The other day, I learned that I had gotten an F on a final paper for my political science seminar, “Yale After 1845.” My thesis was, “Harvard is better than Yale.” I emailed my TA and asked her to explain the failing grade. This was her response:

Hi Will,

Thanks for your question. The first thing that let your essay down was the fact that you printed it on unbleached paper towels. I don’t know whether this was some environmental statement or a prank, but this made the essay very difficult to read. Furthermore, I hear that this is the reason that the printers in Bass Library have been out of order for the past week.  Why did you think stuffing the paper towels into the printer tray would work? That’s not relevant to the grading of the paper, I’m just curious. I’m curious about a lot of things about you, actually.

Once I transcribed the essay onto normal printing paper, I found some other problems with it. Your central thesis was “Harvard is better than Yale (in every respect so just DEAL WITH IT),” which is, to be frank, quite a lofty claim. I’m not just saying this because I’m a Yale grad student and am therefore partial to the school that I have attended for the past three months of my life (it’s really grown on me, let me tell you… sorry, that’s neither here nor there). It’s too broad a thesis, especially when the paper’s prompt asked you to “examine a single, specific case of Yale’s portrayal in the media.”

Another weak point of the essay was the paragraph about this year’s apparel for the Harvard/Yale football game. You write: “Okay, so Yale’s shirts have a bulldog POOPING on clothes and SURE I guess that’s a timely reference, given the whole Poopetrator debacle, but that doesn’t really excuse the fact that there is POOP on our shirts. Like, I don’t want to wear this shirt that has POOP on it because that is DISGUSTING.” This is a fair point, but it shows a lack of depth in your research; you do not seem to be aware that the fabric of this year’s Harvard’s shirts is a blend of cotton, polyester and excrement. Thus, there is actual “poop” woven INTO the shirts, which, in my mind, makes the Yale’s better. Your contention that Harvard is better because of their recent streak of wins in The Game is similarly shortsighted; the series record since 1875 is 65-56-8 in favor of Yale. What confuses me is that the Wikipedia article from which you cited this statistic also contains the series record. Also, Wikipedia is not a proper source for research papers. I thought we went over this in section, that day you wore a cute scarf.

There were also several mechanical errors. As you can see from the prior examples, you often type in all capitals, as if this would somehow drive your point home (moreover, I’d prefer to read “poop” over “POOP” – the latter is kind of gross, no?). There was also a point midway through the essay where you appeared to have just punched the keyboard repeatedly. I understand that eight pages can be difficult to fill, but this is not the way to do it. Also this: “Harvard kids and their stupid ugly dumb-dumb faces.” This is a fragment.

And then there was this paragraph: “Mostly, Harvard is better than Yale because I go to Yale and my high school girlfriend Allison Freedman goes to Harvard. She is so smart and pretty. We were friends until college decisions came out, and I realized that she got into Harvard and I got into Yale. And then I said, ‘Why didn’t you apply to Yale so we could go to college together?’ And she said, ‘Why would I do that?’ And I said, ‘So we can keep seeing each other!’ And she said, ‘We aren’t dating.’ And then I said, ‘What? But I thought…’ And then she said, ‘Please stop crying in the middle of our Spanish presentation.’ God, I miss her so much. Allison, if this gets published in The Economist or The New Yorker or whatever smart-people stuff you read and you’re seeing this now, I’m sorry about that time at junior prom when I elbowed you in the face because the DJ played ‘Hey Ya!’ and that’s my favorite song. You’re great. Please call me sometime. Have you been getting my voicemails?” This is a personal anecdote and has no place in an academic paper. Also, get over her. There are plenty of fish in the sea. Ha, not to use a cliché or anything! That would be embarrassing for a TA to use a cliché, right? But also sort of endearing, no?

Are you taking this class Credit/D? What do you do in the spare time when you could be preparing for the class? Do you have a lot of spare time? Like, for example, Friday night around 9 p.m.? Are you 21? Just curious.

Please let me know if all this makes sense. I’d be happy to meet with you in person to discuss more. Please consider meeting with me to discuss ways to make up the grade, especially on, for example, Friday night around 9 p.m. Also, maybe consider switching majors?


See you in class tomorrow,

-Your TA