“It’s Academic” Scholarly Romance Advice Column

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Academia can be a hostile place, with English professors telling you to use “an” before “hostile” before you get the words out of your mouth! Here are some issues that have troubled our correspondents recently.

Mr. Academic

Dear Mr. Academic:

I am a secretary at a local college where a young guy recently chatted me up in the cafeteria. I played along because he was cute and he asks me “What do you do?” I figured I needed to impress him so I looked at a book that was laying (lying?) on a table and said I worked at Particle Accelerator Physics II. I figured it was like “Brothers II Bar & Grille.” He got excited and asked if could he come over and smash atoms some time and I said sure, sounds like fun.

I know what I did was wrong but I’m trapped. I’ve put this guy off for three weekends and am out of excuses.

Marie Coburn, Normal, Illinois

Dear Marie–

You know what Mr. Academic says–Honesty is the best policy, but sometimes you have to use crib notes. There is a good particle accelerator in nearby Batavia! Buy a lab coat and ask the young man to meet you after work. When he arrives come running out saying “What a miserable excuse for an antiproton smasher! I’d give it up in a minute for a career as a secretary!” If he truly loves you, he will follow you back to your word processor.


Mr. Academic–

I am an professor of sociology at an Ohio college. I am up for tenure, but my chances are slim because there’s a women and a swarthy guy up at the same time, and I am a white male. (The “swarthy” guy uses tan-in-a-bottle.) Anyway, I am thinking of having a sex change operation and wanted to know the pros and cons.

Lloyd Pfeiffer, Chillicothe, Ohio

Dear Lloyd–

A surgical procedure as serious as a sex change is not a step to be taken lightly. Are you dating anyone now, and if so, what sex? Have you factored the cost of new clothes into your budget? Do you belong to a men’s bowling team that will have to replace you once you are a woman?

You should also check your school’s employee handbook to make sure that “foxhole sex changes” are not disqualified from academic advancement.

Dear Mr. Academic–

I was recently put on probation for having an affair with a student. Having sex with students has been my practice for many years–my current wife is a former member of my Shakespeare seminar, and my first wife was in my Introduction to Literature course.

Frakly, I think I was entitled to some warning that the rules of the game had changed.

George W. R. Frazier, Croton-on-Hudson, New York.

Mr. Frazier–

The occupational hazard of becoming an English professor is that naive young women will throw themselves at any man who has read more poetry than “The Boy Stood on the Burning Deck,” and you are not entitled to an exemption from sexual harassment laws just because you have leather patches on your elbows.

While we’re on the subject, if you are fired will your position be publicly advertised or filled by word of mouth?

Con Chapman is the author of two novels and The Year of the Gerbil, a history of the 1978 Red Sox. His humor has appeared in The Atlantic, The Boston Globe and on, among other places. He blogs at