Friday, December 04, 2015

The Duties of a Professor

Jean-Baptiste Regnault,  Socrates dragging Alcibiades from the Embrace of Sensual Pleasure, 1791.

This blog post was prompted by a former student of mine who currently teaches undergraduate students; she recently expressed regret at possibly having acted inappropriately in front of her class.

I too have said and done things in class that I later regret or at least seriously question. It is disturbingly easy to say or do something inappropriate--so inappropriate, perhaps, that one's career would never recover.

We have a big responsibility as professors that often goes unacknowledged. We are held to a high standard of maturity, we are expected to always treat our students with the utmost respect, and we are even expected to model certain values--such as opposition to racism and other forms of bias or discrimination against marginalized groups.

Unfortunately, the popular culture and our own personal habits make it difficult to live up to these standards, because of the pervasiveness of inappropriate humor, cynicism, and sarcasm. Moral seriousness is quite rare, and when it does appear it is typically the subject of ridicule. It's easier for many of us to be rude and inappropriate than it is to be paragons of responsibility and maturity.

In order to fulfill our duties as professors, I think we should reflect on these facts, and make a personal commitment to do our best to treat students with respect regardless of the circumstances, and to model intellectual and other virtues.

We also need to cultivate a healthy attitude of shame when we fail to live up to the appropriate professional standard--a shame that is not enervating, but which is motivated by a sense of dignity and honor--the sense that certain behavior is beneath us (see Thanissaro Bhikkhu's dhamma talk on "Shame, Compunction, and Ardency"). If we engage in behavior that we regard as beneath our dignity, we need to be able to acknowledge that, but also motivate ourselves to do better in the future.
Post a Comment