Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Sun, 1 Mar 1998 08:17:37 -0500 (EST)
Random Thought: Two Different Worlds

Good morning. I was driving down to Jacksonville yesterday during a warm, torrential El Nino storm, listening to an "oldies" radio station. Over the speakers drifted the crooning "Two different worlds. We live in two different worlds...." It got me thinking about the juxaposition between the reactions to my last Random Thought, "The Unknown Olympian." of students who lamented that "professors don't" and faculty who professed that "student's don't." It was as if I was receiving transmissions sent by two different species of beings living on two vastly distant, detached, and different worlds.

What set up this graphic contrast was that somehow students at a major northeastern university had became members of a discussion list to which I have been contributing for some time. To my surprise, my mailbox was inundated by a virtual Johnstown flood. I kept count, 46. And as the messages came in one after another, following the initial confused, scared or angry sentence "who are you" and "how did you get my e-mail address," I quickly noticed a pattern to the comments that followed. The majority, 37 students, said such things as:

"I've been at this university for almost three years and I feel discouraged that there are so very few professors who really value students and care about the struggle they have just to be here although they say they do,"

or "It's almost impossible to find many professors on this campus that give a damn about anything else except earning tenure. None of them would miss me if I suddenly disappeared,"

or "I've been here for two years and have yet to find that one teacher who I can say really cares to write on my soul anywhere near as much as writing in a manuscript,"

or "It's the rare professor who is not too busy for students. More than once I've gotten the feeling that I am ignored or pushed aside as an inconvenience and intrusion, maybe even an obstacle,"

or "I didn't know there were professors who would stop and talk with students, but I've been here at this campus only a year,"

or "I am as much a stranger of who I am to almost all the professors, even in my major, as when I came four years ago. They care to know more about their discipline than they do me. It makes me feel less important to them than a passage in Milton,"

or "I have found few professors who are interested in little more than my brain, if that, but what about the rest of me? They want me to master the material of the course and don't care if I have trouble mastering myself."

On the other hand, the overwhelming response of faculty--from all over the country and from different discussion lists and in different disciplines who chose to respond, 24 of 28, made such comments as:

"That's not my job. I am paid to teach a subject mastery of my discipline," said a fellow historian from a southern university, "I should not be held accountable for not being concerned with students outside the classroom and involved in their lives,"

or "they are adults. They have to be responsible for themselves" or "I am expected to research and publish, not parent," or "I am their professor, not their confessor, and have no desire to be their friend,"

or "I'm no therapist or priest," or "it's unfortunate, but on my campus, pronouncements to the contrary, tending students will get me a promotion or tenure far less than that research project, grant or publication--if at all,"

and finally a professor from a southwestern university poignantly asked interstingly off-list, "why doesn't anyone really care about more than just academics and students, and treat us as real people? No one seems to really want to know about the out-of-class problems that effect us.

A small, unscientific sampling to be sure, but maybe it should give us pause to reflect on distance and detachment before we push it aside with a skeptical "interesting--if true." Maybe there isn't as much distance between us professors and students as we think or would like to think, and we all could go farther with building bridges of communication to narrow the distance and lessen the detachment. After all, we're not two different species; we're not living on two different worlds. We're all error-prone human beings struggling to live in the same world just distinguished by perhaps a bit of age, a degree here, some experience there, a touch of position; just age; education, resume, experience. Nothing more and a whole lot less.

Make it a good day. 


Louis Schmier           
Department of History    
Valdosta State University
Valdosta, GA  31698                        /~\    /\ /\
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                          -_~     /  "If you want to climb mountains, \ /^\
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