Al’s a-Musing: An open letter — five reminders to professors

Warning: This is the column of a severely jaded, chronically pessimistic senior who is feeling particularly grieved. If you are feeling optimistic about your academic life, you may want to seriously consider whether you should read any more. Symptoms may include questioning authority, rebellion, subtle anarchy, stickittothemaneiosis and Machiavellianism. If you have questions about these or any other symptoms, consult your most jaded friend.

Last week, I had an altercation with a professor that was the most hostile I’ve ever experienced. For both of our sakes, I will not name him — not that he would be bothered to pick up a newspaper anyway — but simply for the fact that I would feel like I was reciprocating mudslinging if I did. This assault sealed several conclusions I had about the collegiate experience as a whole.

For any professors reading this, you will find yourself split into two camps. The first will dismiss it as undergraduate drivel, the way that people dismiss tween drama coming from a Snapchat sent in middle school, and continue on in your academic bubble. The second group will read this and wonder if they themselves have exhibited any of these tendencies and will examine their work to see if they can improve. I can assure you that if you fall in the latter group, you are exempt from my frustrations.

I have found five things to be true of college professors that I would like to remind them of before I graduate. This is not a comprehensive list, but rather a reminder of some things that become muddied if you’ve been in academia for too long.

1. You are not God.

Funny, but this is true. Regardless of how much authority you feel you have within your subject or department, you are not infallible, nor are you omnipotent. Some professors wave their dictatorial wands and expect things to happen or change simply because they want them to. Often they come on completely subjective grounds, with no objective data or measures having been taken to change any situation. You cannot reserve your contrived right to deify your desires and opinions. If you do, you have overstepped your bounds and have lost sight of your calling as an educator.

 2. Difficulty does not equal quality.

Just because something is difficult does not mean it has merit. Whether it be music, philosophy or experimentation, I’ve found that some professors become preoccupied with finding the most difficult way to explain, demonstrate or assign a particular subject that may or may not be overly difficult to begin with. There’s something to be said for application, and if it’s completely lost by nature of the subject or the delivery, it should be re-evaluated.

3. Uniquity does not equal quality.

I’ve seen a trend in some of my professors that runs parallel to the hipster movement that is now paradoxically dying from popularity. Just because something is different, unique or original doesn’t mean that it has any merit to our education. Some professors tote ideologies around like thick black glasses, daring you to tell them that there are more efficient ways to do things. The glasses stand up to scrutiny, as my own personal pair of large brown frames (black was a little too mainstream) don’t inherently change my academic life or potential career. There’s a sense of pragmatism that’s been lost in many of our classrooms. Occam’s razor is a philosophy from around the turn of the millennium (the first one) that states that the simplest answer is not only the best, but the most correct. Perhaps we should have a return to this concept.

4. There is a world outside your university.

Believe it or not, life continues on outside of your academic bubble. All of the theory, rhetoric and intellectualism that so many have barricaded themselves behind does little to stop the rest of the world from moving on. There are many people who do not believe in the credibility of creative writing. There are many more who don’t care about Charles Ives’ poly-tonal compositions. There are still millions more that laugh at any degree outside of science or business. While I do not agree with those people, we cannot become accustomed to the coddling that we receive in an academic setting.

5. Your students like you.

After all that I’ve said, we do still like you. We want you to succeed, and we want you to be happy. We are not waiting to pounce at a mistake or a disagreement. I’ve sat through eight semesters’ worth of classes, all of those semesters well over 12 hours. In all of that time, I did not walk into a class and hope that I didn’t get along with the professor. I didn’t wait with giddiness for confrontation. I hoped that it would be an inspirational course and that I would find something that would benefit me from it.

As I prepare to graduate, I can look back and see professors who truly knew what they were doing. Whether it be Dr. Campbell in music, Dr. Williard in philosophy or Dr. Hafen in communications, we need more professors like you. They loved their subject. They taught with passion and clarity. They challenged students to think in a collaborative way. They listened to what students had to say. They talked with students when there was a problem. And above all, they liked what they did.

We need more professors like that.

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Posted by on March 2, 2014. Filed under Academics, Columns, Opinion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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