I Will Not Be Lectured To. I’m Too Busy Teaching.

I was having a really good day today; recovering from post-semester burnout, recharging the batteries–all in all, getting to my Happy Place. But then I read Mark Bauerlein’s Op-ed in today’s New York Times, and now I’m all irritated. “What’s the Point of a Professor?” Bauerlein asks; he then goes on to tell us, basically, “not much.” And who’s responsible for this lamentable state of affairs, you might wonder? Well–there’s students, for one. In today’s consumerist and career-over-true-education society, they just don’t engage with professors outside of the classroom transaction. “They have no urge to become disciples,” according to Bauerlein. Why don’t they want to become disciples? Well, colleagues, there’s where it becomes our fault, too:

Sadly, professors pressed for research time don’t want them, either. As a result, most undergraduates never know that stage of development when a learned mind enthralled them and they progressed toward a fuller identity through admiration of and struggle with a role model

Who even realizes they want to become an acolyte of a rock-star professor if they never get to the right “stage of development?” College seems to be reduced, in this view, to a several-year series of rote careerist transactions between infantilized students and disinterested professors. Gone are the halcyon days of yore when professors dispensed wisdom to adoring throngs of geek-groupies, never to return. O THE POOR CHILDREN.

Who wants to be my disciple?
Who wants to be my disciple?

Here’s the thing: I. Am. So. Done. with being lectured to by academics from elite institutions about how I–and many others in similar career arcs–am somehow failing students, the liberal arts, other faculty, civil society, western civilization, the Cleveland Indians, or any other institution that has fallen on hard times. And I’m really hacked off when that scolding comes from obliviously pretentious Older White Male Professors who come across less as committed to education and more like committed to telling the rest of us how we don’t do things nearly as well as they did In My Day. Hell, Bauerlein’s column has it all: the reminiscing about crowded hallways in the UCLA English Department as every student was lined up to learn at the knee of some senior don, the obligatory paean to faculty as moral authority, even a Todd Gitlin shout-out. Now, Bauerlein wants us to see him as understanding. I get it, he seems to say, students are more occupied and distracted than they were in previous years. (And more stupid, if you go by the glib assertion in his most well-known book’s title.) They need more guidance, to be steered toward the things they don’t know that they don’t know. Help them help themselves by being a beacon of the humanities. And that’s where the corporate university and its consumed-by-research faculty have failed them, he concludes:

You can’t become a moral authority if you rarely challenge students in class and engage them beyond it. If we professors do not do that, the course is not an induction of eager minds into an enlarging vision. It is a requirement to fulfill. Only our assistance with assignments matters. When it comes to students, we shall have only one authority: the grades we give. We become not a fearsome mind or a moral light, a role model or inspiration. We become accreditors.

It would be easy to characterize this as a grumpy old man’s lament, a “kids these days” monologue that we all have heard from the should-have-retired-six-years-ago colleague in the coffee room. I could just make a “get off my lawn” joke and be done with it. I could take his wish for 1960s-style profs to gather disciples and compare it to Donald Sutherland’s lecherous professor character in Animal House. It’s all low-hanging fruit.

But my problem with Bauerlein’s essay is deeper. His argument is based on shallow archetypes and anecdotal assumptions; it renders simplistic matters that are actually much more complex, and confuses correlation with causation. It is one of a larger genre of student- and faculty-shaming jeremiads that have emerged in recent months, written by established, tenured scholars at elite R-1 institutions (Emory,in Bauerlein’s case), affecting a faux-benevolent tone to chastise all of us for not “doing it right.”

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.

Now, I’m not at Harvard (though I am at the Harvard of East Des Moines). But my experiences echo most of the faculty out there, many of whom are adjunct or non-tenure track. We teach heavy loads, are still expected to produce scholarly work, and often have even heavier service requirements given the type of institutions in which we labor. We are not just teachers, but mentors, advisors, life coaches, confidants, chaperones, and more to our students. This may not match the idealized picture of eager undergraduates waiting outside the Lit prof’s door, ready for a stimulating gab session on Modernism. But that vision’s a pipe dream for 98% of faculty and students on American college campuses, and I wonder if reminiscences of such idealized settings haven’t gotten more romanticized by those less pleased about today. Just because our mentorship, our “moral authority,”** and our inspiration don’t take place in a gothic building where even the ivy has ivy doesn’t mean they’re not happening. Our academia is one where both students and faculty are pulled in myriad directions by both personal and professional commitments. Remarkably, in spite of all that, professors in this academia matter urgently, deeply, and personally to a majority of our students in one way or another. For some, we are an intellectual inspiration. For others, we listen when others don’t, or affirm where others haven’t. For others, we open doors that they didn’t know existed. For professors to have this kind of “a point” in the environment in which we and our students find ourselves is testament to us and them. But it’s being ignored in much of the discourse surrounding higher education of late, because it isn’t happening where elite academics are looking. And that’s a damn shame.

