Social Question

nikipedia's avatar

How does one rein in old white men?

Asked by nikipedia (27526points) January 19th, 2011

I keep encountering old white men in positions of power with few to no checks on their professional behavior who have turned into raging narcissists. For instance, the Dean of the school I teach in was just unbelievably rude to one of my students, and I am very tempted to go to his office and tell him as much.

Then again, this would accomplish exactly nothing since my personal outrage has absolutely no bearing on his life.

Are we peons supposed to just take it? What the fuck is wrong with these people, anyway?

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36 Answers

augustlan's avatar

Personally, I would talk to him about it. Well, in this economy, I’d be certain it wouldn’t cost me my job, first.

I had a boss many years ago that belittled another employee, yelling at him right in front of me. It really upset me, so I went in to his office later on and told him I found that extremely uncomfortable, and would prefer that he handle such issues behind closed doors. For the sake of both the employee being yelled at, and the rest of us, too. He didn’t take it very well. He basically said, “I’ll say whatever I want, to whoever I want, wherever I want.” BUT… he never did it again.

963chris's avatar

I say a swift kick to the nads will solve the problem ;)

Nullo's avatar

I believe that it is a people problem more than it is an ‘old white men’ problem.

Judi's avatar

It is also a tenure problem in your industry. Why check your behavior if no one can do anything about it anyway?

Scooby's avatar

What did he say?? :-/
& why??
maybe the student was being an arse? what had upset this older gent in the first place? :-/

WasCy's avatar

Did you see something happen, or are you relying solely on the student’s recounting? If you saw the dean behave boorishly, then he should be brought up on it, but maybe not by you, personally. Isn’t there a higher board that he responds to? A written account of what you witnessed should be sent to them for action.

Otherwise, no matter how much you may trust and admire the student, a one-sided account is never enough to convict a person – or shouldn’t be, anyway.

I’m mildly amused that your beef seems to be solely with old white men. This isn’t simply a chronological, racial or sex-based issue, you know.

meiosis's avatar

I don’t know about the Dean, but I think you could do with going on a diversity awareness course as you seem to have a serious problem, given that you are able to extrapolate the actions of one person to an entire social and racial group.

omph's avatar

@meiosis – I have had dinner with nikipedia. She is so proper and logical it hurts my brains. Yes, I have two.

Really, if she is bitching there is something behind it.

marinelife's avatar

They flourish in their seats of power. In the university environment, they do not have the normal checks that they would in a corporate setting.

First, before you tell this person off, you have to have witnessed the supposed wrongdoing.
You cannot just take your student’s recounting of what happened as fact. Was there a second person there that you could ask?

Can you approach the person who did this and ask them what happened (without accusing them of anything inappropriate first)?

john65pennington's avatar

Many old white men are set in their ways. they have lived a long lifetime of having everything “going their way”. you have this problem in education, we have this problem in the police world.

When it gets to this point, it’s time for a change in the leadership.

You are not alone.

nikipedia's avatar

For background: the school is requiring students to do something that doesn’t have any tangible benefit to them, but requires time and money of them. Without it, they fail the course.

The student sent the Dean a polite and thoughtful email expressing his concerns.

The Dean wrote back belittling the student and mocking the spelling/grammar in his email.

I have it all in writing.

I recognize this problem is not unique to old white men, but unsurprisingly they hold every single position of power at this level in my school, so until I have other competing data points I’ll continue to make this observation.

marinelife's avatar

OK so the student has it all in writing too. I would think that it would be up to them to go over the Dean’s head and protest the tone.

Lacking that, you could express concern that the student was treated that way to the Dean’s superior. But be careful. It could backfire on you.

WasCy's avatar


It might be useful, then, and certainly less inflammatory to other old white men such as myself, if you would observe that you have such problems “with some of the old white men at my school.” There’s a lot more to age, the white race, and men that isn’t seen “at your school”. And I’d venture to say that unless you work in a place that is particularly attractive to sociopaths that there is probably a counterbalancing lot of very polite, gracious and helpful “old white men” at your school, too.

