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I don’t care what your politics are, covering your face when outside your home is the easiest way to help protect your fellow Americans and Americans-to-be from the spread of a deadly virus—which is unthinking, and therefore doesn’t care whether it infects people who believe it is dangerous or not.


place setting with antacid bottle on plate


And the simple thing chefs can do to help sufferers


Last Saturday night, my wife and I went out for drinks and snacks at a well-known local restaurant. It’s the kind of place that can get expensive if you’re having a full meal, but isn’t too pricey for a couple of small plates. So hanging out there is an affordable luxury now and then.


One of the attractions of such a hip room is that its chef works overtime to change the menu with the seasons and available ingredients. Which generally makes for an interesting experience.


Problem is: I have heartburn. Not like “ow, ow, I ate four-alarm chili and need some Tums” heartburn. The real deal. Gastroesophageal reflux disease. GERD. A sometimes debilitating condition. Which doesn’t go away. And for which there is no cure—although symptoms can be alleviated.


Living with GERD

I have had GERD for 21 years. So let me explain what it does to people who have it when mealtime rolls around. It trains you like one of Pavlov’s doggies. But through a negative stimulus: pain. All kinds of pain, depending on what you eat and drink and in which combination.


After decades of nasty reactions to certain foods and drinks that sometimes stopped me from sleeping, the way I look at a restaurant menu is completely different than the way people without heartburn look at a menu. Which is to say that—excepting a very small list of more or less “safe” cuisines—I mentally label most of every menu I see as “off limits.”


The trick for people with chronic heartburn is to learn to navigate menus to find something to eat. Because nothing sucks worse than going out with friends, family, and co-workers, and having to sit at the table for an hour sipping water while everyone else is eating, drinking, and making merry.


Unfortunately, the restaurant industry—from the cheapest greasy spoon to the grandest destination dining room—has made absolutely no accommodation at all for people with GERD and related conditions. In an age when even fast food restaurants bend over backwards to provide accommodations like gluten-free options for people with less common conditions like celiac disease and wheat allergy (and a much larger number of misguided dieters). To the point of marking gluten-free dishes on menus, and sometimes making significant changes to their bills of fare.


Some statistics

Celiac disease affects less than 1% of Americans, according to the 2017 article “The Gluten-Free Diet: Fad or Necessity?” in Diabetes Spectrum, a publication of the American Diabetes Association. With the percentage of people with wheat allergy being about the same: less than 1% according to a a 2008 metastudy in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology “The Prevalence of Plant Food Allergies: A Systematic Review.”


Yet, the ADA piece points out that a “2013 study found that 65% of American adults think gluten-free foods are healthier, and 27% choose gluten-free products to aid in weight loss,” despite scientific evidence that gluten-free diets can cause weight gain. Because of what amounted to a fad for gluten-free diets in the preceding decade. Leading many otherwise healthy people to stop eating gluten-rich grains like wheat—as if they were people with celiac disease or wheat allergy. Most without any kind of medical diagnosis. But these faddists demanded gluten-free options at restaurants nationwide until it became a cultural phenomenon. Which resulted in what may be permanent changes to menus across the US. 


Meanwhile, according to the American College of Gastroenterology, “More than 60 million Americans experience heartburn at least once a month and some studies have suggested that more than 15 million Americans experience heartburn symptoms each day.”


So over 18% of the US population of 327 million people has heartburn at least once a month. And almost 5% of that population has heartburn every day. Like I do. While under 2% have a condition that makes them unable to consume either wheat or all grains containing gluten. But restaurants have not changed their repertoire in the slightest in response to the larger group of customers with GERD. Maybe because Hollywood types with chronic heartburn are more stoic than their (ostensibly) gluten-intolerant counterparts and the mass media never picked up on the problem, I don’t know.


To return to my restaurant reverie, upon perusing the menu, what did I see?