So if you’re a Tenured Erudite Professor teaching a course per term at an elite school, and you’re of a mind to write a piece about how academia’s doing it wrong, let me give you some advice. There’s plenty wrong with higher ed, no one’s doubting that, but don’t miss the target. Don’t distract from the real work that needs to be done by pedantically lecturing at the people actually doing it. Don’t begin with an idealized example and then scorn any deviations from it. Life is messier outside the campus fence; teach the students you have instead of pining for the ones you want. Use your privileged position and voice for what we really need in order for professors to matter: condemn the adjunctification of higher education. Hell, treat your own adjunct faculty with fairness and dignity. (Do you know their names? Are you sure?) Help open the faculty ranks to those who may not have taken their Ph.D.s from an ivy–I promise, we can do cool things, too. Argue for a return of public and political respect for our colleges and universities, and the funding that goes with it. Advocate for the less-privileged; these 4-4 loads don’t leave much time for writing national op-eds. Lobby your administration to embrace financial empowerment programs for students. Be a part of building the spaces (literal and figurative) on your campus where students and faculty can be present with one another in a variety of ways (including, if necessary, online). Recognize that your perceptions may embed privileged assumptions that are alien to many current and potential students–and faculty! Help the rest of us do the work that is ours to do in today’s difficult climate.

Or, tell us to get off of your lawn. Whatevs.

______

*One time, an advisee’s mom made me an apple pie for helping her son get back on track for graduation. It was awesome.

**I would argue “empathetic legitimacy”gets at what we want much better than “moral authority,” which for me carries overtones of conformism and rigidity rather than modeling the truly oopen and capacious nature of the life of the mind.

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116 thoughts on “I Will Not Be Lectured To. I’m Too Busy Teaching.”

  1. Kudos for speaking out for the full-time academics in the teaching trenches, and especially for the adjuncts. Excellent rebuttal.

  2. Well done. I am very tired of being lectured by the generation of academics who don’t realize they managed to bat 2-for-2 in being both lucky (by historical standards) AND privileged (by economic/social/cultural standards).

  3. Thank you. As a prof who works hard at making a difference for students, it is frustrating to regularly read articles complaining about the problems in education, coming, as you point out, largely from scholars who aren’t necessarily spending any time trying to do anything about it. It is exhausting to be inspirational for students, but many of us are choosing to do it, and reaping the rewards you list (though I’ve not yet received an apple pie). As you point out, attacking students and profs isn’t the answer; attacking the other issues will go much further in garnering support from society and administration so that we can continue doing the job we’ve chosen in a way that does benefit students, whatever preconceived notion the students may enter with.

  4. Very glad to see another faculty member at a teaching-intensive job respond to research classism.

    Also, maybe the reason students don’t line up at our doors all day every day anymore is that they have that newfangled, what do you call it, eh, um… email!

  5. As an adult student who thought she would never amount to anything, I can say that I have the utmost respect for the community college professors who not only welcomed me into their classes, but gave a damn about me and my classmates. Three years later, they are still giving a damn as I’ve completed my first year of grad school.

    They’ve written recommendations for schools, jobs, scholarships. They know my children and I know theirs. I celebrate their publications, promotions, and successes as they celebrate mine.

    And yes. They taught the shit out of me, and I’m grateful for it. They’ve made a real difference, and continue to do so. Keep teaching.

  6. Thank you for that. I taught for 35 years at a public liberal arts college and experienced everything you specify (though we were lucky to teach three/three rather than four/four). Now a part timer at an elite public, not unionized, where many profs don’t even realize how privileged they are. Yet we too are experiencing budget cuts, corporatization and disrespect, though it has been slower coming.

  7. Extremely well-said, and a very effective rebuttal.

    Actually, I don’t remember the college atmosphere he talked about, and I went to school in the 70s, to a very prestigious university. Maybe it was/is different in the Humanities; I was a Biology major.

    Oh, wait! I did take one class, graduate level, at his university, in the Psychology Department. It was taught by a tenured professor who was stinking drunk at every class, and gave us the same lecture 12 TIMES. Totally turned me off to his school.

  8. Unexpectedly, I think that you and Prof. Baurelein desire essentially the same result- professors who are more engaged in doing what professors do best. That means having class loads that allow the synergy between teaching and research to take place; having classes that are small enough that we know our students names; allowing depth of knowledge in our field to be valued more than the depth of our funding dollars. Not forgetting that are students are human and so are we.

