Why The Professor-Student Relationship Needs Balance
When I was young, I wasn't exactly a model student.
I caused trouble for teachers and had issues with authority, and to some extent, I still do.
However, once I entered high school, I began to see the value of having teachers who also treat their students with respect. I realized it wasn't authority I had an issue with — it was the abuse of power.
Lo and behold, I would enter college as a sociology student — challenging dynamics of power and inequality was our bread and butter.
In my undergraduate career, I was amazed at all the topics my professors covered — race, class, gender, ethics, education, health care, immigration, family, sexuality, identity, you name it. These profs knew their stuff, and for the most part, they were lovely.
I grew to admire, and even idolize, some of them. I wanted to absorb everything, and I continuously stuffed information down to make room for more. I was in love with my program.
My fourth year came around, and I realized if I wanted to get into graduate school and continue my education, I needed reference letters.
I found myself having to build networks with professors I had nothing in common with, professors who didn't seem to care much for getting to know their students and professors who held themselves with such legitimacy, authority and status it was intimidating to get to know them and terrifying to request a reference letter.
I was not good at networking or playing the game. I felt like a fraud and I promised myself I would never do it again.
Once I entered graduate school, the selection of professors were all typically associate, full-time, tenure track or assistant professors. They are brilliant minds with much to offer young students in regards to education. I am grateful for their expertise.
However, with this new fancy graduate program, I began to miss the badass professors from my undergrad. The shift was quite scary. It seemed students were no longer allowed to speak their minds or engage in radical activism. They were discouraged from challenging the ideas of professors and very much put into a box. I felt suffocated.
In many ways, it was understood the experts knew best and we were to just follow in line and learn from them. I disagree. Maybe we can learn from each other.
The worst part of it all was how community-based organizers, activists and community researchers are regarded in higher education. There is this power dynamic that they are not worthy of producing knowledge because they don't have a PhD. Those people are accepted and tolerated, but not celebrated the ways research scholars are.
I had met so many incredible community-based researchers and activists who had more to say than the academy would allow — perspectives scholars would never think to consider, ideas for social justice and change that are shadowed by big institutional systems. It makes me sad.
I will value a full-time tenure or associate professor in the exact same way I will value a sessional professor or a community-based researcher. I will not look up to anyone because they've gotten the chance to be published or that their office is high up in the ivory tower. There are many professors worth admiring, but not because they are professors, but because they are worthy.
I will not pad anyone's ego. If it is a problem students hold professors to the same regard as they do community leaders or sessional professors, then it just reinforces the problems within our academic institutions and our society.
We can all understand how difficult to might be to attain a PhD, but that doesn't make anyone better than the next individual.