Out of over 30 dishes, I could not eat a single one without modification. And most dishes were cooked in such a way that I could not reasonably ask for a change that would allow me to eat them.


Now, some readers may think, “C’mon, I’ve had heartburn before, it’s not that bad.” To which I would reply, there’s a big difference between what most people think is heartburn and what people with chronic heartburn experience.


GERD explained

Let’s take a moment to consider what gastroesophageal reflux disease is. To quote the ACG again, “To understand gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD, it is first necessary to understand what causes heartburn. Most people will experience heartburn if the lining of the esophagus comes in contact with too much stomach juice for too long a period of time. This stomach juice consists of acid, digestive enzymes, and other injurious materials. The prolonged contact of acidic stomach juice with the esophageal lining injures the esophagus and produces a burning discomfort. Normally, a muscular valve at the lower end of the esophagus called the lower esophageal sphincter or ‘LES’—keeps the acid in the stomach and out of the esophagus. In gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD, the LES relaxes too frequently, which allows stomach acid to reflux, or flow backward into the esophagus.”


To summarize, in people like me, the valve between the food pipe and stomach doesn’t work correctly. It relaxes when it shouldn’t, allowing acid from the stomach to come up into the food pipe and literally burn its more sensitive tissue. That hurts. A lot.


What gastroenterologists—the specialist doctors who treat GERD—are generally terrible at explaining is what they call “lifestyle modifications.” Which, together with medicines that we’re really fortunate to have had for over 30 years now, can allow people with GERD to live reasonably normal lives without (often ineffective) surgery. Those lifestyle modifications include several major changes, but the biggest one is the change to what people like me can eat to avoid pain and damage from the condition.


Because several types of food are “GERD triggers.” Meaning that they cause the valve between the food pipe and stomach to relax as discussed above.


And the information that gastroenterologists—and the nurses and physician assistants that work for them—are particularly bad at imparting to chronic heartburn sufferers is not only which foods to avoid, but which foods are ok to eat. 


Which explains why many people have to go through what I’ve gone through: Painful trial and error with food and drink until we answer those questions for ourselves. 


A long list of triggers 

So, to give you an idea of how complicated this process of adaptation gets, here’s a list of foods and drinks that can trigger GERD:

  • Anything acidic—especially acidic fruits and vegetables like citrus fruits, peppers (including chiles) and tomatoes, and ubiquitous food additives like citric acid, malic acid, etc.… the safe acid level for food and drink for people with heartburn is considered to be a pH of 5 and above (the pH of pure water is about 7, very acidic lemon juice is around 2,  very alkaline and poisonous household bleach is about 11) 
  • Anything too fatty—including fried foods—how much fat or oil in a given meal is too much can be hard to gauge, but GERDers will know when they’ve crossed the line
  • Anything with caffeine—that’s right, I haven’t had coffee once (ok, I had it literally once) in the last 21 years… and you probably won’t be able to either if you have GERD, unless you’re “lucky” enough to have a mild case … the fact that coffee is both acidic and has caffeine makes it a no-go for many people with chronic heartburn… most teas are also bad… and decaffeinated coffees and teas still contain some caffeine, so are not necessarily OK… only super boring teas like chamomile are safe in this category, though hot liquids in general can hurt
  • Carbonated beverages—which are made acidic by carbonation in addition to the acids and other triggers present in most fizzy drinks 
  • Anything with mint—sorry, that’s the way it is
  • Any alcohol—the stronger the booze, and the more you drink, the worse you can be hurt… a problem made still worse if it’s also acidic (like many cocktails are)
  • Any chocolate except white chocolate and Dutch process cocoa—perhaps the cruelest trigger of all
  • Garlic, onions, and quite a few spices and aromatics


Perhaps you all will understand why I will sometimes say that “the universe has conspired to make me a Mormon” (minus their famous jello salads, sadly) when asked why I’m not eating and drinking all the things. Even many condiments like ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise are permanently off the menu for me.