    1. Firstly, thanks for the work you do and the argument for authenticity you make here among your other remarks. Secondly, I suspect the underlying issue is connected to the monetizing of altruism and ethics to functionally devalue the work of educators. We work holistically, on the whole human, to get them through the work of education. However, there is a very clear difference in the ways the trench work of an educator is compensated, versus the shiny high-profile and prestige work of an educator is compensated. When the basis for human training is incentivizing wanted behaviors and disincentivizing unwanted behaviors, there seems a lot of killing the inspiration and singing about the grief going on throughout education. If the effective work of teaching is not valued, whether teachers modify the way they engage in that work or not, they are less likely to bring their uncelebrated forms of engagement to the fore in departments who don’t have the budget or the will to fight for their fair compensation in the first place. It feels ethically dirty, and somewhat sycophantic; so there is a natural exclusion from recognition and promotion of assets.

    2. I actually don’t think that Bauerlein wants professors to do what you describe: he wants adoring minions to slurp up and regurgitate his every word.

  9. I teach at a four year comprehensive public university, and have not problem finding students to talk to about academics, careers, dreams, etc. When I read Bauerlein’s article yesterday, it mad me wonder if the R1 universities like Emory have accepted the wrong students.

  10. Fantastic response and so urgently needed. I wish you the richly deserved time to make these public contributions as often as you desire – we will all benefit. Thank you for sharing, for testifying.

    1. I spent all Friday talking with students lined up outside my door. YOu should come talk to them — they actually know how to address/disagree with an argument without resorting to sophomoric ad hominem.

    2. If this is really Mark Bauerlein, congratulations, you’ve just made a complete ass of yourself and validated any and all criticism contained above, and a good deal more besides. If it’s not (and this being the Internet, that seems likely), congratulations, well trolled.

      1. This is the way that Mark Bauerlein usually comes across in online comments, so it probably really is him. As well as being an ass, he appears to be remarkably thin-skinned.

    3. I assume that this is a troll, and you are not really Mark Bauerlien. But on the off chance you are, could you clarify the points in our article: are tattoos desperate pleas for public attention like OpEds in the county’s most widely-read newspaper, or more like rumpled sport coat and oxford shirt that screams “I am a professor (but not one of those stuffy business professors), an I must make sure everyone knows it because it is beneath my dignity to walk down the street in a normal wardrobe and not be recognized for what I am”?

      You may also want to actually read up on the history of tattoos, both ancient and modern. The clearly unresearched and unsupportable assertion that tattoos are indications their wearers do not hold human bodies sacred is woefully at odds with any known fact of history and psychology.

      It is possible that some people view their tattoos simply as fashion statements, but even most members of what you condescendingly call the “dumbest generation” do not indelibly and permanently mark their bodies without attaching some deeper meaning to the act to the mark.

  11. Another person who is guilty of lecturing other faculty on their poor teaching skills and lack of interest in students is the Tenured Radical.

    http://chronicle.com/blognetwork/tenuredradical/2015/03/even-a-moment-of-mentoring-can-matter/

    Obviously it’s not the same style as Bauerlein (an old white guy professor) and it’s couched in the “feel good reach out to your students and uplift them” rhetoric. But it does have the tone of chastisement to it. I (and other friends in the profession) find her columns to be very classist in nature – she’s taught at Wesleyan and City University of New York. I think she forgets how hard it is in the trenches when you work at a public university with a 4:4 and unending service responsibilities. This is not to say we don’t care about teaching or creating relationships with students. But her understanding of academia is often divorced from the reality of the difficulties in working with different sets of student populations (particularly those who are there to get the degree so they can make a good salary when they get out, haggle over grades, and are seeking technical/professional training that is almost an anathema to studying the Humanities).

    1. I think you mean the New School, not CUNY? CUNY really does not serve an elite student population. But yeah, I often don’t recognize Dr. Potter’s world either.

  12. I can’t believe that Mark Bauerlein came back here to issue a plug for another of his own posts about tattoos. Class act, Mark!

    Oh and by the way: your post was perfect.

    1. Oh, my God, person who also has my name, you’re absolutely right. I hadn’t realized that article being linked to (which was spectacularly inane, and I say this as a middle-aged woman with nary a tattoo) was written by Bauerlein. How do people who are supposedly capable of something resembling critical thinking not manage to notice when they’re regurgitating perhaps the most tiresome trope in existence, the clueless old person who can’t accept that the next generation(s) are uninterested in conforming to their predecessors’ ideas of what is seemly? Particularly for anyone who grew up in the ’60s, this is just pathetic.

