Paul L. Caron

Thursday, May 14, 2015

NY Times: The Declining Role Of Professors As Mentors

New York Times Sunday Review Essay:  What’s the Point of a Professor?, by Mark Bauerlein (Emory, Department of English):

In the coming weeks, two million Americans will earn a bachelor’s degree and either join the work force or head to graduate school. They will be joyous that day, and they will remember fondly the schools they attended. But as this unique chapter of life closes and they reflect on campus events, one primary part of higher education will fall low on the ladder of meaningful contacts: the professors. ...

[W]hile they’re content with teachers, students aren’t much interested in them as thinkers and mentors. They enroll in courses and complete assignments, but further engagement is minimal. ... For a majority of undergraduates, beyond the two and a half hours per week in class, contact ranges from negligible to nonexistent. In their first year, 33 percent of students report that they never talk with professors outside of class, while 42 percent do so only sometimes. Seniors lower that disengagement rate only a bit, with 25 percent never talking to professors, and 40 percent sometimes. ...

When college is more about career than ideas, when paycheck matters more than wisdom, the role of professors changes. We may be 50-year-olds at the front of the room with decades of reading, writing, travel, archives or labs under our belts, with 80 courses taught, but students don’t lie in bed mulling over what we said. They have no urge to become disciples.

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. ...

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.

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That train left the station, oh, thirty-plus years ago.

Posted by: John Greenwall | May 15, 2015 9:35:14 AM

Ah, Bauerlein. His "Dumbest Generation" and related shtick couldn't be thinner pseudo-social science if a law professor had written it...

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | May 15, 2015 8:04:56 AM

My role models aren't bloated exploiters of young folk seeking education.

Posted by: Mike Tse | May 15, 2015 7:25:02 AM