University of Manchester professor Annmarie Surprenant, who seems not to read her students’ exams before grading them (background here), has issued a statement in response to press reports about this behavior, now under investigation by her university.

Here tis.

I am quite politically incorrect, outspoken and have never adhered to the oft-repeated and probably excellent advice to ‘watch your back’, because I believe watching one’s back will never move us forward.

This makes me an easy target for a certain type of person. Half-truths, false accusations and malicious gossip readily ruin one’s reputation in the eyes of that certain type of person. But in the end it is your work that stands.

No student has ever been inaccurately or unfairly graded by me, and that stands. [Every exam paper has been double-graded and] diligently and accurately annotated and marked.

While not as bad as Columbia University’s Madonna Constantine, whose corner cutting involved plagiarizing her students’ work, or Bonnie Ashley, Annmarie Surprenant’s statement is quite, quite bad. SOS will now tell you why.

When you’ve been accused of something so bad that it makes the papers, you have a couple of choices. If you’re guilty, and you probably are, you can confess to the behavior, or something short of the behavior but bad nonetheless, and offer a reason or two maybe… The most important thing, though, after acknowledging some fault and expressing willingness to cooperate with investigators, is to shut up.

Bonnie and Madonna, as you see if you’ve clicked on their names, gassed on and on and on. Wrote volumes.

Why shouldn’t you pen your confessions at this point?

Well, because you got into the deep shit you’re in because you’re kind of an idiot, kind of an unpleasant whacked out individual. Specifically, what got you into trouble is a sense of your exemption from the rules other people follow, coupled with a pinch of paranoia. THE MORE YOU WRITE, THE MORE EVERYONE WILL SEE THIS. Your prose will give you away. You’re the sort of person who should never be allowed to testify on your own behalf. The best thing for you to do is shut up.

Annmarie begins her statement with a big fat pat on the back for being so great. She is bold, bold, free as the wind, standing firm at the fierce crosswinds of human progress. And we all know that in repressive countries like England people who go against convention are beaten down. The world is full of evil envious gossipers who will try to destroy your work by destroying you….

Yet Annmarie herself almost destroyed her life’s work a few years ago, by repeatedly lying on grant applications about having earned an MD.


Surprenant ends with a belligerent insistence on her total innocence.

Like the other two writers I’ve mentioned, Surprenant has broken the cardinal SOS rule to control your emotions. Especially when you’ve been accused of something, you’ve got to stay cool. Why? Because we all learn, from dealing with children, that the guiltier you are of something, the louder your insistence that you’re not guilty is likely to be.

And again – most damning of all – what’s lacking in this statement is any expression of willingness — you could even make it eagerness — to cooperate with investigators.

I’m distressed by the accusation that I’ve been negligent in my grading. I look forward to working with the university investigating committee.

Something like that. Short, calm. Acknowledge you’re upset, by all means. That’s honest. But then stop talking about how you feel and get down to business. Don’t tell me you’re being pilloried for being such a gifted person.

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One Response to “Surprenant Gets an F”

  1. Brad Says:

    I don’t know how University investigation committees work, but I would be pleased to know more.

    In politics, at least according to "Yes, Prime Minister," investigations are sent to committees to delay, obscure, or bury them.

    In medicine, my field, there is a process called "peer review," which is also known outside the hospital as "sham peer review" (Wikipedia). The process that individuals go through involves a committee and a trial, but this would never begin to fill criteria for due process. Typically, the physician is out of favor with other physicians in the hospital or with the hospital administration. If the issue is with other physicians, usually the issue is financial. For instance, a cardiology group may use this method to get rid of individual rogue cardiologists invading their turf. If it’s the hospital administration, they want to get rid of physicians that are troublesome to them. In this case, the physician is labeled as "disruptive" and the committee often includes a psychiatrist, because it is easier to get rid of a physician if a psychiatric label can be attached to that physician. The other trick is to investigate patient charts that the physician and try to establish a trumped-up charge regarding poor quality of care. There are law firms that specialize in this type of peer review. The danger to the individual physician is that the issue will cause the physician to lose the medical license or damage chances of getting jobs elsewhere.

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