  13. I think you may be perceiving an attack on you where there isn’t one, as this seems fairly non-responsive to Bauerlein’s piece; in fact, I think you two agree with each other (within these two pieces, at least–obviously not concerning the tattoo article lol). His response to your piece here would probably be: “you’re right, what’s going on at GVU is what we SHOULD be doing, but sadly it’s not the norm outside the Harvard of East Des Moines”. Careerism in education is definitely a problem, and it seems to be what you’re both attacking. I don’t think he’s the grumpy guy in the lounge who should have retired six years ago, I think he’s the one standing next to you rolling his eyes at that guy (at least from reading these two pieces, I haven’t read much else by him).

  14. BRAVA! It’s about freaking time. “empathic legitimacy” vs moral authority: I just love it. Write a book. Write more. The voice you represent is SO SILENT in discussions on education in this wretched country.

  15. Thank you for this! I teach at a CUNY Community College, with a 5/4 load. When I read the original piece I was disheartened -it was contrary to my experience teaching CUNY students, it run opposite to the passion I put in when I work with them in and out of the classroom, and it showed a cognitive dissonance with the mutual understanding among my colleagues about how much what we do matters to students (seriously, to a great extent that is what keeps us doing what we’re doing). Yet there is an obvious divide between elite colleges and the rest in terms of frameworks. Our students are always on the verge of self-discovery and intellectual growth, in great part thanks to our commitment (stubbornness?) and guidance -if elite faculty would only stop looking to their belly-buttons, they would also be able to be part of that.

  16. Thank you so much, Mr. Gannon. You spoke so eloquently to the frustration that many of us, particularly adjuncts and non-tenured faculty (but also full-time faculty at non-elite institutions) face on a daily basis. Bauerlein’s position is classist and elitist, a classic example of blaming the victim, and it’s high time that someone called out these increasingly frequent diatribes for what they are.

  17. Huh, I read Bauerlein’s piece very differently, not as an indictment of instructors who aren’t spending more time with their students outside of class, but as recognition that it would be great if they could, even though most reasonably cannot. Students would benefit, I think lots of instructors would enjoy it, but the structure of the academy makes it impossible. I didn’t perceive Bauerlain’s article as an attack but as recognition that what’s going on in most colleges/universities isn’t ideal for anyone, students or instructors, without placing blame.

    1. I totally agree with you. I am stunned that these professors missed the point and made him the enemy.

  18. Excellent piece!

    Was the hallway outside a prof’s door really overrun with students in bygone days? I don’t remember that scenario. If I wanted advice from faculty, it was pretty easy for them to make time for me.

    1. The hallways outside my doors are overrun with students. That’s why we asked for a room to be turned into a study lounge for them. We want it to be convenient to our offices so they can pop in whenever and perhaps even get the dedicated course tutors to hold their open hours there. I teach at a definitely not-elite-school and none of my students are majoring in my field and I still get enough of them dropping in to ask questions and pitch projects.

  19. Willful misreading of Bauerlein, bro? Or did you only read up to the bit about easy As?

    He’s an old grump and blowhard, but he’s not grumping at fellow faculty as much as he’s grumping at students and, especially, administrators. The complaints about faculty behavior all seem to come from external forces – being “pressed” stands out.

    I know we all learn to gut shit in grad school but did you forget the part of that process where you read the last couple paras? The one where he dumps on the dean for suggesting “Don’t go too far into coursework — there’s so much more to do here”?

    What he wrote is out-of-touch nonsense but what you wrote doesn’t have much to do with it.

  20. The other thing these guys seem to ignore is that they often did not do much in the way of teaching. I recall far too many classes of one kind or another involving a deck of slides (rarely varying from year to year) shown with little exposition. One prof simply played Classical music to accompany him, taking care of all need to talk. This at Tulane in the ’70s. But yes, we had richly intimate talks with the profs, often over drinks, while they attempted to get in our pants.

    Not my idea of halcyon days.

  21. I read the Bauerlein article. Not too good. But your response isn’t any better. I agree with some of the other commentators above. You haven’t addressed Bauerlein’s arguments. Instead, it seems like you are off slaying a straw man with much self-righteousness. And why all the ad hominem? You bring up the professor’s race, sex, age, class, and institution. What do any of these things have to do with the arguments?

    1. Thanks, Travis. You’re right. Read through this piece, and you find a slew of assumptions about the original op-ed, and about its author, bundled up in hipster sarcasm and spleen. I’m unimpressed.

      To Kevin (original poster): So a student’s mom baked you a pie? Come on! Could one professor be *that* awesome, that caring, that giving, that wise?

      When you’re finished admiring your reflection all of these posts, Kevin, look into your heart of hearts for a bit of that generosity of spirit that one would expect of a decent teacher.

    2. “You bring up the professor’s race, sex, age, class, and institution. What do any of these things have to do with the arguments?”

      May I suggest a web search on “white privilege,” “male privilege,” or both? Professor Bauerlein’s abhorrent, unreflective, and unapologetic disregard for the lived experience of people who aren’t exactly like him is the definition of privilege.

