Sunday, December 5, 2010

Professorial Stereotypes

From an interesting short piece by Christine Overall (HT Samantha Brennan):
 I conclude that we have a responsibility to inform people about our work and clarify what professors do. This means making our professional lives more visible to our students and to non-academics. We can demystify our research by discussing it in our classes, publicizing our results through the popular media, and bringing our expertise to bear upon current debates in newspapers, magazines and blogs. We can talk with non-academic friends, family, neighbours and our own students about our teaching methods and goals, as well as about the support we need for enhancing what universities fondly call “the learning environment.” We can also inform students and the public about core values in the academy, such as shared governance, peer review and academic freedom, and how those values benefit the broader community.
If we think our work is valuable, productive and worth doing, then we ought to be telling people about it, rather than thinking our work is so profound as to be inaccessible to non-academics. And certainly not acquiescing in the cringe-worthy media image of professors.
 I wonder whether we should seek to do as she suggests, or just not worry about it? I tend to think we should try to undermine these stereotypes, as one way to underscore the value of philosophy in particular, and the humanities in general.

1 comment:

  1. Mike: No doubt part of the trouble of the current academy is that few outside it understand the nature of our work, its rationale, etc. I'm not sure that, in this respect, we're any different than other knowledge workers. I think if you ask the majority of 'middle managers', IT professionals, etc. what their work involves, the answers may not be intelligible in the way that answers like 'I repair cars' or 'I treat sick people' are. But academics also suffer from being the original or seminal knowledge workers; we've been around long enough for stereotypes, many of them negative, to take root.

    As professionals, I think we can do much more to be publicly engaged, and we should start with our students. This relates to some issues we've addressed here before, such as whether to expose students to our research.


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