I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

Ecclesiastes 9:11

A high school dropout taught sociology at a university

I already wrote here how an actor lectured in place of a renowned psychologist and the audience did not suspect anything wrong. I also wrote about a prankster who read a nonsensical math lecture with a similar success. Recently I came across another story.

In his book Catch Me If You Can a high school dropout Frank W. Abagnale Jr. wrote how he taught sociology at Brigham Young University. While roaming through Utah he saw an ad in a newspaper concerning summer replacement for two sociology professors. The crook produced a fake transcript from Columbia University, where he allegedly got a Ph.D., and a couple of fake recommendation letters from City College of New York, where he allegedly taught. Abagnale was immediately hired and assigned to teach one freshman and one sophomore courses. The head of the sociology department gave him two textbooks to use in the classes. Abagnale read one chapter ahead of his students and had no difficulty teaching the courses. The dean of the faculty and the department head were delighted with his work.

Of course, Abagnale's book is well known. So I would not retell it here unless I had a commentary, which might interest the reader. Apart from impersonating a sociology professor the crook impersonated a Pan Am pilot. But what did he do as a pilot? He sported pilot's uniform and a fake Pan Am ID. Their prestige helped him to win the trust of a bank teller when he was cashing fake checks. He also managed to get unlimited free flights as a passenger. However, he never flew an airplane and never taught anyone to fly. And this is understandable since the consequences would be immediately obvious. However, when Abagnale impersonated a professor it was not about a fake university ID. He actually read five lectures a week for three month and each time made a safe landing. How could this possibly happen? Could it be because the other sociology professors also do not teach their students anything real?

Mikhail Simkin
January 4, 2014

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