  22. Many good points in your reply. Bauerlein’s portrait of UCLA in the 1980s is completely bogus. I was an English major when he was a grad student at UCLA–he was even a TA for one of my classes. The corridors of Rolfe Hall were devoid of students, except when we were required to meet with our composition instructors. I had only one class as an English major with fewer than 80 students, and I had maybe two professors from whom I had more than one class. The idea that English majors got to know professors or regularly chatted with them is total fantasy. Bauerlein was an arrogant prick then, and he’s still one today.

  23. Great post – thanks! I was in a you’re-so-lucky-we-took-you-one-of-the-few grad school in the 80s and hated the pretention and classist assumptions, and what was engendered in the other grad students who went for the rhetoric, then went back 5 years ago to a terrific online interdisciplinary university with profs who asked great questions and wanted to hear more great questions… such a great learning experience. Thanks for standing up and doing it so well 🙂

  24. Thanks for this. I teach at a private college in Brooklyn, my first year back in a classroom teaching in 20 years. I love it. But I have no illusions that I’ll find a disciple!

    I’m am adjunct with no office so have nowhere private to have the essential, private conversations needed to create any sort of more personal bond beyond our classroom work. But, in one of these meetings, a student told me she had a breakthrough in her writing because of my class, and that’s big enough for me.

    I’m grateful and delighted when former students come sit with me in the cafeteria (I sit there for that reason) and we catch up with one another as human beings. I do wish there were more opportunities for this sort of relationship but the school doesn’t create them — where would we even sit? — and, with 2.5 hrs’ commuting that day, I’m whipped by day’s end.

    Great professors care very deeply for their students. If we’re lucky, some of our students feel it and respond with their best work. The rest, we do our best anyway…

  25. excellent excellent response to Baurelein’s article. I’m putting out the link to it. thank you thank you.

    meanwhile, here is my own banged out response to the article on the FB feeds of two good friends who posted Bauerlein’s article in good faith as excellent professors:

    i agree with the assertion that “You can’t become a moral authority if you rarely challenge students in class and engage them beyond it. If we professors do not do that, the course is not an induction of eager minds into an enlarging vision.”

    however, the author is speaking to the wrong audience: the choir.

    meanwhile, over in the admin building, the growing army of high paid corporate wannabees operates on metaphors like “we’re building the plane while we fly it” without mentioning that they are steering the plane into a mountain of misused technology and poorly apportioned funds. playing fields get money instead of libraries that SHOULD be the heart of a well-planned tech environment.

    and who’s going down with the plane? overworked underpaid part time and term track professors howling that we are on the wrong flight path. we have been banging on their cocky-pit door for years bc we know that without the face time of a classical (for a reason) liberal arts education, we produce artless laborers and no more.

    sorry…yes, i’m bitter for my own career, but mostly for the students and our future.

    but i heartily cheer on those of you still in there struggling to do exactly what this article calls for.

  26. I’m thankful that the small-college education (Augsburg, Minneapolis) my daughter received was one filled with contact with her professors and that she was supported so well by the larger college community. Her experience was a stark contrast to my big University experience.

    The NYT article made one point that resonated with me: Students and parents are now spending 100+K on education and they expect a high-paying job when they are done. I see this in high schools too where there is growing emphasis is on jobs skills and personal profit as the first order of education. To me, this is the sign-of-the-times I like the least.

  27. As a professor with a 4-4 load at a college where 65% of entering freshman are “at risk,” thanks. I needed this.

  28. I taught for 15 years at a Catholic college — small, underfunded, anti-intellectual. 4/4 to students who were, many of them, the first to go to a four-year liberal arts degree. I worked my ass off, as did most of my colleagues (stress: most, not all). I took an admin job supervising 100 students in order to get my teaching load “down” to 2/2. The unexamined privilege in essays like this OpEd make me snarl. There is still the “ivory tower” I suppose, although it’s getting narrower and narrower; the rest of us are in the trenches doing the heavy lifting and yes, dammit, WE HAVE A POINT.

  29. Well said! As someone who has recently -finally – been awarded a “lecturer” position in an institution where I have been adjuncting for years, meaning, I’ve got a real if meager salary and at least a little bit of job security I didn’t have as of a couple months ago, I can attest to everything you said. Funny enough, I know that one of the reasons I was hired as a lecturer, e.g. without publication requirement, prestige, or this sort of pay that goes with prestige, is so that I would be available to take over much of the student counseling, freeing the rest of the faculty to do their research.