Keep in mind that triggers can also affect different people differently or not affect them at all. There is no universal trigger roadmap for GERDers. And even foods that seem safe may have other chemical compounds in them—not all of which have been identified as triggers by researchers—that will bother some people with chronic heartburn. Watermelon and cucumbers are good examples. They both seem like they should be safe to eat given their higher pH values, but they both have other things in them that can hurt me and others.


In addition, each trigger has its own pain—fat causes me to feel a kind of dull discomfort and acid makes me feel like someone shoved a steel spear through my sternum (which is why I get annoyed with well-meaning hippies that suggest apple cider vinegar as a “cure” for GERD). Plus it’s possible to suffer from more than one kind of heartburn pain at the same time. Most amusing of all, the digestive tract is innervated by the vagus nerve that also innervates the heart and lungs. And our brains can’t differentiate between heartburn pain and scary major disease symptoms very well—explaining how heartburn can make you feel like you can’t breathe or like you’re having some kind of heart attack.


The best way to avoid such distressing pain is to avoid triggers.


But at the nice restaurant like the one my wife and I were at last Saturday, again, every single dish had at least one GERD trigger in it. And I get it, chefs at fancier places like to experiment with innovative combinations. And they often seek a balance of sweet, salty, bitter, acidic, and umami flavors. But acidic foods are the worst heartburn triggers, and current trends in fine dining have seen an explosion of dishes featuring preserved foods like pickles and all kinds of vinegars. So in seeking balance, chefs are causing a great deal of pain for the significant percentage of Americans with chronic heartburn. Notably when they add such triggers without listing them on their menus.


However, like most people with dietary restrictions, people with GERD don’t want to make life difficult for restaurant staff. Thus we tend to nibble whatever garnish or bread or side we can—or not eat at all—when confronted with a difficult menu like I was last weekend.


How chefs can help people with chronic heartburn

By way of remedy, I have one suggestion for America’s chefs. I’m not asking for “heartburn-friendly” notations to appear on every menu. But there’s one really simple thing that chefs in every cuisine can do: just have at least one dish on your menu that people with heartburn can eat. Maybe a protein prepared with a minimum of oil, gently seasoned with salt and simple herbs like parsley; a starch like a baked potato with butter on the side or soba noodles with a dashi-based sauce for dipping; and a non-acidic vegetable like broccoli with a bit of oil or butter and light seasoning as with the protein. When restaurants add that one dish, GERDers will find it. And order it frequently.


Looking at the long list of GERD triggers, it may seem impossible to cook for people with chronic heartburn. But there’s actually a bunch of stuff that we can eat. And people with heartburn will often be super strict with their diets the day before dining out, so that they can have some minor triggers—like fried foods and (typical, not sour or fruit or strong) beer—that they might normally avoid. As when people with diabetes cheat and have something sweet. So chefs can still be creative and make something out of the ordinary that their customers with heartburn can enjoy.


If chefs want some advice on what they can make for us in each of their cuisines, I encourage them to drop me a line at for some suggestions. I study cooking for fun, have worked in the restaurant industry, and have experimented on myself for many years to determine what people with heartburn can and cannot eat—and what substitutions for common ingredients can make meals more tasty for us. I’m happy to help out, if it means that legions of people like me can eat at more restaurants with less discomfort.


Note: Please do not attempt to self-diagnose GERD or any medical condition. If you’re having symptoms of what you believe might be chronic heartburn, consult a primary care physician. Also, please do not confuse the terms “acidic” or “alkaline” referring to the pH levels of foods when discussing heartburn triggers with the quack pseudoscientific terms “acid-forming foods” or “alkaline-forming foods.” The former terms are science, the latter are dangerous nonsense. 


Apparent Horizon—recipient of 2018 and 2019 Association of Alternative Newsmedia Political Column Awards—is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s executive director, and executive editor and associate publisher of DigBoston. Copyright 2019 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.