YoBob's avatar

Well gee, I think the best way to combat the problem is to work your way up to a position of power in the same way those old white men did.

nikipedia's avatar

@WasCy: The thing is, I really do think this is a problem of the kind of privilege that only old white men enjoy. This is not limited to a single situation, and every person I’ve observed behave this way has been an old white man.

thorninmud's avatar

I’m on the verge of old white manhood myself, but I don’t think @nikipedia is being entirely unreasonable in thinking that there’s a connection between being an “old white man” and one’s sense of power, especially within certain institutions.

If the upper ranks of any institution overwhelmingly fit a particular demographic pattern, that won’t escape the notice of someone working his or her way up through the ranks. If he also belongs to that demographic, then it will be easier for him to envision himself as fitting naturally into the ranks of the elite. His rise through the echelon will only reinforce that sense of destiny. In many institutions, an old white man is more likely to wear his power comfortably and unquestioningly. He may be less likely to reflect on the basis and limits of his authority.

Our minds are very sensitive to patterns. We may think ourselves sophisticated enough to override the coarser conclusions that those perceptions of pattern may give rise to, but they still operate on a subconscious level. The old white men who take their power for granted and abuse it may be under this influence. And maybe @nikipedia has overreached in drawing conclusions from patterns too. That’s the way we are.

Unfortunately, I don’t have much in the way of a solution to offer to @nikipedia‘s dilemma. Your efforts might be more effectively directed toward giving your perspective on the incident to the student.

ucme's avatar

They should be given a hobby, learn to play the harmonica for example. It could change their lives forever…or maybe not :¬)

Arbornaut's avatar

Fuck with his head, sabotage his car or office, let him know he’s a fuckwit indirectly without exposing yourself. Make the bastard paranoid.

YoBob's avatar


@Arbornaut Hey, and while your at it why don’t you just slap the shit out of the next white guy over 40 that you see walking down the street. After all, because he’s white and has been around the block a few times he must be evil incarnate.

Better yet, why don’t we round up all of the old white guys and put them in an old white guy concentration camp. Or even better, how about castrating all white male children at birth because we all know that it is their destiny to grow into evil white men bent on world domination.

So ask yourself this: what would your reaction be if somebody asked how to reign in young black men and proceeded to tell you about how in their experience all of the young black men they meet in the street behave like gangsters, most likely due to the lack of any social checks and balances that life on the street affords them?

Hmm,.. perhaps racism and bigotry are not exclusive to old white guys after all?

Brian1946's avatar

Weed brownies.
They certainly worked to rein in this old white dude! ;-p

Arbornaut's avatar

@YoBob What the fuck are you on about?

YoBob's avatar

@Arbornaut, please note the ”~” character, which is the symbol for sarcasm in this forum.

However, it is sarcasm intended to illustrate a point. That point is not directed at you in particular, but meant to point out that racism and bigotry are not exclusive to one race or gender and are equally ugly no matter from whence they come.

Quite frankly, I find the implication of the original poster that all older white males who have held a steady job long enough to rise to a position of power are all somehow evil and corrupt to be just as racist and bigoted as somebody who implies that all black or Latino who live on the streets are gangsters.

nikipedia's avatar

I love it when old white men feel all persecuted and threatened.

YoBob's avatar

No joy here as I don’t feel persecuted nor threatened.

However, I do believe you are a racist and a bigot.

nikipedia's avatar

And I believe you probably have a sense of privilege and entitlement that you’re not even aware of!

iamthemob's avatar

@YoBob – wasn’t it you that was arguing that the Boy Scouts were right to think that they should not allow gays in the scouts because they were more likely to be child molesters?

Heal thyself, before calling someone else a bigot.

funkdaddy's avatar

You convert those in power to your way of thinking by showing the advantages to them and the organization.

