Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
There’s no doubt the student-professor relationship in college is dramatically different from the student-teacher relationship in high school. Once you enter the realm of college, you are dealt a load more responsibility. This seems pretty fair, however; it is only natural to become more independent as we cross the line from adolescence to adulthood. But does this independence mean we shouldn’t rely on professors as mentors to guide us through our college years?
The first week of the semester usually goes like this: You walk into class, go over the syllabus and begin lecture or read assignments. Then you do the same thing the next week. And the next. This mundane cycle of listening to lectures in class, reading the textbook and taking exams continues until you receive your final grade. At this point, you’re either satisfied or not, but you accept the outcome regardless and move on to the next graduation requirement.
But that’s not what college is supposed to be. That’s not what it was like years ago, according to Mark Bauerlein, an English professor at Emory University, who has written extensively about the shifting dynamic between professors and their pupils. In a New York Times column, he recalls the days when students would line up in front of a professor’s office to chat and receive sage advice. Professors were seen as mentors with valuable experiences to share, not as bridges between students and their GPAs.
Now, it would be unfair to portray every student as indifferent to real learning, just as it would be unfair to accuse every professor of being detached from their students. In fact, I have had wonderful professors at the University of Maryland — people who genuinely wanted me to learn rather than memorize facts for a test. These are the professors who are willing to stay after class to explain confusing concepts or even just to speak with me about my future. I have seen professors patiently explain answers as my colleagues and I frantically ask question after question. So, to Mark Bauerlein, I would say his nostalgic image of curious students and supportive professors isn’t completely dead.
What I do agree with, however, is that the general attitude toward higher education must change. In today’s world, it’s impossible to forget the reason why most people go to college: to earn degrees and get well-paying jobs. And we shouldn’t abandon the idea that the more education we receive, the better prospects there are for employment; that would just be denying the truth of modern society. Instead, what we need to do is emphasize that college does not solely exist as a stepping stone to a successful career.
We must foster the idea that universities are places of intellectual exchange and growth, where one can develop a “meaningful philosophy of life” and still become “well-off financially.” Only when our mentality becomes more balanced will the future graduating classes be prepared for all aspects of life.
Asha Kodan is a sophomore biology major. She can be reached at email@example.com.