Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.
Wed, 12 Apr 1995
It's a chilly and rainy 4:45 a.m. down here. Not the kind of day in Georgia that Ray Charles would sing about. I couldn't walk this morning and felt yuk. I was just lazily going over my e-mail messages with little on my mind as I sipped some newly brewed life-sustaining coffee. Then, I received a jolt. I read a message from a graduate student in which she told me about a chemistry professor, Chair of the Faculty Senate, who talked before her class as a guest speaker about faculty governance. In the course of the discussion a student posed a tangential question: "What about the development of the student, outside academics?" Don't you hate it when students ask such annoying questions?
The professor's answer made me shudder. Annoyed, I got up and left the room, picked up an umbrella, and like Gene Kelly, went for a short walk in the rain. I couldn't get out of my head what she told me was that professor's reply. "I am a professor, not a teacher. I am here to profess, not to teach." Boy, have I heard before. In fact, only yesterday--verbatim--from a colleague with whom I had a conversation about research. Her argument was that students were taking up valuable research time. "How can I profess to them," she had asked, "when I have to spend so much time teaching them?".
As I started walking, my mischievous mind started playing games. Scriptural passages began popping into my head. After just a few soaking blocks, I came back. So, here I am, in front of the computer with a hot cup of coffee at my side and a tootsie pop in my mouth and an academic version of Genesis:
In the beginning God created the university campus. God saw the campus, that it was good; And God said, "Let there be students." And God blessed them; and God saw that it was good. And God said, "Let us make professors in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the students in the classroom"; and God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, "Be fruitful in your labors and multiply your resume, and replenish the campus, and subdue it; and have dominion over the students in the classroom, and every saw it was very good."I sometimes think that so many professors believe that there actually exists such a divinely written, infallible, academic Genesis. We believe that we, the sole ones created in the divine image, are the centerpiece of the academic creation. That all exists for our convenience, to serve us. We look everywhere to find evidence of such dominion: in our age, our degrees, our titles, our position, our publications, our professional resumes, our regalia, our rituals and rites, our command of information, and even the way we dress. We promote everything that fosters our power over the world of the classroom. We resist as blasphemy everything that attempts to establish an ecological mutuality with it. We oppose anything that inconveniences us or distracts us from our higher scholarly calling. We reject anything that wishes to replace the narrow spotlight that shines only on us with an embracing floodlight that lights up everyone together. We condemn as heresy everything that asks us to come down off the pedestal and be a part of the other creatures in the classroom. We distance ourselves and keep others at hand's length.
Why this urge to "control", to be put "in charge", to be separate from? Is it about ego? Is it about power or authority? Is it about innocent, unthinking habit? Is it about a fear or inability or disinterest in being a part of the classroom, of mixing shoulder with the "non- professions," the amateurs, the common students whom we call adults but whom we really think of and treat as children or adolescents--no matter their age? Is it a fear of feeling and relationship with other human beings? Is it about an anxiety of the world itself? Or maybe it is about the unknown, of how we might have to change and be changed if we engaged in personal conversations with the others in the world of the campus, if we became real and human.
Within those walls of the ivory tower, we academics have developed our own ethos. These beliefs, rituals, attire have provided a distinctive personal and professional identity and meaning. But, I think that walls which separate also isolate. These walls so often have made professors into distant cultural aliens from other members of the campus community.
Coming out from behind the separating and impenetrable intellectual, professional, and psychological walls of the ivory tower is no easy task. To experience a metamorphosis from professor to teacher means reinventing yourself and your professional purposes. You have to confront the somewhat arrogant inbred and walled academic cultural psyche. So many professors think that as a campus ecology is formed, as divisions are overcome, as walls were breached, as the students and professors as cross over boundaries and mingle with each other, they are threatened with becoming nothing. Letting everyone breach the walls of professional and intellectual communal identity may blur the precise distinction between inside and outside, between them and us, between professor and student, between teacher and learner. It may make a person humble. It may be a lot of things. Diminishing is not one of them.
This graduate students reminded me that "Knowledge puffs you up." How true. It did that to me for almost 25 years. But, "Love makes you grow." I've known that for the last five years. In fact, on my office door is a wooden halloween skull and cross-bones I jokingly bought at a local crafts fair. It says with a smile: "Enter at your own risk." Under it, I've added: "There is love in this office--and tootsie pops. Come on in."
Others may be uneasy with that. I'm not. I say this from my personal and professional experience, from my own inward journey, to tightly hug information, to caress degrees and reputation, to pay homage to a discipline, and not to embrace fellow human beings, not to experience tenderness, compassion, caring, sharing, relating in the class room and throughout the campus, makes academic life empty and I don't care how long is the resume and how large the professional reputation. The absence of these vital human experiences depreciates basic human values without which we end up in a class room in which our monstrous visitor is free to roam free and we unintentionally hurt each other.
Make it a good day. --Louis-- Louis Schmier (912-333-5947) email@example.com Department of History /~\ /\ /\ Valdosta State University /^\ / \ / /~ \ /~\__/\ Valdosta, Georgia 31698 / \__/ \/ / /\ /~ \ /\/\-/ /^\___\______\_______/__/_______/^\ -_~ / "If you want to climb mountains, \ /^\ _ _ / don't practice on mole hills" -\____