If this is the fight you want to use your arrows on, maybe write him a letter or email explaining the student brought it your attention. Explain the student probably felt justified in bringing the problem to the dean’s attention because other students felt the same.

If the dean isn’t the person to go to, he should refer them to whoever is. Students should have a way of giving feedback and shouldn’t be belittled by their educators. College is not the time to squash independent thinking or even questioning authority. It would be better to challenge the student to find a better solution than the current one, or explain the educational benefits of the current system.

The benefit to the school is a better education, happier students (customers), and a better communication.

If you’re feeling passive aggressive, say the student brought it to you and you’d like to answer the question productively but can’t justify the silly expenses on top of outrageous tuition. (don’t do that)

YoBob's avatar

@iamthemob No, I never stated nor implied that gays were more likely to be child molesters. I did, however, state that the reason for the current BSA policy stemmed from a case where the BSA was sued when a card carrying NMBLA member (that’s the National Man Boy Love Association, who believe that sexual relationships between boys and older men are not only normal, but healthy) who was also in a leadership position was caught diddling the boys.

Now, given a choice between having a slimy lawyer argue that the organization is responsible for damages because they failed to properly assess the character of their leadership and having a lawyer argue whether or not the BSA, a private organization, has the right to take into consideration the sexual preferences of their leadership, in light of the above case I can understand whey they chose the latter.

Because you have a cause, however, the only thing you are willing to hear is “he must think that gay people are more likely to be child molesters.

Now, to bring this back to the topic at hand. The original poster stated:

“Dean of the school I teach in was just unbelievably rude to one of my students” and then attributed that to his age and race

then stated:

“The student sent the Dean a polite and thoughtful email expressing his concerns.

The Dean wrote back belittling the student and mocking the spelling/grammar in his email.”

Of course we have no way of knowing what the concerns were, how politely they were stated, and what constitutes belittling (I would, however, argue that the dean of a learning institution has an obligation to point out grammatical errors) But, that aside, once again she attributes his character defects to his race and age.

Then yet later states:

“I love it when old white men feel all persecuted and threatened.”

Which belies a perverse pleasure in persecuting and threatening old white men.

I stand by my opinion.

YoBob's avatar

@nikipedia Just curious, what exactly makes you think that I probably have a sense of privilege and entitlement that I’m not even aware of?

You know nothing of me other than the various posts I have written in this forum.

I can’t help but wonder if you are making assumptions based on what you believe to be my race and age and your personal opinion of that particular demographic.

Nullo's avatar

@YoBob It’s part of the standard feminist/entitlement doctrine. Whether that’s where Niki got it or not is unknown. Telling you that you’re not aware of your supposed bias is a play to the knowledge that we aren’t all that aware of ourselves, in an effort to make you lose confidence in your viewpoint and more readily accept the opponent’s. It’s just a cheap shot.
Now, unwitting bias is a valid concern – heavens, it plagues all sides of the media – but its use here smacks more of a blind strike to keep you off-balance than it does of legitimate criticism.

@nikipedia People who have made it to a comfortable place in life (which is a pretty common goal) aren’t going to be happy about other people trying to push them out of it. Saying that it warms your heart merely serves to underscore @YoBob‘s accusations of sexism.

iamthemob's avatar


I love how the lawyer in the first instance is slimy and the second is not…;-)

Again, collapsing NMBLA and gay. Sigh.

YoBob's avatar

@iamthemob Well, in my mind they were both intended to be slimy. In fact, I envisioned them to be the same person.

Again, no, not equating NMBLA and gay, but realizing the practicalities of defensive legal posturing, which you are choosing to ignore because it does not support your cause. But this is a topic for another discussion… :)

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choreplay's avatar

There is a book called coping with difficult people. You stand up to them in a very non confrentational way.

flutherother's avatar

Just remember: they may look powerful and imposing on the outside but inside they are drying up and crumbling away to nothing.

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