  30. I really appreciated this piece. As a Grand View alum turned assistant professor myself, I really appreciate you giving voice to the kind of experience that defined GV for me, and that I work to recreate at my own institution. The piece you’re reacting to was getting bandied about on my faculty list serve, when someone posted your post as a powerful and more accurate description of what so many of us experience each day. To find out it was written by a GV professor was really heartwarming.

  31. ::applause::

    Teaching a 3/3 or 3/4 depending. Pressure to publish. Students from underfunded public K-12 schools indoctrinated with NCLB passivity, and working 20-40 hours a week. Class sizes of anywhere from 30 (yay!) to 300 (never me, but certainly in my department).

    I want to be a mentor. And just as soon as we back away from this two-tiered educational model, I will be.

  32. All I have to say is here, here! Excellent rebuttal and it should be one given to all grad students and Ph.D. advisers who think their students are a pariah if they don’t teach at research-intensive universities. What a fantastic post.

  33. Kevin, good for you! I read your blog and thought to myself “Hey, I know a tattooed professor” and then realized it WAS you. Hope to see you at another CR event soon. Keep doing what you are doing.

  34. Kevin – This is going viral – and well deserved! Keep it up! Darcie, from the Harvard of Des Moines West…

  35. I join you as being among the enraged and/or disillusioned by Bauerlein’s op-ed. My wife is “contingent faculty,” and although she has been regularly getting 2 classes at one school each semester, they have made it so she only teaches students who are majors in any other field. Only by exception does she ever teach majors in her field. However, she steadfastly refuses to give the automatic “A” at this upper tier public Uni. Tells the students right at the start that they may have all been A+ star students in high school, but that is the new normal here. Even without office or office hours, she manages to meet with students before or after class or by arrangement. And she regularly hears from students both during and after the term that her teaching has changed their lives. She regularly has a handful that keep in contact for a number of years. She also has a couple of non-majors, every year, ask her for a letter of reference to get into a graduate program in THEIR field. She’ll often ask them if she’s the appropriate prof to furnish such a reference, and the response is that she has been a teacher of impact to them. So, Bauerlein can no longer find acolytes to hang off the golden words that he deigns to bless them with. I was especially put off by his description of how god-like the students find him as he accepts their flaws and demands better from them. I almost teared over at that point.

  36. Just wondering how much time those professors back in the day spent answering student e-mail and revising multiple drafts of digital documents for their students. Oh, wait, they didn’t. They showed up to class, showed up to 2-3 office hours every week, and were otherwise UNREACHABLE – unless they deigned to give you their home phone number and/or invite you to some sort of social event/function.

    I’m lucky enough to teach in a huge public R1 school and “only” have a 2/2 load (which is really 3/2, with about 300 students per year, not counting a dozen or so senior projects and other things I am mentoring, plus and adminstrative position developing curriculum and communicating with advisers about student success). 90% of my student contact outside of the classroom is via CONSTANT e-mail. I counted literally 1000 emails from students this semester – that is 1000 different conversations that did NOT involve the student taking time away from their work/study schedule (BECAUSE ALL OF MY STUDENTS HAVE JOBS) so they can line up outside my office just to get the “honor” of sitting with me for five minutes so I could call myself a mentor.

    My door is literally open every second I am in my office and if you want, I will mentor the heck out of you. But if it can be done via e-mail and it helps you succeed, then go for it. Let the old guy down the hall whine about “kids these days don’t know how to think I’m cool.”

  37. As your former student, I can attest to the hard work you put in to teach of all of us who were in your classes. Our senior capstone still gives me warm fuzzy memories. I remember being particularly excited by a piece on gender history and you casually mentioned that you thought I’d like it and rattled off two or three books you thought I’d like. And the best part of this memory is that my experience with you was repeated with every professor in my fields at Grand View. Thank you for this piece. You are not what is wrong. That other kind of professor is.

  38. I second everything you said. I just received a three page handwritten letter tell me how I have changed the life of one of my students, not just academically, but also personally. I highly value the amazing relationships I have with my colleagues, both full time and part time and with my students. Of course, I am also at a Small Liberal Arts College with Professional Programs 🙂

  39. THANK YOU! I want to write a book entitled “From Gen X to the Millenials, With love and understanding for being misunderstood.” I found the piece in the Times so enervating and, at its core, dehumanizing to a generation of students who I have found inspiring. My students are the ones who make it worth teaching over-load, doing “too much service” (which I still don’t understand as a phrase), etc. It is a privilege to spend time with them and learn from them. And when they think they’ve learned from me, I’m grateful.