Photo by Brad Fagan (IMG_0119) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo by Brad Fagan (IMG_0119) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons


October 31, 2018



In August 2017, over 40,000 Bostonians marched on Boston Common to tell a small gaggle of nearly incoherent hard-right louts that they were not welcome in our city. Especially in the wake of a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that resulted in the murder of a left-wing counterdemonstrator by a young Nazi. At the time, I was concerned that by drawing too much attention to the tiny affair, protestors risked giving the local hard right more power than they deserved—and helping them grow their numbers in the process. But I understood why so many people reacted so viscerally to it, and supported their decision to call what turned out to be one of the largest political actions of any kind in Hub history against it.


With Saturday’s slaughter of 11 older parishioners at a Jewish house of worship in Pittsburgh by a heavily armed, raving anti-Semite—literally screaming for the death of all Jews—we’re not precisely entering a new era. After all, we’ve seen a number of mass shootings by the same kind of white guy in the brief period since Boston’s big protest against hate. Including the killing of two African-Americans in a Louisville, Kentucky Kroger supermarket just three days before the Steel City incident. But events are starting to look increasingly similar to the dawn of an earlier era. The Nazi era. And any moderately well-educated adult that failed to hear the shattering glass of Kristallnacht in the bullet casings that hit the floor of the Tree of Life synagogue as the killer pumped lead into the bodies of innocents has learned precisely nothing from history.


So, I think it would have been appropriate for Bostonians from all walks of life to call an even larger rally this week than last year’s to take up an old slogan, “Never Again,” in memory of the honored dead of Pittsburgh. And to put all latter-day Nazis, fascists, and white supremacists on warning that we will not allow them to take control of Boston, or Massachusetts, or the United States.


However, the Red Sox won the World Series the day after the attack. Making it less likely that the kind of rally we need—a show of force that would inspire people around the nation—will happen here in this critical moment.


Which is a pity. Since this is one killing spree that we can absolutely blame President Donald Trump for instigating with his disgusting and completely fallacious attacks on the caravan of asylum-seeking refugees fleeing government persecution in countries like Honduras and poverty in general.


As Adam Serwer put it in an excellent Atlantic piece (“Trump’s Caravan Hysteria Led to This”), “The Tree of Life shooter criticized Trump for not being racist or anti-Semitic enough. But with respect to the caravan, the shooter merely followed the logic of the president and his allies: He was willing to do whatever was necessary to prevent an ‘invasion’ of Latinos planned by perfidious Jews, a treasonous attempt to seek ‘the destruction of American society and culture.’

“The apparent spark for the worst anti-Semitic massacre in American history was a racist hoax inflamed by a U.S. president seeking to help his party win a midterm election.”


So Trump needs to pay a political price for his propagandizing in the service of increasing the right-wing turnout on the sixth of November. And a lot of big protest rallies—perhaps galvanized by a successful Boston action—right before one of the most important elections in decades would have gone a long way toward exacting that price where it hurts him the most.


But it was not to be this time around. Which is OK. As there is a lot more that people of good conscience can do to deflect the rise of the hard right before they become strong enough to take more direct and long-term control of significant American political institutions… and start legally murdering their opponents in great numbers. Because if there’s one attribute that Nazis and fascists and white supremacists have in common, it’s a thirst for the blood of their many enemies. As such, they must be defeated politically—and defeated definitively—by people from across the compassionate political spectrum to forestall that possibility from ever becoming a reality. While they are still a small force relative to the population.


Before I continue, though, let me just lay out a couple of ideas that are important to any discussion of defeating the hard right.


First, the perpetrators of the recent wave of deadly attacks on African-Americans and now Jews (and other targeted groups) aren’t crazy. Sure, they have psychiatric issues. Lots of people do. But they’re generally quite clear about what they’re doing and why. And they are not lone nuts. They are soldiers. Even if they’re not members of a hard-right organization.


