What We (or Others) Put on Our Office Doors

In an article titled “Beware of the Professor” published in Times Higher Education [24 Sep. 2015], Matthew Reisz has detailed the “eccentric things” that academics “pin on their office doors.”

I know that the topic of the article is fast becoming anachronistic because many institutions now strictly control what can be put on doors and walls and because many faculty do not have any office space, never mind their own offices.

Nonetheless, here are some highlights from Reisz’s article:

“’Please come in. I am already disturbed.’ So reads the sign on an academic’s door at Ulster University.

“In an age of open-plan offices, not every academic has an office door–but among those that do, it seems that few miss the opportunity to make a statement. Through cartoons, quotes or instructions to students, lecturers and professors may choose to protect their privacy or declare their individuality, make clear what they value, or comment on the corporate culture. They may show a face to the world that is welcoming or off-putting, amusing or pedantic.

“When we asked readers for examples, we heard about academics who expressed themselves with admirable directness, from a professor who taped pages of the academic handbook to his door highlighting every policy he had violated, to a lecturer who attempted to avoid pointless questions with a sign reading: ‘I am not Google.’ Like the ‘disturbed’ academic, some respondents admit they have used their doors to deter students, announcing: ‘Please do not disturb unless it’s both urgent and important (to me),’ or, more subtly: ‘The first Mrs Rochester. Please use care when opening door.’ Among the stranger messages was the case of a ‘Nietzschean’ lecturer who declared: ‘I am not a man; I am dynamite!’ . . .

“Doors can also feature strange objects, sometimes imbued with great personal significance. Björn Weiler, a professor in the department of history and Welsh history at Aberystwyth University, is not sure why a student left a plastic stick-on lizard on his door, although it may have been because they were discussing ‘royal zoos and bizarre pets mentioned in medieval chronicles.’ Whatever the explanation, he ‘thought it was quite endearing at the time, and never had the heart to pull it off.’ . . .

“Supersnooper social psychologist Sam Gosling, professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, has long been fascinated by how people reveal their personalities in the environments they create around them. His studies included ‘a lot of material on the doors of offices and student dorm rooms. It’s a classic example of what I call “identity claims,” which are when someone wants to broadcast a message about themselves to others (other good examples are T-shirts with your university or favourite band on them, a quote at the foot of your email or a bumper sticker). These are deliberate statements, so there’s a temptation to think that people might be disingenuous or manipulative, but research done by us and others suggests they are typically authentic expression of the self. This is because they are clearly for the benefit of others (the occupant is typically on the other side of the door) and because there is no doubt about who the signals are coming from.’ . . .”


Matthew Reisz’s complete article is available at: https://www.timeshighereducation.com/features/whats-on-your-door


My own office door is rather sparely decorated. There is a large AAUP sticker in the plastic sleeve where my photo is supposed to be, and there is a large cartoon that someone else put there. There is a large donkey in the cartoon with the word “Democrats” across a blanket on the donkey’s back, and the caption reads, “Because who ever heard of a nice piece of elephant.” To my amazement, no one has ever complained about the cartoon, though it’s been there long enough that it has just started to yellow.

About the empty plastic photo sleeve, every other year or so, they used to bring a photographer to campus to take individual and group photos of our faculty. After I had “missed” the photo sessions three or four times in a row, the staff member responsible for arranging the sessions asked me pointedly why I refused to have my picture taken. I leaned in close to her and whispered, “Witness protection,” and then walked away. I expected that it would simply confirm to her that I am an ass, but she said to someone else somewhat later, “I knew right off that it was a joke, but I kept thinking that in his case it would not be completely surprising if it were true. It sure would explain a lot.”



One thought on “What We (or Others) Put on Our Office Doors

  1. The first year I was at this job (Fall 2002), I put an anti-Iraq-war sign on my office door. After about a week, I noticed one day that somebody had written something like “Nuke those f-ing sand-n***ers” on it. I didn’t take it down because I wanted that on the record, even though the “artist” [sic] obviously hadn’t signed his/her work. A few days later I noticed that somebody else had written a response, a la “What’s wrong with you?” And before long there was a whole graffiti thread on this sign on my door. It was a fantastic artifact–that then get torn down in a fit of “cleaning” [sic] all the miscellany of our office doors by an overzealous manager.

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