Some professors inspire us with their actions, others with their compassion. Mine inspired me with a deluge of verbal abuse, which pissed me off so much I decided to major in his field.
Professor Ronald Hatto is a senior lecturer in the field of International Relations at Sciences Po Paris. He’s also a former peacekeeper for the United Nations, a celebrated IR scholar, and a real hardass. A nativeMontrealer, he often punctuated his lectures with blasts of French and more than a few sacres québécois.
At some point after one of of his lectures, I introduced myself as a fellow Canadian — albeit an anglophone one. For the next 10 weeks of his class, all of federated hell broke loose.
Hatto started calling on me in class but they were often insult-fuelled as often as questions. If I asked a female colleague a question, he’d stop the 300-person lecture to tell me to stop flirting (to be fair, he wasn’t always wrong about that).
Once I looked down at my notes for a minute too long « Bon matin, Zak! C’est déjà l’après midi, you know, we’re all awake! » he’d rattle off.
Eventually, I started fighting back. I wrote down choice insults (polite, but not too polite) before class, learned a few snazzy Quebecois swear words and started matching him zinger for zinger. This went on for 10 weeks, and often continued after class, where we’d take a minute to get the verbal jousting out of our system.
Something really weird started to happen — I started to enjoy it. I’d take a break from trading insults to ask questions after class, get advice for job applications and even heard a few stories from Hatto about his time in the blue helmets. Suddenly, I was enjoying a lecture where I was regularly demeaned.
One day, Hatto caught me daydreaming in class and shot me a question about nuclear disarmament. I looked at the slide and answered his question as best as I could.
He stopped and took a look at me. « You were totally just asleep » he said, smiling. « But that answer was pretty good. »
« Yeah, you’re good at pretending to know things — you could be a politician or something. » he continued as the class started laughing.
« Or maybe major in International Relations, since that’s all we do » he joked.
I took him up on it. That semester of hell with Hatto was the gateway to a subject and a career path that’s since defined my university experience. If I ever see the man again, I fully intend to remind him what a bastard he is — right after I shake his hand.