Another day, another old professor at an elite institution bloviates about how professors just aren’t like they used to be. He decides by talking to Todd Gitlin for some reason that professors are just service providers today, that they don’t challenge their students, and that professors are in part responsible for the change in student culture that sees education as hoop to jump through to make money. The last point is of course just dumb. As for the other points, let’s go to The Tattooed Professor:
It’s easy to tell your colleagues that they’re too engaged in research, and not enough with students, when you teach at an institution that has a 2-2 (maximum) class load and ample support for research. It’s easy for someone at Princeton to tell us we’re doing conferences wrong because they go to so many that all the annoying things that happen there run together after a while. Oh, they wail, if only our academia was like it Used To Be.
This is academic classism, pure and simple. In its shallow portrait of student attitudes and naive calls for professors to be moral authorities and fearsome minds, Bauerlein ignores what is happening outside the walls of his tiny elite cloister, perched amongst the ivy and resting comfortably on scads of tuition dollars and a jumbo-sized endowment. “What’s the point of a professor,” he asks? Let me tell you one answer.
In my Tiny Liberal Arts College With Professional Programs Too, a professor teaches four (sometimes more) classes a semester. These professors also advise anywhere from 10 to 40 students (unlike large, R1 institutions, we do not use professional or departmental advisors). They sponsor and advise student organizations. Our one-person Theatre Department runs four productions a year, our two-person Music Department sponsors a pep band and a choir that travels across the US and over to Europe, guided and mentored (and chaperoned, and checked into their hostels) by their professors. These professors will knock on a dorm room door if one of their students has missed several classes and is in jeopardy of being on academic probation (this may or may not have been someone who looked remarkably like me). These professors are on the hospital floor for 8-hour clinicals with a cohort of 19-year-old Nursing majors. They help find translators for a Bosnian student’s parents (who don’t speak English) to open up a bank account in town. They sit through interminable afternoon meetings and then teach a three-hour Social Work seminar two nights a week. These professors go to their student’s graduation parties, they get thank-you cards from grateful students (and relieved parents*), they go to former students’ weddings, they are invited to law school commencements for former advisees.They take students who don’t think they’ll ever understand Foucault or Hayden White and help them get admitted to a top graduate program a year later. They tell students who have been told they’re less-than all of their lives that they are capable, and that they can do this thing. And then many of those students go on to do that thing. And as Director of our Teaching Center, I can personally attest to the fact that they TEACH THE SHIT OUT OF THEIR FIELDS in the classroom. Oh, and we still write articles and books and speak at conferences.
We. Have. A. Point.
Moreover, our students know it.
It’s not that a professor at Emory knows nothing about how higher education operates for 90 percent of the professors (not to mention the legions of adjuncts and non-tenure track faculty) and 90 percent of the students that bothers me. He’s in his elite bubble. It’s that people like this then decide to pontificate about the state of higher education and that publications like the Times are happy to publish said pontifications. These sorts of articles then reinforce popular narratives about professors being lazy slackers. Who couldn’t see the people behind the North Carolina proposal to make all professors, even at Chapel Hill, teach a 4-4 every semester finding this extremely useful in making their arguments? Meanwhile, the rest of us, and many far more than myself who am in a relatively privileged position, are publishing, teaching, serving on committees, and going above and beyond anything required in our contracts to give our students the best education possible while staying active in the profession, publishing books, and making the campus operate by serving on committees.
But what is this to an Emory professor who doesn’t have to do most of these things and who has such a light teaching schedule that he has time to write op-eds in the New York Times about how lazy his colleagues are?