Cut Off At The Salad Bar: Dave Copeland’s Blog

I’ve been blogging since May 2002 — not one of the first, but well before all the cool kids tried it, made it a craze, then gave up on it. The best way to describe this portion of my writing life is part personal notebook where I test ideas and pieces of drafts I’m working on, part self-promotion, and part random ranting.


Frequently addressed topics include journalism, teaching and higher educations, writing, cooking, drinking (or, more specifically, not drinking,┬árunning, reading and life in general. Comments are appreciated but monitored before they appear on this site. All views expressed on “Cut Off At The Salad Bar” are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of any of his past, present or future employers.

Latest Self Portrait….

Posted January 21st, 2014 in Photos

52 weeks in a year and I plan to take 52 self-portraits. Here’s #3:

Home Alone With Zucca, January 21, 2014


Previous posts in this series.

Why You Should Think Twice Before Asking Me (Or Anyone) For A Reference Letter

Posted January 16th, 2014 in Higher Education

In seven years of teaching, the requests have come from students who barely passed my class. They have come a day after graduation and stated the obvious when they read “I’m not sure if you remember me, but…” They have come addressed to another professor, thanks to forgetting to change the salutation when they were copied-and-pasted into emails to anyone that may be able to put a face with an email address and write the coveted glowing reference.

The deeper I get into my teaching career, willing I have been to give into my guilt and write them. “Will you write me a reference letter?” is often code for “Will you follow the specific instructions to write individual letters for the 10 grad schools and 10 entry-level positions I have applied for?” I tried to limit my reference-letter writing to students who received an A or B in my class and, later, an A. Then I tried to limit it to students who have taken more than one class with me or have given me some other way to get to know them beyond the 37.5 hours of classroom time I have with them in a given semester (assuming they don’t miss any classes).

I have tried to gently point out that, as an adjunct professor, my reference will not have the weight and impact that a letter from a full-time faculty member will have, particularly if the student is applying for a graduate program. I also point out that they may get a better reference letter from a professor who taught a class in which they actually spoke or offered some other way of helping the professor remember who the fuck they were.

And still the requests came.

Policies did little to deter them. If anything, they resulted in an email back-and-forth in which more time was expended explaining and reiterating my policy on reference letters than it would have been to simply drag out the boiler plate and send the damn letter. Refusal was often — coincidentally, I’m sure — followed with a shitty, anonymous review on Rate My Professor days, or even hours, after I had politely explained why writing a reference was something I could not do.

The biggest reason for not wanting to honor every reference letter request is it cheapens the ones I write for the students I actually want to write reference letters for. Right now I’m finishing up a round of letters for a former student who I feel genuinely deserves my time and effort; it’s been more than five years since she was in my class, but I still remember specific interactions and her efforts to actually learn something. She was one of those rare, contemporary students who figuratively asked “What can I learn in this class?” instead of “What do I need to get an A in this class?” Too often students mistake my genuine like for them as people with a firm belief that they can “excel in a graduate program” or “be a fine addition to your corporate culture.”

I don’t know if hiring managers and admissions committees actually read the reference letters; there must be some gems from the students who truly over-estimated the professor’s views of their abilities, and perhaps those blunt missives about a candidate’s shortcomings are helpful to people deciding between applicantss who all look alike on paper. But if those people are actually reading them, they will be reading even fewer from me thanks to my latest policy to deal with the glut of requests I get.

I’m not going to write them anymore.

Like most rules I make, there are instances where I will want to (and instances where I will) break my own rule. But the general rule of thumb going forward is prove something to me. Take multiple classes with me and show an intellectual curiosity that goes beyond getting through my class as another checkmark on the list of things you have to do to get to graduation. Understand that, in a typical class, I have less interaction with you than I would if you worked for me as a full-time employee for a single week. If the request is going to come a year or more after you are in my class, keep in mind I will have as many as 100 new students since then; if you didn’t make an effort to get to know me by showing up to office hours or staying after class to talk about your career plans, I may need a refresher on who you are.

And most of all, when I say no, understand I am saying no to benefit you. I’m saving you from the half-hearted effort I would put into writing the letter and pushing you to find that one professor or boss you really connected with who can write the types of letters that make the reader take notice.

Smoke shops, photos and politics….

Posted January 15th, 2014 in Life

This article made me think of a photo project I’m working on….


“Cigars arouse passions in people. Those who hate them tend to stay away from them. So when you smoke one, you are either left alone to your own enjoyment or surrounded by kindred spirits who share your passion. I cannot stand it when people smoke cigars in mixed company just to prove they can, or in some other way pretend they are sticking it to the Man. One does not have to subscribe to the cultivated hysteria about secondhand smoke to understand that smoking in front of people who do not wish to be around smoke is rude. Life is too short, and cigars are too expensive, to smoke them for any reason other than enjoyment.”

Second Self Portrait

Posted January 15th, 2014 in Photos

52 weeks in a year and I plan to take 52 self-portraits. Here’s #2:

Waiting, January 7, 2014


Previous posts in this series.

Why Photos Still Matter

Posted January 10th, 2014 in Photos

In a world where seemingly everyone has a video camera in their pocket, why even bother with still photos?

It’s the details, like this:

I probably would have completely forgotten that I was having suspender issues on the day of our wedding if the photographer hadn’t caught Kate fixing them through the revolving hotel as we returned to our reception following a more formal, Harvard Square photo shoot. How many of my memories are actually memories of a photo? I love the formals the photographers got, but not nearly as much as the time-stopping candid photos of the seemingly mundane events of the day.

Photos by Hitched Studios, Charlestown, Mass.

Self portraits, not selfies

Posted January 8th, 2014 in Photos

52 weeks in a year and I plan to take 52 self-portraits. Here’s #1:

Shaving, January 7, 2014


It’s a Great Day In Pittsburgh: Here’s Why

Posted January 7th, 2014 in Pittsburgh

A decade ago Bill Peduto was a fresh-faced aide to a city councilman, a guy who would take the time to offer off-the-record explanations of different policies and, when the mood struck, talk hockey. As a reporter covering the rough-and-tumble world of Pittsburgh politics, I liked the guy: I liked the fact that when most people in Pittsburgh that offered off-the-record commentary to score political points, Peduto did it to make sure that the reporter and, ultimately, the people who read the reporter, understood the nuts and bolts of the issue. In politics, it’s very rare to find someone who will use an off-the-record discussion to deal in facts, but when you find one, they tend to be political gold.

Five, almost six years ago, Peduto came to Boston as a Pittsburgh City Councilman to attend a multi-day workshop at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. I took him to Bukowski’s ┬áin Inman Square and then to the now shuttered Tavern on the Water in Charlestown. Peduto talked excitedly about new dive bars and a new Russian restaurant I’d have to check out the next time I was in town. It was the last time I saw him but the night swerved to help me articulate what I had always instinctively known: Peduto was — and remains — a guy who loves cities, and most of all, he loves Pittsburgh. Continue Reading »

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