  40. I read Mark Bauerlein’s Op-ed as a commentary on higher education in general rather than an attack on professors who do not put in the necessary time with their students. I am at a more research-oriented institution and I hear colleagues surprised at the push for more and more online classes (often because it is a big money maker and more students can be enrolled than in traditional classes…sorry to sound cynical, but…); this diminishes the chance for valuable face time with professors. It seems that colleges and universities have started to be run from a business model perspective…likely related to the state of funding. This necessarily changes the face of academia. The goal should be to educate, grow, and nurture students who are critical thinkers. This takes time, but is often not built into (i.e., valued, rewarded) the higher ed systems in the U.S. It is ‘expected’ to help with retention of undergrads, giving the best possible educational experience, etc…but is not often valued in terms of what is rewarded. At an R1 institution, you publish or you perish. At more teaching-oriented institutions, the teaching load is often so heavy it becomes harder to really get to know students as expected (I think, but not speaking from experience). So, overall, higher ed institutions and administrators need to find a way to make the system work-in terms of balance, what is valued, etc…-so as to best educate the future generations.

  41. Yes, to all of the above about Bauerlein’s elitism, lack of perspective on the reality of the 21st century academy, hopelessly fantastical nostalgia for a past-that-never-was. But can we talk for a minute about how he describes teaching and student-teacher relationships in that idealized past? How about if we start with a little bit of textual analysis?
    Students: “lie in bed mulling over what we said”; “urge to become disciples”; “enthralled”; “emulation”
    And professors: “revered”; “wisdom they possess”; “moral and worldly understanding”; “a moral authority”
    And teaching: “the transfer of insight begins and a student’s emulation grows”; “progressed toward a fuller identity through admiration of and struggle with a role model”; “an induction of eager minds into an enlarging vision”

    I’m all for working one-on-one with students to improve writing, talking with them about course material—or even their lives and aspirations. And for academic working conditions that allow this. But I sure as hell don’t want my students to become my disciples, or think for one minute that I have any grounds to claim moral authority over them. I don’t want them to be “enthralled” by my words or to emulate me.

  42. You rock – from a professor at a 3rd or 4th tier public midwestern university. I have long railed against the classism in my own field, but you just totally nailed why that op-ed bugged the crap out of me when I read it Sunday.

  43. Well said! Tired of K-12 teachers and college professors getting bashed when many take on different roles to build relationships and meet varied student needs in order to help young people find their way.

  44. Thank you, from another liberal arts prof. Saw this while taking a break from grading a multitude of papers for the undergrads who, at my institutions, get most of their education from professors carrying a 3-1-3 load. But adjunctification, as you put it, is creeping in.

  45. Thank you for this! I went to a small, private liberal arts college (only available to me via big scholarships from said college), and was one of two chemistry majors in my graduating class. Our professors cared so much about us, would call students’ dorm rooms if they were about to miss an exam in their class, and are still part of my life nearly a decade later. They called us to live up to our full potential and challenge ourselves. I was unsure of the commitment to get my PhD, but they encouraged me to do so, and helped me look beyond my comfort zone. I went on to complete my MS and PhD at larger institutions, and though the professors at the larger universities care about students, I’ve never seen anything like the care we received from our small school’s professors. They published, taught, advised, counseled, mentored, and guided us. You’ve written a nice rebuttal.

  46. “College seems to be reduced, in this view, to a several-year series of rote careerist transactions between infantilized students and disinterested professors.”
    Does the author mean “disinterested” (neutral) or uninterested?

    1. I think he means “indifferent.” But as a freshman writing teacher, I’m hardly a disinterested party!

      That said, the use of “disinterest” to mean “a lack of interest” is a common and pretty old practice, whereas Bauerlein’s use of “querulous” to mean “full of queries” (in _The Dumbest Generation_) is so far as I can tell a completely new and original gaffe.

  47. And then there’s the community colleges, where approximately 70% of instruction is done by under-paid adjuncts and full-time faculty have a base teaching load of 5/5 in addition to college service, academic committee work, grants and the like. Two points to consider: 1. the idea of college level professors engaged in their fields working closely with students as mentors while also offering effective learning environments has to be measured against the outlandish 5/5 and 4/4 workloads. 2. under-paid adjuncts teaching five to eight courses at multiple institutions is also not a plan for student engagement, nor is it a plan for anything except exploitation and part-time faculty unable to, for the most part, effectively engage in the learning community on their campuses as they rush from one job to the next. Those preaching from the elite universities are not teaching the vast majority of the population — that tends to happen in public four year colleges/universities and in community colleges. Yet, there’s no serious discussion about changing teaching/workloads (4/4 and 5/5) to levels conducive toward engagement. It doesn’t mean faculty are not engaged who teach 4/4 or 5/5, but it does mean that it comes at a cost, usually a personal one or one that saps energy away from teaching and student engagement as there are only so many hours in a day. Of course, there also needs to be serious discussion with solutions about the inequity of faculty salaries and the “adjunctification” process that is changing the landscape of higher education.

