number of possible recommendation letter writers from people who know them by two. And yes, sometimes people with a bit curt (and frankly, the response looks curt, as the one of a very busy person - it is not the OP's job to evaluate whether they are busy! - but not really rude; they tell the OP what the OP's responsibility is, rather than their own) responses write good recommendations.

All in all, the consequences of this are unpleasant, but may be manageable in the protectedness of the academic environment, but I think, as a bottom line it provides a lesson for OP to control their retorts: something like that in a job context, and they are preparing their way out.

As a manager, I have tolerated rude and exceedingly self-confident people in my group, but only if they were outstandingly brilliant (of course, conditioned on whether the strategies to make sure they were able to work in the team worked). However, there is absolutely no excuse for rudeness if they were not.

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