Second, the attacks these killers are carrying out are not random. Even if, as with the recent massacre, some of them seem to be done on the spur of the moment. They are part of a strategy. The killers are not generally the authors of that strategy. Hard-right leaders are. The strategy and the tactics that comprise it are laid out every day across thousands of channels of communication—most obviously social media discussions. The basic directive of the strategy is to attack “soft targets”—unarmed people who are members of groups deemed enemies by Nazis, fascists, and white supremacists. To kill as many of those people as possible. To spread fear in those enemy communities and beyond. And, most importantly, to encourage an armed response from those communities and/or their allies.


Allies like young left-wing activists who sometimes put on on masks and try to defend vulnerable communities. Often called “antifa” rightly or wrongly. And demonized by right-wing pundits up to and including Trump as some kind of massive army ready to undermine the very foundations of our republic. Which is purest fantasy. But absolutely a truism in current right-wing circles… be they hard or soft.


The goal of the strategy is to trigger a civil war. Which the hard right—being armed and trained and having infiltrated the military and many police forces for decades—fully expects to win. Once it’s won, democracy can be replaced with dictatorship. And the bloodbath they so desire can begin.


To stop that strategy from succeeding, the overwhelming majority of Americans and immigrant residents that are not on the hard right must out-organize them politically. And here we arrive at the work that everyone can do. Whatever walk of life you come from. Whatever your background is. Whatever age you are.


Study. If you don’t have a basic grounding in history and politics relevant to the fight at hand, get one. If you’re rusty, brush up. We have lots of great public libraries and bookstores in the Boston area. Use them. Look for works by academics and researchers recognized as experts in their fields. If you need suggestions, ask librarians and bookstore clerks. If you need formal instruction, and you’re not a student, enroll in courses at adult education centers and community colleges. If that’s too expensive—or as an adjunct to coursework—form study groups with friends, read key texts together, and discuss them.


Organize. Either start or join political groups that are committed to democracy, human rights, the rule of law, and tolerance for the broad array of political, economic, religious, social, and cultural views that don’t involve slaughtering other people. If you’re launching one in your community, and you already started a study group, you can build your organization out of that. It’s also great to start chapters of existing organizations. Definitely don’t “reinvent the wheel” unless you have to. Whether you decide to work with an existing political party or start your own is purely up to you. Political groups can do a lot of useful work outside of political parties. You can also both join or start a political party and join or start extraparliamentary political organizations. Just don’t spread yourself too thin.


Educate. You’ve got some knowledge. You’re doing political organizing. Now get out there and talk to as many people as you can. Hold public educational events on important issues of the day. In election years, hold candidate forums and panel discussions on referendum questions. The important thing is that you don’t just do this in neighborhoods already friendly to your core ideas. Go to places that the harder edge of the right wing is known to dominate. Talk up your positions. Spread the word that there is more than one way to think about the world. Also, work with democracy-friendly media outlets (like BINJ and DigBoston). Write opinion pieces for publication. Get on talk shows. Start your own news outlets if necessary. At least a blog and a podcast can be a great start. Use social media judiciously. Build an audience carefully, and encourage its members to join your organization.


Debate. This is key. Constantly engage in debate with the broad right wing. You may not exactly win hearts and minds every time. But you may very well stop run-of-the-mill conservatives from turning into hard-right fanatics. You will also learn more about their ideas in conversation than most anything you could glean from your readings. And you will learn to better express your own ideas through practice under some duress.


Mobilize. Defend and expand democracy through direct political action. Hold rallies, marches, and pickets against the hard right. Don’t let vulnerable communities struggle alone. Join with them. Work with them. Meet the threat of violence with determined nonviolence. Then beat politicians that support the hard right at the ballot box.


Build. Establish small- and large-scale institutions that enshrine democratic values and make them part of everyday life. Social clubs. Sports facilities. Cultural centers. Institutes. For the long haul.