  48. Kudos! You said it well. Saves me from having to dash off my own annoyed response to Prof. Bauerlein, whose nostalgia for a mythical past mystifies me.

  49. Hello, Kevin–O Esteemed of the POD network–nicely rebutted. In our Teaching Center’s work with faculty members, we all pull together to serve learners whom higher education serves poorly–or not at all. We’ve got first-generation college student, 53 different first languages on campus, students with families and jobs, and a host of various impediments to learning–like disabilities, the clock, distance from campus, and economic pressures.

    While it can seem like it’s a wonder that any of our students at our public university make it at all, the real heroes are the faculty members who adapt what they do well in order to reach their learners “where they are,” even in the face of proposed budget cuts and the administratization of higher-ed generally.

    I’ve been an advocate for under-served populations in higher-ed for a long time, and, increasingly, I’m seeing faculty members (especially adjuncts) coming into this category. If our focus is to provide quality, measure quality, design quality, and expect quality, we have to support it in its myriad manifestations.

    I heartily second your call for more attention to the foundational problems: the dearth of funding, full-time positions, and student assistance. In the 1950s, even with the GI Bill, fewer than 15% of Americans went to college. Today, it’s an expectation for everyone. Let’s start treating higher education like a universal opportunity, and support it.

    Thanks for an engaging read!

    Tom Tobin

    Co-author of _Evaluating Online Teaching: Implementing Best Practices_ (Wiley, 2015).

    1. Hi Tom-
      Thanks for the thoughts! POD forever! 🙂
      I love your concluding point–if we argue that higher education is a pillar of our democratic society, and that it should be accessible to all, then we damn well better put our money where our mouth is!

  50. Even though I haven’t replied to each comment individually, I have been reading them as they come in and want to thank all of you for weighing in! I’m still a bit stunned at how far this has traveled, but most of the stories and opinions offered here in the comments affirm my sense that there’s a lot of folks in various institutional environments that are absolutely dedicated to what we do with and among our students. Thank you for all that you do, and I’m glad this post can honor that.

  51. Having Bauerlein’s post, I do not think there was an attack on fellow faculty from other institutions. I might not agree with some of his suggestions and view but your piece full of ad hominem arguments doesn’t address any of the points Bauerlein made. I actually think you and Bauerlein are on the same side (hardworking faculty committed to student learning development), the only difference is that you are in different institutions. You have to realise that not every faculty is as hardworking, and committed as you are even in the Ivy league institutions. It’s unfortunate that, the uncommitted cohort of faculty will not even take time to read all this discourse aimed at improving Higher Ed.

  52. …this HS teacher of both AP Psychology and Principles of Leadership is trying very hard to grow caring, engaged, and capable students to send to institutions of higher learning. T

    Thank you for your reply to Bauerlein. If he tried as hard to build up as he does criticize, perhaps he’d find himself more engaged with engaging students. 🙂

  53. Terrific piece. I’ve savored it several times now. What continues to bother me the most about Bauerlein’s fundamental assumptions: I don’t recognize either the students or the professors he describes. (Well, maybe the professors. Some do cultivate sycophants, do glory in setting up as the focus of personality cults.) But in 20+ years of university teaching, I never met a student who was consciously looking for A Learned Mind to be enthralled by. Lots of students looking for lots of instruction, yes, and enlightenment, example, interpretation, understanding, compassion–all the services real teachers provide by the truckload without peeking out of their office doors, hoping for a line of admirers wanting autographs, perhaps a seat at the feet of A Great One. There WERE those professors, but they weren’t teachers; they were hucksters. At least at Berkeley in the 80s, when Theory was King, and anyone who admitted they liked to read stories was sneered at for being none too bright and a sissy, that’s how it was. I got my PhD there anyway, and went on to teach at Harvard, but I got off the bus when it left without me. I’m sure you know what I mean. Thanks for hanging in there for all the right reasons.

  54. Quite the reading, taking me back several decades to undergrad and even high school teacher/profs – who were, and in a number of cases still are, excellent friends. Some of my very best friends, in fact. My choice of small liberal arts college didn’t steer me toward financial riches, but sure did offer my heart & mind philosophical and people treasure. And I was lucky enough to recognize good minds wanting to share with me. As for wealth, well, I have a credit card that works to fly me across the country to visit with my 90-yr-old art professor & his family. And my 7th-grade English teacher and I enjoy enjoying each other – he writes excellent plays these days! I just cannot imagine life without those two, and a number of other (some deceased) profs who’ve etched tomes of delight and strength on my brainpan and heart. Amazing people, those who choose to teach because they love doing it – just amazing. Lucky the students who recognize them!

    1. I love to hear about it when these relationships form and continue to develop. Sounds like you’ve had some great teachers in your life!

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