Yesterday I went to lunch with a faculty member and was amused when he excitedly recounted a recent triumph. We are both denizens of the new and glorious-looking South Hall—but while it is decidedly glorious-looking, it, like any new building, has some occasional kinks to be worked out. One recurring issue in the restrooms involves the paper towel dispensers. You’re supposed to be able to wave your hand under the dispenser and have an environmentally appropriate amount of paper towel issue forth. Sometimes, though, one waves one’s hand and nothing happens. It’s not clear if this is about a lack of paper towel or a persnickety sensor but in either case, there’s always a back-up roll of toilet paper on the counter and, in my experience, the problem always gets fixed promptly.
Apparently, though, in the 3rd floor men’s bathroom, the problem endured for an extended period, thus occasioning my lunch partner’s call to glory. He hypothesized the existence of some system for reporting problems of this nature; tracked down the system himself (rightly concluding that asking his assistant to help him with a, um, bathroom problem would be awkward); reported the problem; and then, voilà, reveled in the glory of a revivified paper towel dispenser. It is unclear to me if this is a story about class (specifically, the professor class) or gender. While I like to think I do not traffic in sexist stereotypes, I could go either way. Perhaps it’s not necessary to choose.
The truly sociologically interesting part of the story, though, was what transpired when we passed, on our walk to lunch, other male faculty members whose offices are on the 3rd floor of South Hall: every single time, the professor we passed would excitedly compliment my lunch partner on his massive triumph. He was not alone, it would seem, in thinking this was actually a story worth telling. And so I repeat it now, for your consideration.
The real beauty of this incident is its elegant illustration of the fact that our male faculty members are both concerned with hygiene and morally supportive of each other’s successes. Yet another Michigan Difference.