In short, create the more democratic society that you want to live in. Run the hard right to ground with the force of your ideas and the people you mobilize politically. Not with guns. Make it impossible for Nazis, fascists, and white supremacists to find significant audiences for their rhetoric of hate for the foreseeable future. And you will have won.


We will all have won.


NOTE: Since this article went to press, a rally has been called for tomorrow (Thursday, November 1) at 6pm at the New England Holocaust Memorial next to Faneuil Hall. Boston Shiva: Rally Against Antisemitism and White Supremacy. Full info here: Check it out!


Apparent Horizon—winner of the Association of Alternative Newsmedia’s 2018 Best Political Column award—is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director, and executive editor and associate publisher of DigBoston. Copyright 2018 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.


September 12, 2018



So you’re a first-year undergraduate. You’re in college to cram your head full of knowledge, true. But you’re also there to build your personal network. Because the friends and allies you make while taking courses could very well stay with you for your whole life. And the stronger you build this interlocking web of connections, the better your job prospects (and existence in general) will be. The best way to do that—the most lasting and meaningful way—is to graduate. Everyone who does so has a profound experience in common. A strong bond forged in the fires of a seemingly endless series of term papers, labs (for you scientists), crits (for you artists), and exams. You get through that together, you can do anything… together.


However, to graduate you need to meet the standards of the people who stand between you and your degree of choice: your professors. And it may seem to students new to higher education that the profs hold all the power in the relationships they have with you and your classmates.


Two considerations should mitigate this concern. First, some professors—the best of them—will become part of your network. Help you get jobs, get into grad school, and so on and so forth.


Second, you are living in an era where professors have less power in the academy than they’ve had since the Renaissance (American higher education being based, as it is, on older European models). You see, if you had been a college student in, say, Italy in the 16th century, you (being a rich male, as you would have had to be) would essentially be hiring older (also male, but often pretty broke) scholars to teach you what you wanted to study. The universities of the period were basically groups of students paying groups of professors to teach them. Each group had certain rights and responsibilities, and power on campus was distributed between them.


In the intervening centuries, professors seized more and more control over higher education—culminating in the mid-20th century when they pretty much controlled the academy from top to bottom. Most of them were granted “tenure” by their colleges, guaranteeing them a permanent job in the interest of academic freedom.


Fast-forward to today, and many professors—at least at the undergraduate level—have fallen upon hard times. Over the last half century, American higher education has become more and more corporatized. Colleges today are run like businesses. And many are big businesses indeed. Campus administrations have professionalized. Most key staff are no longer professors, but specialists trained to run universities along capitalist lines.


One important job these administrators have is to keep students relatively happy—while extracting the federally guaranteed student loan money most bring with them. The better to convert them to donors after they graduate and become alumni.


Unsurprisingly, as time has gone on, administrators have sucked up larger and larger portions of college budgets. So, less and less of most schools’ budgets are being spent on professors. Causing faculty power to decline. Thus, in today’s higher ed establishment, a smaller and smaller percentage of professors are tenured faculty with good salaries and lifetime sinecures.


A slightly larger percentage of lower-paid professors are tenure-track faculty spending several years at the mercy of their administrations and tenured colleagues in hope of landing a rare tenured professorship. And the vast majority of faculty are adjuncts—contract professors who, at many institutions, don’t know whether they’re going to have enough courses from semester to semester to pay their rent and keep food on the table. Unless they unionize (a movement that’s spread across public universities in the last quarter century and is gradually taking hold in private ones), the amount of money they get per course can be very low indeed and job security will be nonexistent. Yet even when unionized, adjuncts have trouble making ends meet.


And where does all this leave an enterprising student like yourself? In a bit of a catbird seat, if you know how to manage your profs.


Doing that involves four simple steps. The first three are practical tactics you’ll want to focus on with your most helpful professors. And the fourth is a “nuclear option” you can deploy if you’re unlucky enough to get a bad teacher while completing your undergraduate coursework.


1) Do what your professors ask you to do

If you want to convert your professors from indifferent functionaries to active allies, you’ve got to get their attention. In a good way. And how best to get a prof’s attention? Follow directions carefully. Give them what they ask for in homework assignments, papers, and tests. Don’t go overboard. Good professors understand you have other courses. Just do what they want you to do, the way they want you to do it. Right there that puts you in the top 10 percent of students in a typical undergrad class. Particularly with adjuncts who have very little time to spend with each student, since they need to teach as many courses as possible—sometimes at more than one school—to attempt to make a living wage. The less work you make for professors, the more they will be pleased with you. The more pleased any faculty member is with you, the better your educational experience is going to be.


2) Give your professors good evaluations

Every semester, at most colleges, your administration will ask you to give a fairly comprehensive evaluation of each course you take. This, in effect, allows you to evaluate your professors’ performances. What most students don’t know is that faculty are usually shown the evaluations—minus their students’ names. And what even fewer know is that many faculty members can tell which students gave which evaluations. Meaning they know who trashes them, and who praises them. So, be sure to mention something in your write-up that will help your professors know which eval came from you. Don’t be too glowing in your praise. But be fair. They will be much more likely to become your allies going forward if you are.


3) Help your professors with their careers

Professors, especially adjuncts, are always looking for chances to stand out from the pack. In hopes of getting more secure long-term employment. Or, if they already have tenure or are tenure-track (or at least have a solid union contract), in hopes of getting the types of “gold stars on their foreheads” that lead to better gigs. Those desired promotions come by making administrators like deans and provosts happy. And stuff like winning grants for flashy research projects is exactly the type of thing that makes such top dogs happy in today’s academy. Because it makes them look good to their higher-ups: campus presidents and boards of trustees. Given that, if your professor mentions an opportunity to assist them with some grant writing or research work or preparing for a big conference or whatever—and you can spare some time—help them out. Don’t be a suck-up or teacher’s pet. Don’t jump on every opportunity that presents itself. That can backfire, or become inappropriate in any number of ways. But maybe once a semester do them a solid. That’s the kind of thing that leads to a long-term connection and adds professors to your personal network.


“But surely,” you’re now thinking, “every professor isn’t good.” Isn’t helpful. Some professors are, in fact, obstacles that could stop you from getting your degree and solidifying your all-important personal network of classmates and good faculty.


Correct. In a system of higher education where most professors didn’t get any practice teaching unless they were in the minority of graduate students that decided to be teaching assistants instead of research assistants, bad teachers are an unfortunately common fact of college life.


And here’s where your newfound knowledge of the falling status of professors comes into play.


4) The enemy of your enemy is your friend

If you have a bad professor… and I don’t mean a professor that makes you work for your grades. Those are generally the good ones. I mean if you have a professor who is feral. Arbitrary and capricious in their teaching method and in their treatment of students. Someone who gets off on giving low grades because they think they can do so with impunity. If you get a teacher like that, do not waste too much time complaining to them directly. Nasty professors are inclined to think they’re better than you—even if you make more money working at Starbucks than many of them make as academics. So they’ll tend to ignore your protestations. Better to try a different tack. Remember how administrators have steadily taken control of today’s corporatized academy? And how they want students to be happy? You go complain to them. To the highest level administrators that will sit down with you. In person. And encourage your classmates to do the same. And keep doing it. If enough people complain, and the complaints are legitimate, it will negatively affect problem professors’ careers. To forestall that—and being unable to retaliate since the eyes of the administration are on them—said profs will likely moderate their behavior. And you will have won.


Have a great school year, folks. Study hard, don’t party too much, be decent to your fellow beings, and you’ll be fine.


Jason Pramas is executive editor and associate publisher of DigBoston. He has also been both an adjunct and a “regular” professor at some college or other. And helped organize faculty unions at same. He has degrees and stuff.